Sunday, February 27, 2005

"Every Knee Shall Bow" Whom?

Since it isn't a "church service," is it insignificant?
Photo from Journey Films/RNS via the Texas Baptist Standard Posted by Hello

These bishops are honoring their leader and their military.
Photo from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Posted by Hello

This should be disturbing. I find the photo below equally disturbing.

"Honoring the U.S. Military"
at Porter Memorial Baptist Church,
Lexington, Kentucky Posted by Hello

I find in the hour of trial that the Sermon on the Mount is tosh, and that I am not a Christian. I apologise for all the unpatriotic nonsense I have been preaching all the years. Have the goodness to give me a revolver and a commission in a regiment which has for its chaplain a priest of the god Mars: my God.
- George Bernard Shaw

There are endless differences between the Nazi State and the U.S. Government and its leaders. I am not comparing the United States with Nazi Germany in any way. I am not saying that putting up the American flag is the same as saluting Hitler. (If accused of this, I'll ignore it.) I am comparing the attitudes and theology of the Christians. I find the apparent political theology of the Christians in the first photographs to be the same as that held by the Christians in the third photograph.

In the face of growing religious nationalism and the increasing collusion of the German Church with the German State, the Confessing Churches of Germany issued the Barmen Declaration in 1933.


We reject the false doctrine that the Church could and should recognize as a source of its proclamation, beyond and besides this one Word of God, yet other events, powers, historic figures and truths as God's revelation (paragraph 1).
. . .
‘Fear God. Honor the Emperor.’ 1 Pet. 2:17. Scripture tells us that by divine appointment the State, in this still unredeemed world in which also the Church is situated, has the task of maintaining justice and peace, so far as human discernment and human ability make this possible, by means of the threat and use of force. The Church acknowledges with gratitude and reverence toward God the benefit of this, his appointment. It draws attention to God's Dominion [Reich], God's commandment and justice, and with these the responsibility of those who rule and those who are ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word, by which God upholds all things. We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the State should and could become the sole and total order of human life and so fulfill the vocation of the Church as well. We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the Church should and could take on the nature, tasks and dignity which belong to the State and thus become itself an organ of the State.

My thesis: For Christians, patriotism is bad, and bad for us. It is idolatry. For elaboration, see Friday's post, below.

Comments on this post are closed. Go here if you wish to add something.

Friday, February 25, 2005

A Word on Patriotism

Any worldly power, be it Nazi Germany, the British crown or the American empire, cannot ally itself with the Church of Jesus Christ. The reign of God is present in us to cast down every pretension to significance that these temporal powers may have. I can entertain the idea that allegiance to Jesus will not always stand over against every action by every empire, and that the Church may praise and commend some actions of some governments, and of course be thankful for the blessing of peace that God grants through their rule.

But whenever the Church considers allegiance to Jesus and the State to be somehow equivalent, she loses her critical eye for the policies of the State that are destructive of human dignity, and in its unchecked, unchallenged rule, the State will turn on the people of God. It happened in Germany, and it may well happen here.

The Church of Jesus Christ does not have the luxury of patriotism. (Read Wednesday's post for more support on this!)

If one wishes to “support the troops” (which ones?) one ought to pray for them, send care packages, and take particular care to look after the families of those serving abroad. A believer does not have the luxury of throwing big parties about how wonderful it is that so many brave young men and women are working to execute the policies of the State and how the Church ought to bless that state of affairs.

With that said, I’d like to respond to a few specific arguments:

I agree with Alan. While it might be significant to some of you that this was not an “official church service,” that means nothing to me, and I don’t think it would mean much to “the world out there.” This local manifestation of the Body of Christ did something as the Body of Christ (even calling it a “ministry”). That’s the important thing. Also note that even though they may not have “meant anything” by all of that stuff, the fact that they didn’t might make it even more dangerous. It’s about the attitudes, those of offering allegiance and alliance to the State, that make it “not mean anything” to them.

I don’t understand the “distraction” objection. This is about “being the Church.” It’s about being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and about understanding that no temporal State power can receive the Church’s allegiance – nor an alliance. Discussing such issues can’t be a distraction to anything, because there is nothing I consider more important.

