What about all these churches?

Reformation Day is nothing to celebrate, according to some Christians.  It marks the day Christianity was shattered into countless little sects.  We need to find unity rather than revel in things that divide us.  Luther’s breaking away from what was then one Church was a tragedy.

First of all, Luther didn’t break away from the Church.  He was excommunicated!  There is a big difference.  Secondly, the Church did need reforming.  Even the Church of Rome came to admit that, finally coming to grips with the financial and moral corruption that had become rife in late medieval Christianity.  If there were no Reformation, there would have been no Counter-Reformation.

As for all of the subsequent church bodies, Paul McCain, in a Reformation Day meditation, offers a useful taxonomy:

Another point that confuses many people is the fact that there are so many different churches to choose from. It is an awful mess, so it seems. Yes, it can be confusing, but it really is not as complicated as some would think, or want to maintain. Up until the year 1054 there was basically one unified Christian church, distinct from a number of non-Christian or anti-Christian heretical groups. In 1054 the church divided into Eastern and Western Christianity. By the time of the late Middle Ages the Western Church, which had come to be known as the Roman Catholic Church, had reached a point of deep corruption, most importantly in what it believed, but also in the morals and life of the clergy and church leadership. In 1517 there began what we know today as the Reformation, when Martin Luther, a professor and monk in Wittenberg, Germany posted a series of “talking points” on the practice of selling “indulgences” by which people were led to believe they could buy forgiveness of sins, for their dead relatives in purgatory. A person has to decide is the Lutheran view of Christianity is correct, or the Roman Catholic view is correct.

After the Reformation, many groups developed from the teachings of persons other than Martin Luther, most notably, two men: Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, who did much of his work in Geneva. These two men and their writings gave rise to many churches that can be traced back to and grouped under the general category of “Reformed” churches. In America in the 19th and 20th century there arose many splinter groups from Reformed churches, these would include “Charismatic” and “Pentecostal” groups, along with groups that rejected all denominations and became, in effect, a denomination of their own, the so-called “non-denominational” churches. And so the question then becomes, “Is Lutheran theology correct, or Reformed theology correct?” So, is it Rome or Wittenberg. If Wittenberg, then is it Geneva or Wittenberg?” Once those decisions are made, the myriad of denominations today makes a lot more sense.

But there is an additional challenge unique to our century and more so the past half-century. Today, despite all their denominational differences and historic confessions, the vast majority of Christian churches in Protestantism have been nearly overwhelmed by the rise of liberal Christianity. This unites them more so than any other feature of their confession of faith. Historic differences are no longer regarded as divisive since these divisions were based on one group’s understanding of the Biblical text as opposed to another group’s understanding of the Bible. For example, the difference between Lutheran and Reformed views of the Lord’s Supper are very important and based on very serious and clear differences in how the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper are understood. Liberalism however regards the words of Jesus in the Bible as unreliable. It teaches that we can not be sure that what is recorded in the Bible is true and accurate, therefore, there is no point in being “dogmatic” about much of anything having to do with the Bible. Modern liberalism has swept through all Christian denominations, Lutheran Reformed, Protestant and Roman Catholic.

via The Festival of the Reformation: October 31 – Does Being Lutheran Still Matter? | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

So one must decide if Rome was right, or if Wittenberg was right?  (Or, before that, I suppose, if Constantinople was right.)  If Luther was right to post those theses, the next decision is whether Wittenberg or Geneva was right.  And then, I suppose, a choice between a number of other places (Canterbury?  New Bedford?  Plymouth, Massachusetts?  Upstate New York?  Chicago?  Azusa Street?)

But now EVERYBODY also must decide between conservative theology and the new (and unifying) liberal theology.

Vocation Day

This blog has, for a number of years, been engaged in a crusade to co-opt the secular Labor Day and to get it on the church calendar as a holiday that celebrates the Christian doctrine of vocation.   I think it is working.   I’ve been hearing people making the connection.  (Did you hear that on Sunday?)

Remember that vocation does NOT just mean your job, which is important for the over 9% of Americans who do not have one.   Our calling from God also and even more importantly has to do with our positions in our families (as son or daughter; husband or wife; father or mother), the church (pastor or “hearer”), and the state (ruler or citizen).  All of these are estates to which God stations us to live out our faith in love and service to the neighbors that each office brings into our lives.  “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17).

