The Bible’s physical form

We Lutherans believe in the supernatural efficacy of “Word and Sacrament.”  Other Christians believe in the power of God’s Word, but deny that water, bread, and wine, when joined to God’s Word, can have any more than a symbolic significance.  After all, how can the physical convey what is spiritual?  Part of my answer has always been that the Word too is a physical thing–ink on paper, sound waves in the air–that God uses sacramentally to bring us His grace.

David Neff of Christianity Today has written an interesting piece on the physical form of Bibles from the middle ages to our present-day “Bible apps.”

The default meaning of Bible for Christians in my group was the King James Version. The default physical form was a black leather binding.

The physical form of the Bible matters because it influences the way Christians use their sacred book. In the countercultural 1960s, for example, publishers shucked the black leather uniform in favor of more contemporary dress. The aim was to reach those who might not otherwise pick up the Scriptures. The American Bible Society’s Good News for Modern Man resembled a mass market paperback, and Tyndale House’s Reach Out: The Living New Testament looked just plain “groovy.”

Three centuries before Luther’s New Testament first came off the press in 1522, workshops in Paris produced one-volume Bibles called pandects. Unlike the large multivolume Bibles that sat in churches, monasteries, and rich men’s libraries, these could be conveniently carried by Sor-bonne students and mendicant preachers. Thus began the revolutionary shift from communal reading of Scripture to its private, individual consumption.

In 1735, the Bible emerged in another physical form—the family Bible. An English publisher named William Rayner produced The Compleat History of the Old and New Testament or a Family Bible. This was the first time that phrase was used, according to Liana Lupas, curator of the American Bible Society’s collection of rare Bibles.

The purpose of these Bibles, says Lupas, who curated a current exhibition of family Bibles for the Bible Society’s MOBIA gallery, was to provide study helps to answer questions that readers might have, and also to stimulate families to center their common devotions on the Bible.

People soon found other uses for these Bibles, pressing flowers, preserving locks of hair, and protecting other keepsakes. Families had already used the blank pages at the beginning or end of large Bibles to preserve genealogical information, recording births, marriages, and deaths. Dedicated family history pages were a natural development. And so in 1791, Isaiah Thomas published the first American Bible to contain pages dedicated to this purpose.

Placing the family Bible at the physical center of the ideal American home helped entrench the idea of the family as the main training ground in Christian living.Both Catholic families and Eastern Seaboard Protestants traditionally enshrined their family histories in parish registers and churchyard burial plots. But the American family became mobile, and American faith became more baptistic and individualized. Families who moved west left their family networks behind, and the family Bible became a portable shrine, recording the family as a sacred institution. . . .

Placing the family Bible at the physical center of the idealized American home also helped entrench the Puritan ideal of the family as the main training ground in Christian living. . . .

Today, many of us use Bibles with no physical properties of their own. They borrow their frame from computers, iPads, and smartphones—also markers of middle class existence—but created for individual use. Will this digital revolution cement the decline of family spirituality that was once fostered by the family Bible? God knows.

via How the Physical Form of a Bible Shapes Us | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Of course, the Word of God is living and active, even as it exists on an iPhone screen.  Just as the Blood of our Lord can be conveyed in plastic cups no less than in a silver chalice.  And yet, do you think the physical form of a Bible can have significance?  If people know the Word mainly as electronic information flashing across a screen, might that contribute to the Gnostic tendency we are seeing today, wherein faith is reduced to “knowledge” by way of “information” and the physical realm of creation, incarnation, sacrament, body, world,  and vocation are giving way to a less-than-Christian hyperspiritualism?  Or will reading it online lead to taking it in just short bits and pieces, in accord with much online reading, as opposed to extensive, sustained reading and study?  On the other hand, might reading the Bible on a Kindle, say, or other e-reader, mean a return to the continuous unfolding text of the ancient scrolls, rather than the chapter and verse breakdowns of the bound volume?  Or what?

Nothing distinctly Christian about the Lord’s Prayer?

Arguing for Christian observances to the point of denying they are Christian:

A lawsuit against the Sussex County Council in Delaware alleges that by reciting the Lord’s Prayer before meetings, the council “has publicly aligned itself with a single faith” in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. During a hearing in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, however, the county’s attorney argued that the prayer isn’t necessarily just a Christian one.