As far as “not letting the heathen” see? (This is my shorthand, not a phrase anybody used) If we believe in the forgiveness of sin, and we believe in who we’re called to be, I have no problem with calls to repentance, and subsequent repentant gestures being public. The sin is obviously very public.

Finally, I was not using hyperbole. A building has not been defiled. The Body of Christ is being defiled. I used the word “rape” for a reason. Because theologically, that’s what is happening. This stuff is dangerous, those folks’ souls are in peril, and I meant every word. I’m certain they have good intentions, but that doesn’t count for a good deal. (“We just kind of fell into bed together, we didn’t mean for anything to happen”).

I am a believer, and I intend this as a clear and unequivocal indictment of this kind of church.

I don’t think their cause is mine, or that of Christ. I would invite them to change their cause…

Comments on this post are closed. Go here if you wish to add something.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

United States Military Sponsors Porter Memorial Baptist Church Event

Porter Memorial and the Powers that Be

Look at the pictures. All of them.

See the sanctuary bedecked with military regalia.

See the American flag covering the cross.

See Porter Memorial's own program for the recruiting drive.

Baptists historically have taken stands against this sort of horror.

I could talk to you about the idolatry that is so obvious in this cheap, easy patriotism. About how these people offer the Body of Christ to be raped by the State. But I won't bother. These are not churches. They are basilicas draped with the Imperial colors, dedicated to Mars, the god of war.

So go on, you adulterers. Sell out your baptism and deny the Maker of heaven and earth.

We're reading Bonhoeffer this semester: The Cost of Discipleship. Christ bids us to come and die, not wrap ourselves in the rhetoric and protections of the State. The German church (so-called) stood by while the German State claimed divine sanction to grind people up in its gears. The churches gave their blessing.

You give the State carte blanche, merrily treading on the blood of Christ and his martyrs.

Whether American flags or Nazi swastikas, it makes no difference to you people, does it?

Does it?

Continue in this and be damned.

These people make their first allegiance to the god of the United States. Not the God of the cross. Not Jesus Christ.

Comments on this post are closed. Go here if you wish to add something.

World War One: Part III, Discrediting the Church

I hope to write a real blog entry sometime soon, recounting all of my wacky adventures (there are so many) and offering reflections on important things (as I do so often), but unfortunately I'm behind in my reading. We've got another Bonhoeffer session this evening, and I spent last night meeting with an Asbury prof and Jason to discuss "emerging church" stuff, and watching "Saw" with my roommates. A very creepy film.

More from my work on the Great War. Does any of this sound familiar?

As far as the British were concerned, they were standing up for the integrity of moral society and international relations, refusing to allow the vile German doctrine of expediency, Realpolitik, to define international relations. An entire generation of boys emerged prepared to assume the Empire’s role in the Christian narrative: the British ideals and culture served as tools of civilisation, which included evangelism. To protect this mission was to serve God faithfully, and this was a cause certainly worth dying for—the fulfilment of the divine mission. Fighting for King and Country therefore, was to uphold duty, honour, and the rule of God’s Kingdom.


Poets such as Wilfred Owen wrestled with the definitions of a just war and reconciliation of the concept with the circumstances of foreign policy, but resented the abdication of principle inherent to the clergy’s collective enthusiasm and patriotism in the face of war rather than acknowledging the shades of grey. He spoke in a letter home from a military hospital of the need to send the Archbishop of Canterbury a New Testament with the entreaty, “resist not evil” well marked for the Primate’s consideration.[1] With little sympathy, George Bernard Shaw fumed at the inconsistency:

They have turned their churches into recruiting stations and their vestries into munitions workshops. But it has never occurred to them to take off their black coats and say quite simply, ‘I find in the hour of trial that the Sermon on the Mount is tosh, and that I am not a Christian. I apologise for all the unpatriotic nonsense I have been preaching all the years. Have the goodness to give me a revolver and a commission in a regiment which has for its chaplain a priest of the god Mars: my God.’ Not a bit of it. They have stuck to their livings and served Mars in the name of Christ, to the scandal of all religious mankind. When the Archbishop of York behaved like a gentleman[2] and the Head Master of Eton preached a Christian sermon,[3] and were reviled by the rabble, the Martian parsons encouraged the rabble.[4]

