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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

My wife receives the print version of the Global Prayer Digest, a daily devotional dedicated to praying for missions that is published by the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, California.

Yesterday morning she was cleaning out old stuff from her Bible and tossed out the February 2007 edition which was dedicated to praying for the people groups in Russia and Eastern Europe.  Being a natural reader and packrat, I picked it out of the trash to give it a quick read.

At the beginning of each edition, the editors put together a summary of regional history or some other background information that creates awareness of current issues affecting both the region and the mission of the Church in that region.  Imagine my surprise when I read these two sentences:

After 1600, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Nikon introduced a new liturgy that angered traditionalists into splitting from the Russian church. In a twisted attempt to restore unity, the reformers persecuted the old believers.

Funny how that was going on at the same time as all the religious upheaval, persecutions, civil wars and whatnot in Western Europe, especially England.  The Church of England and the dissenters on either side, Catholic or Puritan were locking horns at the same point in time.

Now what made those two sentences stand out even more were the continued travails of the orthodox within the Episcopal Church today.  They hold to the faith passed down from the apostles and yet find themselves under what increasingly feels like persecution from the revisionist minded leadership of the Episcopal Church.  Just as in those days traditional minded believers were forced out in the Russian Orthodox Church and the Puritans and Roman Catholics were pushed to the edge by the Church of England, so also today we see the same thing happening.

The Episcopal Church seems to bring this on herself from time to time.  Witness the split of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the U.S. 130 years ago over the influence of the Oxford Movement in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America.  Consider the rise of the Continuing Churches in the world of Anglicanism 30 years ago concerning the adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as well as the ordination of women.  Then see today’s new Anglican bodies popping up in the U.S and the ecclesiastical trials and even lawsuits filed against them for daring to leave with or without their property.  All of them twisted attempts to force liturgical, ecclesiastical and theological unity apart from the authority of Christ and Scriptures.

We’ve been down this road before.  It’s not pretty and it certainly will not glorify God or bring honor to the name of Jesus Christ, except to the extent that those who are being persecuted faithfully stand up and proclaim the gospel under fire.

As George Santayana, the philosopher, famously said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  Or even better, King Solomon, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, there is nothing new under the sun.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9, ESV)

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A scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is so much in vogue at the present time. The tendency of modern thought is to reject dogmas, creeds, and every kind of bounds in religion. It is thought grand and wise to condemn no opinion whatsoever, and to pronounce all earnest and clever teachers to be trustworthy, however heterogeneous and mutually destructive their opinions may be. Everything, forsooth, is true and nothing is false! Everybody is right and nobody is wrong! Everybody is likely to be saved and nobody is to be lost! The atonement and substitution of Christ, the personality of the devil, the miraculous element in Scripture, the reality and eternity of future punishment, all these mighty foundation-stones are coolly tossed overboard, like lumber, in order to lighten the ship of Christianity and enable it to keep pace with modern science. Stand up for these verities, and you are called narrow, illiberal, old-fashioned and a theological fossil! Quote a text, and you are told that all truth is not confined to the pages of of an ancient Jewish book, and that free inquiry has found out many things since the book was completed! Now, I know nothing so likely to counteract this modern plague as constant clear statements about the nature, reality, vileness, power and guilt of sin. We must charge home into the consciences of these men of broad views, and demand a plain answer to some plain questions. We must ask them to lay their hands on their hearts, and tell us whether their favourite opinions comfort them in the day of sickness, in the hour of death, by the bedside of dying of dying parents, by the grave of a beloved wife or child. We must ask them whether a vague earnestness, without definite doctrine, gives them peace at seasons like these. We must challenge them to tell us whether they do not sometimes feel a gnawing ‘something’ within, which all the free inquiry and philosophy and science in the world cannot satisfy. And then we must tell them that this gnawing ‘something’ is the sense of sin, guilt and corruption, which they are leaving out in their calculations. And, above all, we must tell them that nothing will ever make them feel rest, but submission to the old doctrines of man’s ruin and Christ’s redemption and simple child-like faith in Jesus. –J.C. Ryle
Taken from Holiness, chapter 1

Rejecting dogmas, creeds and every kind of bounds in religion sounds so familiar until I realized that once again the good bishop is speaking across time to a people he didn’t know, about truths he definitely understood.  And he understood the abandonment of those dogmas, creeds and all bounds in religion would have implications for the comfort that the Gospel brings to this world.

