Category Archives: Religion

“Then the Earth Reeled and Rocked”

Psalm 18 (English Standard Version)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, the servant of the LORD, who addressed the words of this song to the LORD on the day when the LORD rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:

1I love you, O LORD, my strength.

2The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,

my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

3I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,

and I am saved from my enemies.

4The cords of death encompassed me;

the torrents of destruction assailed me;

5the cords of Sheol entangled me;

the snares of death confronted me.

6In my distress I called upon the LORD;

to my God I cried for help.

From his temple he heard my voice,

and my cry to him reached his ears.

7Then the earth reeled and rocked;

the foundations also of the mountains trembled

and quaked, because he was angry.

Continue reading “Then the Earth Reeled and Rocked”

Eielsen and Hanson

Here’s the text of my talk, given at the Old Stone Church (Hauge Lutheran Church), Kenyon, Minnesota, on Sunday, June 24, 2007

The year was 1846. A boat docked in Muskegon, Michigan, and one of my distant relations—actually the half-brother of my great-great-grandfather—disembarked along with his family and a group of other Norwegians. They looked around them, blinked in the sunlight—and hadn’t the faintest idea what to do next. They wanted to see a man in Lisbon, Illinois, but they’d never imagined that America was so big—or so wild. So they hunkered down in Muskegon for a while, to try to figure out their next step.

One day a wagon rolled up, and a man jumped off and greeted them in Norwegian. He was a preacher, and he said he knew Lisbon, Illinois very well. He invited my relation to get on his wagon, and he’d take him there.

They traveled over open prairie, sleeping under the wagon at night. When they reached Lisbon, they found the man they were looking for, and then the preacher took my relation back to Muskegon to arrange for the whole group to relocate.

The preacher’s name was Elling Eielsen, and what he did for that group was all in a couple weeks’ work for him. Wherever there were Norwegians in America in the mid-nineteenth century, Eielsen would be there sooner or later, to preach the gospel and to help them adjust to the new country.

Elling Eielsen was born in Voss, in Norway, in 1804. He was converted in the Haugean revivals, and soon began to follow in Hauge’s steps, preaching all over Norway, as well as Sweden and Denmark, as a layman. And, like Hauge, he spent time in prison for his preaching activities.

In 1839 he came to America. He came because there was a need. More and more Norwegians were immigrating to this country, and there was not a single Norwegian Lutheran pastor here to minister to them. Many newcomers were converting to the Mormon church.

Eielsen settled first in Fox River, Illinois, where he began a small congregation in his home, a congregation which still exists and is part of our AFLC today. This may have been the first Norwegian Lutheran church in America—though that claim is disputed.

At the request of his congregation, Eielsen went to Chicago and found a German Lutheran pastor there who was willing to ordain him. Thus he may have become the first Norwegian Lutheran pastor ordained in America—though that claim is also disputed.

What is not disputed is that he was the first Norwegian Lutheran publisher in America. Needing teaching material for his confirmation classes, he traveled to New York to get an English translation of Luther’s Small Catechism printed. Later he went back to get a Norwegian book printed—Pontoppidan’s Explanation of the Catechism, the first Norwegian language book ever published in this country. That job involved a side trip to Philadelphia to get the typeface he wanted, and when the books were finished he carried them on his back, back to Illinois, on foot, in the dead of winter.

Elling Eielsen was not afraid of hard work.

He served many congregations over the years, but his chief work was traveling as an evangelist. He preached to Norwegian settlers in Texas. He preached in Kansas. He preached in the Dakotas. And, of course, he preached right here. The origins of Hauge and Immanuel Congregations are obscure, but it seems certain that they began with meetings led by Eielsen in this area.

As Eielsen’s ministry bore fruit, congregations were established, and they looked to him as their leader. So in 1846 a new church body came to be. Its name was—and I’m not joking here—the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. But it was better known as the Eielsen Synod.

Eielsen was probably not the best choice for a leader. His gifts were for evangelism. He was not a good organizer. He did not work well with people. He had a fiery temper, and he tended to see disagreement as heresy.