[1] Alan Wilkinson, The Church of England and the First World War (London: SPCK, 1978), 115.
[2] When in November 1914 Lang spoke favourably of the Kaiser personally while condemning German militarism in an attempt to curb popular hatred of Germany, the archbishop received a number of angry letters from the public (Ibid., 218-19).
[3] Edward Lyttleton had in March 1914 preached at St. Margaret’s Westminster on loving one’s enemies: “If we intend to hold fast to everything we have gained in the past [often] by very questionable means [and refuse to release any advantage], all I can say is we are abandoning the principle of Christianity and taking once more our stand on the principle of competition” (Ibid., 221).
[4] Ibid., 245.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Still Thinking About Confession

Return of the Prodigal Son
Rembrandt Posted by Hello

If we are really to be known and loved by others as we truly are, we cannot gloss over the ugly parts of our fallen humanity. This is one of many reasons that members of the Christian community confess their sins to one another: when baptized people exercise their priesthood by speaking prophetic words of correction and tender words of redemption to one another, we shine the light of God’s love and acceptance into the dark places of our lives. In forgiving one another the sins we commit against each other and the community at large, we absorb the brokenness of our sinful humanity in the name of Christ. This is not an easy or glamorous task. It rarely feels warm and fuzzy. But it is a necessary part of redemption, for reconciliation is God’s fervent desire for his people.
- Me, from "Superpowers: On the Holy Spirit in Community." The whole thing is here.

"God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother's is sure."

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p.23

Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
. . .
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
- Ephesians 4

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

World War One, part II: Religious Support

An excerpt from one of my papers on the Great War...

For the largest part, vocal and popular bishops such as A.F. Winnington-Ingram of London were very influential as supplementary recruiting officers, inciting civilians to remain faithful to the noble cause at home, and for any eligible men to do their duty for God’s Kingdom by signing up to kill Germans for Jesus in France. He would also speak unequivocally of the moment of agonising, lonely death as rather a quick trip to the glorious hereafter. Certainly this lack of felt empathy with those suffering in the trenches in favour of easy religious patriotism further damaged the credibility of the Church of England in the eyes of many common people. She was seen not as a harbinger of God's Kingdom, but rather a cheerleader for imperial policy.
And a word from +Winnington-Ingram:

We are on the side of Christianity against anti-Christ. We are on the side of the New Testament which respects the weak, and honours treaties, and dies for its friends, and looks upon war as a regrettable necessity, and we are against the spirit that war is a good thing in itself, that the weak must go to the wall, and that might is right. It is a Holy War, and to fight in a Holy War is an honour. It uplifts life to be asked to do so.

The Right Reverend
Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram
Bishop of London Posted by Hello

To be continued...

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Monday, February 21, 2005

Why should I mourn / The vanished power of the usual reign?

So one of my tasks last week was to dig through my vast treasure trove of historical, theological and philosophical essays in the hopes of finding an artifact of sheer brilliance that I can dust off, shine up a bit, and send off in an application. So you're gonna get some facinating quotes this week.

(Can I just say that I definately have to submit the one essay in which I managed not only to understand something Wolfhart Pannenberg wrote, but said something intelligible about him. I always felt bad, because his Systematic Theology was all over the syllabus.)

So let's get started.
Fidelity to the gospel lies not in repeating its slogans but in plunging the prevailing idolatries into its corrosive acids.
- Walter Wink, Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 111.

(Speaking of which, I just uploaded one of my sermons from Dallas, on John the Baptizer and the Powers That Be.)

Want to read some creepy stuff?

“I adore war…it’s like a big picnic without the objectlessness of a picnic. I’ve never been so well or so happy. No one grumbles at one for being dirty.”
- Julian Grenfell, 1914. In DeGroot, The First World War, 45.