Attorney J. Scott Shannon told U.S. District Court Judge Leonard P. Stark that although the Lord’s Prayer is mostly associated with Christianity it was first spoken by a Jew, Delaware Online reports.

“[Jesus] was not offering a Christian prayer in the Christian tradition because no Christian tradition existed,” Shannon said. He also argued that the prayer, which contains no specific mention of Jesus Christ in it, contains language that is fitting for other faiths, and is not required to be “inoffensive to all” or “all-inclusive,that ” anyways.

According to court documents, the Lord’s Prayer has been the invocation of choice at Sussex County Council meetings since 1971.

Alex Luchenitser, an attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, spoke on behalf of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit – four Delaware residents who feel that the saying of the Lord’s Prayer at Sussex County Council meetings is offensive.

Luchenitser argued that the opening words of the prayer – “Our Father” – indicate that it is a Christian prayer because it implicitly refers to Jesus.

“That’s a Christian way of referring to Jesus,” Luchenitser said, according to Delaware Online. “This is not something reasonable people disagree over.”

via The Lord’s Prayer Is Not Exclusively Christian, Attorney Tells Judge, Christian News.

The other side also knows not of what it speaks.   The Father is NOT a reference to Jesus!  The Son is NOT the Father.  That’s a denial of the Trinity.

The “Lord” of the Lord’s Prayer, though is Jesus, according to the Holy Spirit.  And the Father He addresses is His Father, who is the Christian deity.  And the prayer is in the New Testament, the Christian Scripture.  And it’s a staple of Christian worship and devotion.  So, yes, it’s a Christian prayer.

If the pro-prayer faction wins, would it be worth it, if victory involves denying the meaning of what is being prayed?  This principle applies to those who insist on putting up Christian symbols–nativity scenes, Christmas trees– on public property during Christmas with the argument that Christmas is a secular holiday.  In cases like these, to win is to lose.

Christian right leaders anoint Santorum

A conclave of leaders of  social conservative organizations and evangelical political activist groups voted to rally behind Rick Santorum:

A week before the pivotal South Carolina primary, Rick Santorum’s quest to emerge as the chief alternative to Mitt Romney received a boost Saturday from a group of evangelical leaders and social conservatives who voted to back his candidacy in a last-ditch effort to stop the GOP front-runner’s march to the nomination.

About three-quarters of some 150 pastors and Christian conservative political organizers meeting in Texas sided with Santorum over a home-state favorite, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — an outcome that illustrated continuing divisions within the ranks of conservatives who make up the base of the GOP.

The gathering also reflected the lingering dissatisfaction with Romney over abortion rights and other issues, and the belief of conservatives that they need to unite behind one contender before the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary if they are to derail the former Massachusetts governor they view as too moderate. Romney leads narrowly in polls here after victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“There is a hope and an expectation that this will have an impact on South Carolina,” said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who attended the Texas meeting.

It’s unclear, however, whether conservative voters will heed the advice of these leaders and back Santorum particularly with other conservative candidates still in the race. The backing of a chunk of conservative leaders could help Santorum, who long has run a shoestring campaign, raise money and set up stronger get-out-the-vote operations.

via Santorum Backed by Social Conservative Leaders – ABC News.

Much will be said about Santorum as the evangelical candidate.  Remember, though, that he is not an evangelical.  He is a Roman Catholic.  Notice how tolerant evangelical activists have become!

I know the complaints about Santorum, as have come up in the discussions here, is that he is a big government conservative, that he wants to use the power of the federal government to promote his moral agenda (however laudable that might be).  What would be an example of that?  His opposition to gay marriage and abortion?  His favoring constitutional amendments to address those issues?  Isn’t it the government that has been pushing gay marriage and abortion?  The constitution limits government, so why isn’t working for a constitutional amendment an appropriate tactic?  Or are you thinking of something else?

Also, in other election news, Jon Huntsman has dropped out of the race.

Court rules against conservative Anglicans

Despite an earlier positive ruling, a court has ruled against Falls Church and six other conservative Anglican congregations that have left the Episcopal Church over its increasingly liberal theology.  Now the congregations will have to surrender their property to the Virginia diocese of the Episcopal church.  Here is the congregation’s press release:

Seven Anglican congregations in Virginia that are parties to the church property case brought by The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia are reviewing today’s ruling by the Fairfax County Circuit Court that the property should be turned over to the Episcopal Diocese.