There was conflict in the Eielsen Synod. It had already split twice when, in 1876, a majority of the congregations decided they could no longer accept a paragraph in the constitution concerning church membership. Eielsen would not hear of a change. And so the majority of the congregations went on to become the Hauge Synod. A small group continued under the old constitution and Eielsen’s leadership.

The Hauge Synod chose as its first president a man whose name ought to be familiar around here. His name was Arne Boyum. But the second president should be a familiar name too. He was Østen Hanson, and he was pastor of Immanuel and Hauge churches, Kenyon, Minnesota. He served this parish for 37 years, and never took another call. Unlike Eielsen, Hanson knew how to stay put.

Østen Hanson was born in Telemark, Norway. Although his faith was every bit as solid and biblical as Eielsen’s, he had the ability to disagree with people without being disagreeable. He had a gift for organization, and he knew how to choose his battles.

He was not an educated man by the standards of this world. None of the early Haugeans were. But N. N. Rønning, in his book Fifty Years in America, says of him:

Hanson was a brainy man…. He was a converted man…. He had an insatiable hunger for knowledge and was an assiduous and discerning reader. He sought every occasion to talk with learned men. He had a passion for thinking things through.

The Bible was the book for Hanson. Everything he preached was riveted in the Bible. He wrestled with the Word. He found no peace of mind before he had mastered it, only to find, of course, that it was not fully mastered. He must have known the Letter to the Romans by heart; at least he had the more significant passages at the tip of his tongue.

I’m happy to be able to report that the synodical split did not make Eielsen and Hanson lifelong enemies. Later in his life Eielsen visited Pastor Hanson in the parsonage over in Aspelund, and he held meetings in this parish.

Ole Rølvaag tells us, quoting the Bible, that there were giants in the earth in those days. These stone walls have echoed to the voices of prophets. Hauge and Immanuel congregations have a powerful—even a heroic—spiritual heritage.

It’s not a heritage just for looking back on. I think it’s a heritage that has something to teach us today. Just as our ancestors had to find ways to practice the old, true faith in a strange new environment, so we face a strange new environment today. America was less different from Norway in the 19th Century than it is today from the country many of us grew up in. Once again our task as Christians is to work in new circumstances, speaking the timeless gospel in a new language.

May the same Spirit who worked in Eielsen and Hanson work in all of us here today, pastors and laity alike, as we carry on the ministry of repentance and faith.

Misconceptions of the Early Church

Carl Sommer, author of We Look for a Kingdom: The Everyday Lives of the Early Christians, answers a few questions on the early church.

The most common misconceptions about the early Christians are that they were egalitarian, and that they were anti or non-liturgical in their worship. The notion of egalitarianism is easy to dispel. If one honestly looks at the New Testament data, one quickly realizes that the Twelve had more authority than the body of believers, and that they routinely passed a share of their authority on to others. . . .

It is, admittedly, harder to demonstrate the liturgical nature of early Christian worship, because there is no direct description of the Liturgy in the New Testament, but shortly afterward, in the Didache and in Justin Martyr’s First Apology, we find descriptions of Liturgies that look a lot like what we do today. We can’t simply assume that the first century Church worshipped as Justin did, but it seems reasonable to suppose that very early on, the Christians took existing Synagogue rituals and modified them for Christian usage, all the while with Jesus’ command, “Do this in remembrance of me” foremost in their minds.

(via Blogwatch)

It seems so simple when I explain it to me that way!

I continue live-blogging my reading of Vol. 3 of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis.

Just went through the year (1960) when Lewis’ wife, Joy Davidman, dies. One of the most poignant things about this part of the book is the fact that Lewis keeps up his mountainous correspondence almost without a break.

It makes you wonder about the people who wrote to him (especially Mary Willis Shelburne, the “American Lady” of Letters to an American Lady, the quality of whose letters you can only guess based on his replies. But she apparently thought of him as her personal unpaid counselor, a man with nothing in the world to do but advise her on how to pay her bills and get along with her daughter). One thinks of that poor man, himself in bad health, who had for years considered his personal correspondence a sort of hairshirt that he bore for the love of Christ, pushing his arthritic hand across the paper just as he always had, even with his heart broken.