To die young, clean, ardent; to die swiftly, in perfect health; to die saving others from death, or worse—disgrace—to die scaling heights; to die and to carry with you into the fuller ampler life beyond, untainted hopes and aspirations, unembittered (sic) memories, all the freshness and gladness of May—is not that cause for joy rather than sorrow?
- The Hill, a popular university text by H.A. Vachell.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Dirt, Unity and Devotions

because I do not hope to know again
the infirm glory of the positive hour

- Eliot Posted by Hello

Thesis: Christian unity is not a question of sitting around and being "affiliated" with other folks under a particular denominational umbrella. We live together, in the world, for it's good. Or we don't.

As ++William Temple famously said, "The Church is the only society in the world that exists purely for the benefit of its non-members." Again, we are blessed to be a blessing.

I'm thinking of writing an essay on just what I think Christian unity means. So far the marks of unity I've come up with are mission, sacraments, doctrine and fellowship. Anybody feel like posting a comment with your take on the subject, and how you might experience actual unity with other Christians? If you do?

For your reading pleasure, a Lenten re-run from last year, along this vein.

And if that doesn't get you going, we're having a discussion about "going through the motions" and "evangelical quiet time" over on Alan's blog. And by having a discussion, I mean "Captain Sacrament is poking some ribs." Of course.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

On Confession and Sin: Preliminary Thoughts

In the wake of Ash Wednesday, there's an interesting conversation on Alan's blog about the notion of constant repentance, which I've spoken of before. You might check out my ideas if you're interested...

On the nature of sin: Why my sin doesn't separate me from God.

And regarding confession and worship:

Welcome him into the dark places. Don’t try to fix them up. Certainly don’t keep him out of them. Ask forgiveness only for actual sins: brokenness and need are not sins, and do not require apology. If you’ve got an incredible problem that you can’t seem to work out, tell him about it. Not that it will fix anything necessarily, but we need to cultivate a habit just being with Jesus in those places where we are uncomfortable being ourselves. If you’re not sure what to say to him because you just realized he’s not the horrible trickster god you were brought up with, say so. You don’t have to talk beyond that. Don’t make promises, just be there with him.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

to be a man of peace

I've been sitting in front of a monitor for two and a half hours, re-reading old theology and history papers, hoping to cull a couple of papers that will serve as appropriate writing samples for an application.

I want to pull my eyes out.

Kyle, Adam and I watched Supersize Me last night. I do love that movie. I think I'll go out for fast food this afternoon. And sigh, go to the grocery. I wish I didn't have to do that on Saturday afternoon.

Alan's got a little discussion going, springing from our communities' shared time on Ash Wednesday. So I won't reproduce the details, except to say that it was wonderful to receive the ashes with friends instead of a bunch of strangers. This week's Pedro concert was really great; I got to be with cool, out-of-town friends, so I couldn't have asked for anything better. Our Bonhoeffer meeting was also extremely gratifying; I might posts reflections on the text at some point. You know, if it's by popular demand or something.

And here's your thought for the day. Community is still hard. We can't love and heal one another if we're not close enough to risk hurting one another as well. And as surely as we even try to love and be together, we will hurt one another. That doesn't ruin anything, to say nothing of everything. The real test is found in how we choose to proceed together.

Spending Lent with my best friends, and with Bonhoeffer and Paul's epistles echoing in my soul. What have I signed up for?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

"With an alien people clutching their gods / I should be glad of another death."

One might recall Jesus' words about saving our lives and in the process losing them. Could it be that the church is as it is in so many places not because of a lack of effort or a lack of sincerity or a lack of spirituality (or even a lack of money, commitment, or prayer), but rather because our sincere efforts, passionate prayers, and material resources are all aimed in the wrong direction—the direction of self-preservation, self-aggrandizement, self-improvement?

What if saving the church is a self-defeating mission?
— Brian McLaren, in "Leadership Journal"

The church is most true to its call when it gives itself up, in its current cultural form, to be re-formed among those who do not know God's Son. In each new context the church must die to live.
Mission Shaped Church, 2004 Report by the Church of England

Jesus replied, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.'
— John 12:23-25

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Hard: Thoughts on the Day of Ashes

"Remember, O mortal, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return."