If the teaching of the scriptural view of sin is passe and abandoned, there is no Good News to offer this world.  What need would there be for it?  Good is only measured against that which is less good or bad.  What comfort does Christ’s atoning death for our sins offer to religious people who find that humans are basically good and perfectable, though sometimes making mistakes on the way to perfection?  What comfort is the crucifixion of Christ and His glorious resurrection if we are not all marked, stained, and soul-darkened wretches living bound in a marginally lit dungeon and in desperate need of freedom, light and cleansing?

I do not mean to pick on The Episcopal Church, but the example is, unfortunately, obvious.  I pray that better teaching and leadership will come to her through the knowledge of the depths, heights, width and breadth of God’s loving kindness and grace.  Listening to some of the teaching coming from The Episcopal Church in our day one would quickly come to the conclusion that Christ’s death was meaningless and of no consequence or comfort to our world today.  Our sin is meaningless under such teaching.

That is eternally tragic.

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I say, then, in the first place, that a scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to that vague, dim, misty, hazy kind of theology which is so painfully current in the present age. It is vain to shut our eyes to the fact that there is a vast quantity of so-called Christianity nowadays which you cannot declare positively unsound, but which, nevertheless, is not full measure, good weight and sixteen ounces to the pound. It is a Christianity in which there is undeniably ‘something about Christ and something about grace and something about faith and something about repentance and something about holiness’, but it is not the real ‘thing as it is’ in the Bible. Things are out of place and out of proportion. As old Latimer would have said, it is a kind of ‘mingle-mangle’, and does no good. It neither exercises influence on daily conduct, nor comforts in life, nor gives peace in death; and those who hold it often awake too late to find that they have got nothing solid under their feet. Now I believe the likliest way to cure and mend this defective kind of religion is to bring forward more prominently the old scriptural truth about the sinfulness of sin. People will never set their faces decidedly towards heaven and live like pilgrims, until they really feel they are in danger of hell…Let us bring the law to the front and press it upon men’s attention. let us expound the Ten Commandments and show the length and breadth and depth and height of their requirements. This is the way of our Lord in the sermon on the mount. we cannot do better than follow His plan. We may depend upon it, men will never come to Jesus and stay with Jesus and live for Jesus, unless they really know why they are to come and what is their need. Those whom the Spirit draws to Jesus are those whome the Spirit has convinced of sin. without thorough conviction of sin, men may seem to come to Jesus and follow Him for a season, but they will soon fall away and return to the world. – J.C. Ryle
From Holiness, chapter 1

I sure wish they knew how to use the journalist’s paragraph back then. Two-three sentences and then a new paragraph.

But I think the good bishop has put his finger right on the issue of Christianity at the beginning of the 21st century. We are so afraid of offending our friends and family, not to mention those who listen to us, that we have watered down the real issue in coming to faith in Christ.

Not that we should beat people over the heads with sin and dangle them over the flames of hell, but we should not be afraid to step up and note sin when it happens and be willing to name it when we see it. It is hard to offer grace and mercy when the reason it is needed is belittled. Sin is real. Let’s call it for what it is using the Bible’s standards as our definitions.

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It is easy to get crowds together for what are called ‘higher life’ and ‘consecration’ meetings. Anyone knows that, who has watched human nature and read descriptions of American camp-meetings and studied the curious phenomena of the ‘religious affections.’ Sensational and exciting addresses by strange preachers or by women, loud singing, hot rooms, crowded tents [arenas?], the constant sight of strong semi-religious feeling in the faces all around you for several days, late hours, long protracted meetings, public profession of experience – all this kind of thing is very interesting at the time and seems to do good. But is the good real, deeply-rooted, solid, lasting? That is the point. And I should like to ask a few questions about it.Do those who attend these meetings become more holy, meek, unselfish, kind, good-tempered, self-denying and Christ-like at home? Do they become more content with their position in life, and more free from restless craving after something different from that which God has given them? Do fathers, mothers, husbands and other relatives and friends find them more pleasant and easy to live with? Can they enjoy a quiet Sunday and quiet means of grace without noise, heat and excitement? Above all, do they grow in charity, and especially in charity towards those who do not agree with them in every jot and tittle of their religion? These are serious and searching questions and deserve serious consideration. I hope I am as anxious to promote real practical holiness in the land as anyone. I admire and willingly acknowledge the zeal and earnestness of many with whom I cannot co-operate who are trying to promote it. But I cannot withhold a growing suspicion that the great ‘mass-meetings’ of the present day, for the ostensible object of promoting the spiritual life, do not tend to promote private home religion, private Bible reading, private prayer, private usefulness and private walking with God. If they are of any real value, they ought to make people better husbands and wives and fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and masters and mistresses and servants. But I should like to have clear proofs that they do. I only know it far easier to be a Christian among singing, praying, sympathizing Christians in a public room, than to be a consistent Christian in a quiet, retired, out-of-the-way, uncongenial home. The first position is one in which there is a deal of nature to help us: the second is one which cannot be well-filled without grace. –J.C. Ryle, Stradbroke, October 1879