The Circuit Court heard the case last spring after the Virginia Supreme Court remanded it in June 2010. The congregations previously had succeeded in their efforts on the Circuit Court level to defend the property that they bought and paid for.

“Although we are profoundly disappointed by today’s decision, we offer our gratitude to Judge Bellows for his review of this case. As we prayerfully consider our legal options, we above all remain steadfast in our effort to defend the historic Christian faith. Regardless of today’s ruling, we are confident that God is in control, and that He will continue to guide our path,” said Jim Oakes, spokesperson for the seven Anglican congregations.

The Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, a historic property involved in the case, stated, “The core issue for us is not physical property, but theological and moral truth and the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world. Wherever we worship, we remain Anglicans because we cannot compromise our historic faith. Like our spiritual forebears in the Reformation, ‘Here we stand. So help us God. We can do no other.’”

The seven Anglican congregations are members of the newly established Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, a member diocese within the Anglican Church in North America. Bishop John Guernsey of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic has expressed to leaders of the seven congregations, “Our trust is in the Lord who is ever faithful. He is in control and He will enable you to carry forward your mission for the glory of Jesus Christ and the extension of His Kingdom. Know that your brothers and sisters in Christ continue to stand with you and pray for you.”

via Press Release Jan 10, 2012 (Events & News).

The Falls Church property is huge.  I don’t know what the Episcopal Diocese can do with it.   Sell it to non-Anglicans, I suppose.

HT:  Sandy

Chapel at Harvard

Harvard Divinity School professor Stephanie Paulsell tells about worshipping at Harvard:

On Wednesdays at noon we gather for community worship organized by a student steering committee and the director of religious and spiritual life. When I first came to Harvard Divinity School, the weekly community worship service was deeply ecumenical. While the shape of the service was recognizably Protestant, it also possessed a flexibility born of a desire to create a welcoming, open space for people of different theological and religious backgrounds.

Over the years, as our school has become more multireligious, our students have urged us toward new ways of gathering for community worship. Even the most welcoming service can obscure our distinctiveness, they told us. We want to be with each other as we truly are, they said. We want to be present for each other’s prayers and rituals and practices. We want to be led in Torah study by the Jewish students and in Friday prayers by the Muslims; to listen to a dharma talk with the Buddhist students and hear a sermon with the Baptists; to be with the Episcopalian students for the Eucharist and with the Hindus for puja; to light Advent candles with the Roman Catholics, offer prayers at the flaming chalice with the Unitarian Universalists and keep silence with the Quakers.

These days our community worship is led by one of the religious communities in our school. We begin with brief opening words (our beloved Protestant forms persist!) and a lifting up of the prayers, hopes and longings collected in a notebook at the door of the chapel. Then we enter into the practice of a particular religious community, joining in where we can, maintaining a respectful presence where we feel we cannot. Each week, as the distinctiveness of each tradition becomes visible, we can see more clearly the differences between our ritual practices, our holy books, our music and our conceptions of the divine, and we see the family resemblances, the shared concerns—what Thomas Merton called the “wider oikoumene” of the human family.

The desire of students to be present to each other as distinctively religious people seems to me characteristic of this generation—or at least of this current crop of divinity students. While earlier generations sometimes muted explicit religious symbolism out of a desire to cross the boundaries of difference, this generation seems to be more convinced that it is from the specificity of our religious traditions that we will reach one another.

via Devotional difference: A pluralistic community’s worship life | The Christian Century.

Yes, this is syncretism, celebrated at one of our most prestigious mainline seminaries and lauded in the mainline Christian Century.  This is where liberal theology is these days.  But note the difference.  A few years ago, what was once the multi-denominational and then became the multi-faith worship service would mush all of the different religions in a worship service that would be recognizable to none of them.  Now, though, the distinct worship services of the distinct religions are carried out, but everyone participates in them and honors them all equally.

This is the difference between ecumenism and polytheism.

LCMS before the Supreme Court

The case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School vs. the EEOC is being argued before the Supreme Court.   J. Christian Adams sees the Justice Department’s case as being a major assault on religious liberty.  Here is his take:

Like so much from this Justice Department, Holder’s radical legal positions are at odds with long American traditions. This latest species of Holder’s radicalism is a frontal attack on faith communities.