Community is hard.

Loving people is hard. It’s hard to open up to people and risk being hurt. It’s hard not to work for self-sufficiency. Hard to open up and need the love, affection and affirmation of the people around us.

There is risk, there is pain, and it is hard.

But that is no excuse for bowing out and running away, because that is how redemption works.

In our life together we live into the fullness of Christ.

We are not called to be desert monastics. There is no other way. We must be disciples here and now, loving and fighting with these people whom we are with, or we are not Christians at all.

So I renew my vows. I will receive the imposition of ashes, and remember that apart from Christ and his Church, I am lost and dead. I will be with the people I’m called to be with.

I’ll let myself bleed. I will keep opening up the dark, lonely and wounded places, letting the prophets of Yahweh – my brothers and sisters – speak the gentle and unrelenting truth that dissipates my darkness by the light of Christ. Any lies I’ve nurtured will be revealed for what they are. I won’t run from that.

I’ll love the sting of truth more than my own comfort.

This I will do for others. I will offer a safe place for my friends to hemorrhage. Our relationships in Christ are the temple of the Holy Spirit, a sacred place where wounds can be exposed, cleaned and healed. I will listen more than I talk, and will not speak of suffering lightly. I will sit quietly with my friends, invoke the Presence, and wait for the salvation of our god.

Come, Holy Spirit.

Ash Wednesday,” from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Watch Your Language

I'm reading Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy. In the "missional" Christian chapter, he makes this helpful observation on an illustration of three circles (107). The first is large, and they get smaller.

(me) ---> (church) ---> (world)

In this diagram, my largest concern is me, my soul, my personal destiny in heaven, my maturity, and my rewards. Occasionally, after "winning" people based on personal self-interest, churches can entice people to care a little about the church -- but is it any surprise that people "won to Christ" by self-interest come to the church asking, "What's in it for me?"

Is it any surprise that with this understanding of salvation, churches tend to become gatherings of self-interested people who gather for mutual self-interest -- constanly shopping and "trading up" for churches that can "meet my needs better? Is it any surprise that it's stinking hard to conveince churches that they have a mission to the world when most Christians equate "personal salvation" of individual "souls" with the ultimate aim of Jesus? Is it any wonder that people feel like victims of a bait and switch when they're lured with personal salvation and then hooked with church commitment and world mission?

McLaren goes on to discuss Newbigin's insights on the call of Abraham: blessed by God to be a blessing to the world, the gospel is "universally good news for Christians and non-Christians alike" (110).

I am realizing more and more that evangelism in North America has become all about personal salvation, raptures, heaven, and making middle-class lives just a little bit better. But you knew that, so I won't dwell on it. My question is this: can those of us who were taught for so long to think about our "own personal whatever" (relationship with Jesus, salvation, eternal destiny, etc.) start telling a Christian story that is truly Christ centered?

While I've said that testimony -- speaking of what the resurrection of Christ has worked in your own life -- is certainly important, the story by no means begins and ends with you or me. Can you tell a story about Yahweh and his Creation? Can you talk about Yahweh calling Abraham, blessing him to be a blessing, and about the formation of Israel, who was meant to be a light to the Gentiles? Can you talk about Jesus and the people he won for himself, and how we can live together.

Jesus doesn't want just to be with you; he wants to be with us. He's all about reconciling to God all of us who were far off, to be a people who will "exist for the praise of his glory." As Tod Bolsinger said in Tim Stafford's recent CT article,

I can remember saying to kids, 'There's no church to join, there's nothing to commit to, this is only about a relationship with Jesus.' Paul wouldn't preach that message. And the early church didn't.

So let's stop talking about Jesus and me, and start talking about Jesus and us.

I'd love to hear some feedback on what you think that might mean for how we choose to be together as the church, calling people to Christian commitment, etc.

Oh, and it looks like Mr. Sherwood and I are sharing the same reading list...