Declaration of Independence vs. Progress

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Our newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman, observed the 4th of July by printing excerpts from a number of speeches from the past discussing the Declaration of Independence.

One of them was particularly striking, a reflection on the religious roots of the document that also takes up the question of whether or not it will become outmoded amidst all of our “progress.”

The answer is so apt and the insights into our history are so perceptive that I had to share them with you.

Who is this eloquent, learned, incisive thinker?  The taciturn governmental minimalist Calvin Coolidge.

Read what he says after the jump.

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Happy birthday to America

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One of the few things Americans can agree on these days–conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats, Trump supporters or Trump resisters–is that our government is highly dysfunctional.  Whether you believe we need to drain the swamp or turn the rascals out, you may well be sick of Washington, D.C., and all that it has become.

But the government is not America.  As bad as things can get among our leaders, our country keeps plugging along.  A free society is not totally dependent on government.  Our customs, our history, our ideals, our land, and our people define our nation.

Yes, we need to fix our government and maybe that is starting to happen.  But we also need to make sure it doesn’t get too big and too effective, less it encroach upon its citizens’ independence.  So happy Independence Day!

Our government was born on June 21, 1788, when the Constitution was ratified.  But the United States of America began on July 4, 1776.  That’s a distinction worth keeping in mind.  So happy birthday, America!

“God bless America” vs. “God bless the whole world”

Kate Smith

Some people are saying we shouldn’t say or sing “God Bless America.” That is too exclusive.  Rather, we should say, “God Bless the Whole World.”

Matt Reynolds at Christianity Today explains why praying “God Bless America”–and the words are a prayer– is indeed appropriate.

Just as you pray for your grandmother, he says, and not all the grandmothers in the world, it’s right to pray for those who are near and dear to our hearts.  We can’t fully comprehend abstractions–like “humanity” or “the world”–so we pray for what is tangible, for actual communities that we are part of.

I would add the vocational point that this is why God tells us to love not the human race but to love our neighbor, that actual flesh and blood person whom our vocations bring into our lives.

Read the essay, excerpted and linked after the jump.  Then please join me in prayer:  “God bless America.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

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Patriotic Church Services?

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A big Baptist church in Texas held a special “Freedom Sunday” service, featuring patriotic music, flag ceremonies, military presentations, a sermon celebrating America, and other nationalistic celebrations.  The sort other congregations, I dare say, have planned for the 4th of July weekend.

Several observers are condemning the Baptist service for being “idolatrous.”

Conservative Methodist Mark Tooley describes the service, expresses some reservations, but defends the congregation against the charge of idolatry.   He doesn’t approve of non-traditional worship in general, but he says that there is nothing wrong with churches being part of the local culture and thanking God for their country.  This is his conclusion:  “Nonsacred music and other non-Gospel focused celebrations by churches are best hosted outside of worship.”

I think the main problem with this sort of thing is the same problem with other kinds of “contemporary worship” that says little about Christ or the reception of His gifts.  I hasten to say that not all contemporary worship does that, but this often happens when the impulse to appeal to the culture and thus sacralize it takes priority over Word and Sacrament.

Read the excerpt from Mark Tooley after the jump, along with his linked article.  Do you think this service constitutes idolatry?  Or are such patriotic observances fine outside the church, but not in the context of a worship service?  Or would that still constitute a non-Christian “civil religion”?  How could we apply the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms–which teaches that God reigns over both the spiritual and the temporal realms, but in different ways–to this issue? [Read more…]

Chesterton on the Trinity

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Yesterday was Trinity Sunday, following close upon Ascension (the incarnate Son taking His place in the Godhead) and Pentecost (the Holy Spirit poured out upon the Church).

Do you want to know a good Scripture verse to prove the doctrine of the Trinity?  “God is love” (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16).  Love is a union of distinct persons.  If love is at the essence of God, then He is a union of distinct persons, only supremely so–a perfect, absolute union of the three persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Having a Triune God is very different from having a god of other kinds of monotheism.

I remember reading G. K. Chesterton on the Trinity, who makes this point in an unforgettable way.  I dug up a couple of his quotations on the subject, which you can read after the jump.

 

By Emeltet (Own work), Eglise Saint-Samson, Bobital, Côtes d’armor, France, La Trinité, rosace, facade ouest, [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Walther on our “mystical union” with the Holy Spirit

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Yesterday was Pentecost, the great festival remembering God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.  Thanks to my fellow Patheos blogger Rev. Jordan Cooper for posting some excerpts from a sermon by C. F. W. Walther, a founder of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, on Pentecost.  In these profound words, we learn that Lutherans do believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within the believer.  In fact, this is an important teaching that goes by the un-Lutheran-sounding name of “the mystical union.”

I quote the excerpts after the jump, but you’ll want to read also Rev. Cooper’s discussion.  He relates Walther’s words to his understanding of sanctification.  More controversially, he suggests that Walther is articulating a Lutheran form of the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis.  (I don’t know about that.  Yes, Walther alludes to St. Athanasius’ words on the subject, but in saying that the Holy Spirit restores the “likeness” of God, he wouldn’t play that off against justification as the Orthodox tend to.)

See also David Jay Webber’s collection of quotations on the mystical union from the Lutheran confessions, a concept that refers also to Christ’s indwelling, and, indeed to the indwelling of the Triune God:

For while it is true that God, together with the whole fullness of deity which he always has with him, dwells in believers, he does not do so bodily nor is he personally united with them as is the case in Christ. (Solid Declaration VIII:70, p. 604)

 

Anyway, read what Walther says about the Holy Spirit after the jump. [Read more…]