If I’d been in his place, I’m pretty sure I’d have said, “I deserve some personal freedom just now.” I’d have sent form letters to all but my real friends, and I’d have assumed that the real friends would understand a period of silence.

The first letter in the book after Joy’s funeral is one to a lady in Fairbanks, Alaska (not Mrs. Shelburne). She has asked about something Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain about God’s compassion. She apparently has some trouble reconciling the doctrine of God’s impassivity (the fact that he has no emotions in the human sense) with the biblical picture of God as being loving, angry, jealous, etc.

Lewis’ answer is somewhat philosophical, talking about how God is essentially a Mystery, whom we can never comprehend.

This is true. But I’m going to make so bold as to offer a (partial) explanation. Needless to say, if it’s true someone has doubtless said it before, and you’re free to tell me about it. If it’s original, I’m probably wrong.

But here’s how I see it.

We’re handicapped in thinking about God by the fact that we are singular beings who live in time, while He is a Trinitarian Being who dwells in eternity.

In other words, it seems to me, we can’t understand how someone can be unchanging and yet have emotions, because for us emotions always involve change.

But God is capable of being both loving and angry at the same time. (And when I say “at the same time, I’m obviously speaking from our point of view. From God’s point of view the statement is meaningless.) He has always been loving, and He has always been angry (at the perversion of His creation we call evil; in fact His anger is just a facet of His love). He doesn’t have to switch from one to another. It’s all eternally present with Him.

So now I’ve settled it for you.

You may thank me by buying my books.

I’ll even answer letters, in moderation.

Religious Persecution American Style

An astronomy professor suggests a supreme being may be the first cause of the universe and a religious studies professor circulates a petition to denounce him. The religion guy (with popular opinion) tells the astronomy guy he’s wrong? It reminds me of a line from a British sit-com. “You know I’m right, because you’ve resorted to slander.”

Sometimes I get the impression that on the subject of god, everyone is considered an expert.

American Pietist

It’s been an interesting week. Special thanks to everyone who commented (and so civilly) on my post about divorce. I learned some things I hadn’t known, which I’d like to list and examine, as an exercise in humility.

On the basis of my upbringing, and everything I’d heard in my own contacts within my church body, I’d gotten the impression that our official position is “No remarriage after divorce, for any reason.”

I should have known better. First of all, we’re (organizationally) a congregational church body. We try to keep our central mandates to an absolute minimum. Every congregation has the right to make its own decisions on such matters as whom they will marry, and this issue is no different. Some of our churches (and pastors) will marry divorced people, some won’t.

I also hadn’t known (though I think Dale told me before, and I should have) that the Lutheran tradition has held almost universally that remarriage is permitted for innocent parties. The tradition where I grew up, which held a view closer to the Catholic one, is not mainstream but fringe.

I looked some things up, and talked to a couple knowledgeable people, and nobody seems to know where the tradition I’m familiar with first entered the Lutheran stream. I suspect that it may have come with Pietism, which in its purest form insists that any matter that might possibly be considered sin is indeed sin, and must be rejected. That’s why we Pietists have our famous rules against drinking and dancing, rules not actually found in Scripture.

On the other hand, somebody told me he thought the Missouri Synod also had an anti-remarriage tradition, and the Missourians are far from being Pietists. Maybe someone who knows more about that can give me more information.

But the Pietist thing is thorny. I consider myself a Pietist, and I’m proud of it. It’s easy for us, today, to look down on the Pietists and condemn them as loveless rule-jockeys. And there’s plenty of justification for that.

But if you know history, there are reasons for what they did. My own people, the Norwegians, had a reputation you wouldn’t recognize when they first arrived on U.S. shores. They were considered drunken, brawling reprobates, and they deserved it.