The reason we celebrate Vocation Day by NOT working, even though we are honoring economic labor, is to give recognition also to our other vocations:  our families (by spending time with them) and our country (to share in a national holiday doing cultural-specific activities such as grilling out and thinking about sports).

We will honor Vocation Day on this blog by not posting about our horrible problems.  We’ll go back to that tomorrow.  In the meantime, today is about celebrating all of your different callings.

 

Pleasure in toil as God’s gift to man

Your theme for Labor Day, I mean, Vocation Day:

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-12)

Rendering to Caesar and to God

Happy Independence Day! The birthday of our nation would be a good time to contemplate that great text on church and state, Matthew 22:21, in which our Lord charges us to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

What “things” are Caesar’s, and how do we render them to him? And what “things” are God’s, and how do we render them to Him?

Obviously, all things are God’s, but Jesus must have had a particular sense of this in mind. A pastor I heard on Sunday–I’m on the road, so it wasn’t our pastor–said that the Greek implies that we are giving back what we have received. So we might think of this in terms of “what do we receive from the state” and so what are we obliged to a giving back. Jesus’s example of money works here. What else? And how does this apply to the gifts of God?

World Swastika Rehabilitation Day

Sunday is World Swastika Rehabilitation Day, celebrated by the New Age religious cult known as the Raelians:

World Swastika Rehabilitation Day (WOSRED) will be celebrated on June 26 through marches and informative events worldwide, according to a statement released this morning by the International Raelian Movement (IRM).

WOSRED was launched last year by Rael, spiritual leader of the IRM.

“The goal is to return the swastika’s true meaning of peace and harmony to this ancient symbol regretfully hijacked by the Nazis,” said Brigitte Boisselier, Ph.D., IRM spokesperson. “I’ve been questioned often about my Raelian symbol, in which a swastika intertwines with two overlapping triangles that form a six-pointed star. People were obviously disturbed to see a swastika intertwined with a Star of David, but when they’re told it was used for millennia and is still used today by many peaceful religious groups, especially in Asia, they look at our symbol in a very different way.”

On June 26, “hundreds, or, hopefully, thousands of people” will celebrate World Swastika Rehabilitation Day in the streets of Miami, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York in the United States; in Vancouver and Toronto in Canada; in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth in Australia; in Zacatecas, Veracruz and Mexico City in Mexico; in Milan, Italy; Lyon, France; and Rotterdam, Holland.

Boisselier pointed out that the Pro-swastika group initiated by Rael now includes Buddhists and Hindus, who have used the swastika as a symbol since the very beginning of their religions.

“No one should be surprised to see the swastika as a revered symbol in most religious groups because it’s part of the symbol given to us by the human scientists from another planet who created us, the Elohim – those who are at the origin of all religions,” Boisselier explained. “They gave the Raelian symbol to Rael when they met with him in 1973 (see rael.org), just as they gave it to all the prophets of the past. That’s why we can find traces of this symbol on every continent and in every culture, not only in Asia with the Buddhists and Hindus, but in America with the Native Americans and Aztecs; in Europe with the Celts and the Greeks; and even in Israel, where you can see it in some of the temples.”

Boisselier said it’s important for Raelians to rehabilitate this symbol given to us by our creators, since they not only brought it to us but explained what it means.

“They said it represents the infinity of time, a very important concept that is now essential to the Raelian philosophy,” she explained. “According to Rael, the universe is infinite in both space and time. It has always existed and will always exist.”

The problem, Boisselier said, is that our society wants to have a beginning and an end for everything, including the universe.

“That’s the reason for the big bang theory, which is now more and more contested by scientists,” she said. “Already in 1973, the Elohim were telling us that there is no beginning to an infinite universe, and this concept of infinity is essential to grasp before we can continue to advance scientifically from where we are now. By promoting the swastika, we’re actually helping the world scientists who have a few minutes to share with us. They need to make this major paradigm shift to progress!”

via Raelians to Celebrate ‘World Swastika Rehabilitation Day’ on June 26 – Yahoo! News.

That the Nazis did choose this figure as their symbol tells us something about them as well, their embrace of an essentially pagan worldview, one that rejects “Jewish” (a.k.a. Biblical) notions such as creation and linear time.

