Category Archives: Religion

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.

Is Christianity Good for the World?

Authors Douglas Wilson (pro) and Christopher Hitchens (con) debate Christianity. Excerpt:

Hitchens: “the ‘Golden Rule’ is much older than any monotheism, and that no human society would have been possible or even thinkable without elementary solidarity (which also allows for self-interest) between its members.”

Wilson: “The Christian faith cannot credit itself for all that ‘Love your neighbor’ stuff, not to mention the Golden Rule, and the reason for this is that such moral precepts have been self-evident to everybody throughout history who wanted to have a stable society.”

I’m doing fine

Today the glories of spring returned, after several days of rain. We needed the rain, and now it’s time for some sunshine. This Global Warming thing is working out pretty well so far, if you ask me. I mowed the lawn tonight. I’m definitely convinced it’s just a tad less goshawful than it was this time last year.

I had an interesting encounter at work today. I shall, needless to say, draw a Moral Lesson from it, for the edification of all.

We have a foreign student at the school who was running up a pretty large library fine. He’d kept some books overdue, and one book he’d lost completely. His fines accumulated as they remained unpaid, and I was worried about it getting out of hand.

I spoke to the instructor in his program one day a while back, and said I thought we’d have to come to some kind of settlement, to get him out from under. But the instructor said no. “We have to teach our students responsibility.” At least that’s what I understood him to say. So I stepped back and allowed the totals to mount up.

Last week the student came in, along with an American friend. He offered me some money (not the whole amount). I told him I could take it and reduce the fine, but that he’d still have to pay off the total. At that point his friend became quite upset, and they left. The friend said he’d come back with cash and pay the whole amount himself, and that this was not demonstrating the love of Christ.

After that I went back to the instructor and told him what had happened. The instructor said we probably needed to make some kind of settlement. I said I wanted to, but I wasn’t allowed to.

“Who told you that?” he asked.

“You did,” I said.

He became very apologetic then. Somewhere we had miscommunicated. I’m not sure how it happened, but he hadn’t meant it the way I took it.

Anyway, it got worked out. I accepted the smaller amount the student himself was able to pay, and it’s all settled. Relief reigns among the stacks.

Today the American friend came in and apologized. I told him I understood completely, and that I’d probably have reacted the same way.

It was a very godly act on his part, but when you get down to it, I did handle it wrong. Instead of simply doing what I was told, I should have questioned a decision I considered unreasonable. If I’d done that, the whole thing would have been worked out weeks ago, and much unpleasantness avoided.

It’s one of my besetting sins, this passivity. It’s the Nuremburg Defense: “I was only obeying orders.” God expects more from us. We’re Christians, not Buddhists. Quietude is not an unalloyed virtue in our moral scheme. God expects us to make a fuss now and then.

Gotta work on that.

Economic crimes and hate crimes

I have sinned. Economically.

The used book store where I’ve been shopping for the last few years was doing fine, as far as I could tell, last January, the last time I was there. Then I lost my renter, things got tight, and I chose to re-read The Lord of the Rings. Then Dave Alpern sent me some books to read (Got to return those. Looking for the right box). So what with one thing and another, I didn’t buy any books for a while.

Today I dropped by the store after work, since I have a renter again and he just gave me his May payment.

They’re closed up. Empty. Dark and bare. Not a flyleaf left behind.

It’s my fault. I, personally, am solely responsible. I have no doubt that the owners lost their home and are now living on the streets, eating out of dumpsters, all for lack of my business.

I’m sorry. So very, very sorry.

Have you heard of HR 1592? It’s a bill now under consideration by the House of Representatives.

Its purpose is to expand Hate Crimes legislation. That’s bad enough, in my opinion, because the very concept of the “hate crime” amounts to punishing people for their thoughts. If a jihadist cuts off my head, I want him prosecuted for killing me, not for killing me for Islam. The motivation should be irrelevant in the eyes of the law.

But this bill expands the definition of Hate Crime in such a way that, in conjunction with Title 18 of the U.S. code, merely expressing religious opposition to homosexuality would be a prosecutable offense, in the case that some moron should draw the wrong conclusion and go out and commit a “hate crime.” Understand that? A pastor who simply repeats what the Bible says on the subject could be prosecuted and imprisoned, based on the reaction of one of his listeners.

Hat tip: Vision America.

This is what happened to the Revolution, kids. I always knew the hippies were lying when they talked about free speech. When they said “free speech,” they meant their own freedom from other people’s speech. When Paul McCartney sang, “Power to the people, right on!” he meant “Power to the people who are right on.” That is, people who agreed with him.

I don’t think a nation can survive without some kind of shared value system. It’s not enough to share a few symbolics, if the symbolics mean entirely different things to different groups. In America today, we can’t even agree on what the definition of “is” is. We’re so far apart we don’t even understand each other’s words.

I see a train wreck down the line. I wrote about this stuff in Wolf Time.

Right again, blast it.