In the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Holder’s DOJ argued that a church cannot fire an employee for acting contrary to church teaching, and contrary to an employment contract that incorporates that teaching. A teacher filed a complaint to the government about how the school handled her narcolepsy, which presumably would involve sleeping at work. The church school then fired the teacher because the church forbids lawsuits among believers based on 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. (“But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!”)

This particular Lutheran church had well established dispute resolution mechanisms within the church, and based on church teaching. Instead, the teacher went to the government, contrary to church teaching.

Holder’s Justice Department believes that religious schools should not be able to enjoy a longstanding exemption to various employment laws which conflict with church teaching, or, the “ministerial exception.”

Assistant to the Solicitor General Leondra R. Kruger argued that the religious school could not fire the teacher for filing a complaint to the government even if church teaching forbids it.  At oral argument, Kruger advocated positions so extreme that even Justice Elena Kagan appeared to reject them.

It’s not hard to see where this slippery slope slides. What if a teacher in a Catholic school does something directly contrary to Catholic teaching? Or, consider this possibility offered by American Catholic:

“Then, too, what also about Catholic women using this principle to sue the Catholic Church in the United States because they are excluded from the priesthood? There’s absolutely no doubt that when it comes to ordination, the Catholic Church discriminates in favor of males. Should SCOTUS be able to tell the Catholic Church in the United States that it must redress the imbalance?

Yes…if, as an organization, the Catholic Church is bound by federal employment discrimination statutes.

No…if, as an organization, the U.S. Catholic Church is exempt from federal employment discrimination statutes.”

Far fetched? Not to Kruger.

At oral argument, she wouldn’t categorically preclude the possibility. Instead, she told the Court that the government interest isn’t currently sufficient to justify an assault on the male priesthood. Kruger said “the government does have a compelling and indeed overriding interest in ensuring that individuals are not prevented from coming to the government with information about illegal conduct.” In other words, even if church doctrine prohibits you from settling disputes with the church through the government, the Obama administration cares not. Holder wants informants, or as the DOJ prefers to call them, complainants.

via Rule of Law » Holder’s Quiet Court Attack on Religious Freedom.

Here are some of the blow-by-blow arguments:

Hosanna-Tabor was represented by religious-law Professor Douglas Laycock. He began by saying that EEOC violated a bedrock constitutional principle that churches do not select government leaders and government does not select church leaders.

But he had problems during oral argument. One came from Justice Anthony Kennedy (who is likely the swing vote in this case), concerned that someone suffering retaliation from a church employer couldn’t present his or her claims in court.

Laycock rebutted that substantial church interests should bar civil trials, and Kennedy objected that you can’t know if substantial interests are at stake unless someone presents them in court.

Justice Antonin Scalia came to Laycock’s rescue, saying, “I think your point is that it’s none of the business of the government to decide what the substantial interest of a church is.”

The justices then rejected the argument of Leondra Kruger, Obama’s lawyer for the EEOC, who argued that there’s no ministerial exception in the Constitution, only the same rights that secular organizations possess to choose their own affiliations.

At this, Scalia exploded. “That’s extraordinary! There, black on white in the text of the Constitution, are special protections for religion. And you say it makes no difference?”

Kagan agreed with Scalia’s rejection of the argument that the First Amendment doesn’t protect churches from government ordering who they should hire as pastor or priest.

Justice Samuel Alito (a Catholic) made a critical point, asking if a Catholic priest married and the church removed him from ministry for violating Catholic doctrine, could the EEOC order him reinstated.

When Kruger answered no, Alito replied that EEOC was making a judgment that certain teachings — such as the Catholic belief that priests must be celibate — are more important than the Lutheran doctrine that ministers cannot sue the church.

Chief Justice John Roberts (also Catholic) agreed, saying, “You’re making a judgment about how important a particular religious belief is to a church.” Government cannot make such theological judgments.

I’ve had questions about this case, but the key element is that the teacher refused to go through the church dispute resolution process and went straight to a lawsuit, despite 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 and despite what her contract said.  I can see the religious liberty issues at stake, and they are important indeed.

UPDATE:  The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the Lutheran school!  The ruling was also broadly written so as to protect churches from other usurpations on the part of the government.  Read this analysis, which hails the ruling as a landmark decision  in the protection of religious liberty.


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