Anyway, so the Raelians believe that we were created by space aliens who came back to have a conversation with their founder in 1973.  Here is another new religion that tries to cast itself in scientific and materialistic terms.  Maybe the swastika could become the symbol of the Singularity.

HT: Joe Carter

Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers

Those who believe ritual and ceremony are meaningless have never watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington Cemetery.  This article by Sarah Kaufman on the soldiers who perform this duty–the precision of their marching, the seams of their uniforms tailored to 1/64th of an inch, their shoes and gear obsessively polished–makes for a good Memorial Day meditation.  Read it all, but here are some excerpts:

Like so many great romantic moments in the arts, it begins with the tolling of a bell. The sound dies. Hushed anticipation. Finally, the soldier makes his entrance — no ordinary recruit, but the relief commander of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, taking part in the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

You could land an airplane on the flatness of his hat, balance teacups on his shoulders. He has been polished and honed to perfection, a man as monument, symbol and embodiment of order, respect and dignity.

Washington life swirls around him — crowds gather and disperse, jets climb into the clouds, the cemetery’s infernal lawn mowers roar. The weather may bake or freeze him — the high, marble mesa on which the tomb rests, at the top of a hill affording one of the loveliest views of the city, can feel like the hottest spot on Earth, even in May. It can also approach the coldest, as when blizzards covered the city two winters ago, and snow buried the plaza as fast as soldiers could shovel it. They replaced their shiny black shoes with combat boots. But the vigil and guard changes went on around the clock, as they do now and have since 1937.

The world doesn’t matter here, in this outdoor theater where the show always goes on. This guard posting is a marathon of purity, a spectacle of the finest abstraction and strictest minimalism, where precise, unthinking repetition blots out just about everything else.

The commander strides across the plaza, past the sarcophagus containing the remains of service members from World Wars I and II and Korea. (An unknown from the Vietnam War had joined them, but his remains were removed and returned to his family when DNA testing revealed his name.) He takes slow, measured steps, rolling his shoes on their outer edges so there’s no hint of a bounce in his body.

It’s the most luxurious legato. The man is a play of contrasts: loose in the knees, square in the chest, all business in the eyes. You know this even though you can’t actually see his eyes because of his sunglasses, so tightly fused to his skull they must be giving him a migraine. But there’s enough expression in his granite jaw to suggest that those hidden eyes are cold. Still, that delicious walk goes on, 18 steps, 20, 21 . . . clack! It’s brought up short, punctuated by a sharp clap of the heels. The metal plates on the inner edges of the shoes are one of many modifications to the basic dress-blues uniform.

The changing of the guard ceremony is like that, a precise, stop-start ballet performed by three men — commander, relief sentinel and the retiring sentinel— alternating between smooth and sharp, silence and staccato pops. With that same liquid gait, the relief sentinel makes his entrance, brandishing the most beautiful, sparkling M-14 you’ve ever seen. . . .

[Sgt. Benton Thames] recalls a time when several World War II veterans in wheelchairs were watching the ceremony. As Thames walked past them with that stately gait, buttons blazing, uniform pressed to a razor sharpness, behind his sunglasses he could see the old soldiers pushing down on their armrests, trying with all their trembling might to stand.

“Those that could saluted me as I passed,” Thames says, swinging his right hand up to his brow with a shy smile, a gesture both casual and elegant.

“That kind of got to me.”

A veteran once told Thames that he’d lost a buddy in World War II and that the body was never recovered. When he comes to the Tomb of the Unknowns, the veteran imagines that those remains belong to that guy — and this becomes the place where he can be mourned as if his name were cut in stone.

This is why the sentinel buffs his shoes, hollers for a good tucking-in, submits to having his creases measured to within a fraction of an inch. This is why he has seemingly shaved away every shred of his own individuality, his identity, for a task whose purpose is, at the heart of it, exquisitely tender. It is the physical expression of an intangible wish, the fulfillment of a promise.

Long past Memorial Day.

“All soldiers recognize that it represents them,” says Barrett, The Citadel professor. “Underlying the tomb is that if something happens to you and we can’t identify you or find you, that ceremony still honors you.

“We ask them, if necessary, to lay down their lives,” he continues, his voice faltering with emotion, for he was once a soldier. “This is the corollary: They will not be forgotten.”

via At Tomb of the Unknowns, a ritual of remembrance – The Washington Post.


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