You would think he lived a hundred years later with this statement and watched the rise of stadium events, mega-churches and TV and radio preachers.  I cannot help but wonder if the past 120+ years haven’t proven him right.  Can we honestly say that we are witnessing a more holy, and godly culture and world today than we did then?  Have all these mega-churches, with their myriads and myriads of programs for every niche of Christendom created more godly people who are influencing their society around them or not?

Bishop Ryle is right.  The need of the day is not more programming or better stadium and arena events for Christians, but a return to the basics of simply and consistently following Christ in their local church with a pastor they know and who knows them.  There is nothing wrong with zealousness in following Jesus, but when the zeal doesn’t produce transformed and holy lives, then it is not merely wrong it is sinful.

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Why am I adding to nearly infinite numbers of blogs out there?  Haven’t we had enough?  Isn’t it time to surrender?  Doesn’t the Bible say something about the making of many books which has no end?  Yes, Solomon wrote that in Ecclesiastes 12:12.  Doesn’t it also say that where there are many words transgression is nearby as well as a command to keep words to a minimum because a fool’s voice comes with many words?  Yes it does, those are found in Proverbs 10:19 and Ecclesiastes 5:3.

Yes the Bible says all those things and whether or not we’ve had enough remains to be seen.  So hopefully I will restrain myself and keep the foolish words to minimum.

I’m starting this blog to help me sort through the issues of what it means to be a part of God’s people in the 21st century.  I wish the title rhymed better than it does but it hit me like a flash and stuck.  The words came to me one night as I stared at the ceiling pondering some things that I thought were missing and disconnected between God, my life and how I respond to God.

First, we all have a background story that helps determine where we’re coming from and the shape of our lives.  This is true for us as individuals and as corporate entities like big business or the Church.  Yet our society tends to leave the past in the dust.  Maybe it’s just me, the history buff and college history major, but the old axiom seems quite true, “those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”  Thus the past includes the present as it shapes what we observe in the events of the world around us.  I’m hoping to explore some of that personal and corporate history in the Church as part of this blog.  This is History.

Second, we live in a world that increasingly calls itself post-modern, presuming that we have moved beyond the modern world.  In fact, I think the case could be made that we are living in modernity 2.0.  Whereas modernity was marked by a search for logical, linear, and rationalistic answers to life’s questions, post modernism claims to have moved beyond that search to claim there are no logical, linear or rational answers to life’s questions.  Both seem to appeal to a mindset that appeals to absolutes grounded in human thinking.

Would it not be better to adopt some humility and admit that absolutes are best grounded in God who is both knowable and unknowable by our finite minds?  He is knowable to the extent that He has revealed Himself.  He is unknowable in that we cannot fathom His fullness with our finiteness.  There is always more to God than what we can see.  This is Mystery.  I’m hoping to use this blog to explore what it would means to seek God in all of His transcendent mystery.

Finally, knowing God, even in part, requires some kind of response from us.  We were meant to know God not just intellectually or rationally, but in three-dimensions.  The case could even be made that we were meant to know God in five dimensions, the basic three of this physical universe, plus the dimensions of time and spirit.  Responding to God in those five dimensions of life could reasonably be called worship.  Worship has many dimensions as well, most obviously what happens in church on Sundays.  This is Liturgy.  I hope this blog will be a place to learn from a wide-range of worship traditions that would help us all become better worshippers of the one true God every day of the week.

It’s called History, Mystery, Liturgy.  I invite you to join me on this journey and I pray God will get the glory for this conversation.

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