I wrote about my great-grandfather John B. Johnson a while back. He was a colorful character, but he was also a genuine monster. When he was drunk, which was often, he was capable of anything. He came home one night (so the story goes), with a friend in tow. He loudly announced he had “sold” his daughter (my grandmother, then a little girl) to his friend for the night. My great-grandmother took a broom to the both of them, fortunately, and nothing came of that.

But are you surprised if she wanted to join the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and wipe out saloons?

In the Pietist revivals, hundreds, even thousands, knelt at the altar and received salvation, and then were expected to live a Pietist life. No drinking. No gambling. No dancing (which was likely to put you in situations where you’d be pressured to drink and gamble). Living like that tends to concentrate you, and it also saves money. It greatly assists your upward mobility. Is it any wonder that Pietist immigrant groups tended to assimilate faster and do better in America than other groups? As Wesley is supposed to have said about his converts, “I just can’t keep them poor!”

And yet, as Joe Carter notes in this post at Evangelical Oupost, it’s unquestionably hubristic to try to be “more ethical than Jesus.”

I’ve long felt that the proper rule is, “I will determine in my heart, relying on Scripture and good counsel, how I believe God wants me to live. But I will not try to impose on anyone else any rule not plainly taught in Scripture.”

Which makes me a wishy-washy Pietist, I guess.

Now I wonder if I should start asking out divorced women. I could open myself up to whole new worlds of rejection.

Ah, well. I’m too poor to date right now anyway.

This one ought to bring in some comments

Took another half day off work today, to welcome another air conditioner tech into the bosom of my home. He looked my late, lamented unit over for the household warranty company, called in his findings (he concurred with the previous diagnosis) and told me the company would get back to me. I’m now waiting for that call.

The possibilities are two. One is that they’ll just replace the dead condenser. This will be good in the sense of saving me money just now, when money’s tight. Less good long-range. The other possibility is that they’ll offer some kind of deal on replacement of the whole shebang, which will raise the problem of how much that may cost, and how I’ll cover it.

Actually there’s a third possibility. They may just deny coverage, which the tech casually remarked they did on the last unit he inspected for them.

A number of decisions about what I’ll be doing this summer await that final verdict.

Learned something new from Vol. III of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis today.

It had always seemed a little… squishy to me, the way Lewis maintained (as he does in a couple letters in this volume) that there can be no Christian remarriage after divorce, right up until the time he fell in love with a divorced woman and wanted to marry her. (The original BBC version of Shadowlands deals with this dilemma, by the way, while the later theatrical version ignores it.) One understands the power of love, of course, not to mention his heroic willingness to take on married life (and step-fatherhood) with a woman he expected to die very soon. But it seemed a little self-serving, in view of his previously expressed views.

But Hooper notes here, between letters written in March, 1957:

About the time Joy was admitted to hospital with cancer, Lewis discovered that William Gresham had been legally married before his marriage to Joy, and that his first wife had been alive at the time of this second marriage. Lewis took the view of the Catholic Church that his second marriage was therefore invalid, leaving Joy free to marry again.

I’m aware that the No Remarriage rule doesn’t have many Protestant (probably not even many Catholic) adherents these days, but that passage comforted me.

And when I say that, I want to make it very, very clear that I don’t want to start a debate on the subject. My own church body holds to the old, hard rule, and I personally agree with it, which is one of many reasons I’m still single (Let’s face it—the best single women in my age group are almost always divorced).

You should see the angry e-mails I got a few years back, when I took out an ad on a Christian singles website and tried to explain—really, really gently—that I couldn’t consider marriage to a divorced woman. A couple writers accused me of saying “everybody who’s divorced is going to Hell.”

What I say is, let everyone be convinced in their own consciences, and I’m happy to leave the judgment to God.

(By the way, I went through a self-serving period myself, when I lived in Florida. I attended an excellent singles group down there, and it included a number of admirable and very attractive divorced women. I found myself unaccountably persuaded, for a while, that remarriage was permissible. But I never got a date anyway.)

Now let the flaming begin.