To Change the World

Rick Hogaboam, Scott Kistler and I will be reading To Change the World by James Davison Hunter and posting our thoughts about it as we go along. Hopefully we will interact with each other too. I come at Hunter’s book as a postmillenial, Magisterial Anglican and a post-Reconstructionist along the lines of Peter Leithart and James Jordan. Of course those labels may not mean much to most people, but I put them out there to say the obvious which is that I am not neutral on the subjects Hunter will discuss, I pretty much have my mind made up already.

In Chapter 1, Hunter outlines the Creation mandate of Genesis 2.15: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” He says that humans as part of our very nature are inclined to build churches, institutions, families and in short, worlds. This rings of Tolkien’s phrase that we are sub-creators. This perspective on Genesis 2.15 is indeed central to the mission and thinking of many modern Christian institutions and thinkers.

Just how central it is becomes obvious as Hunter takes a quick run through Protestant and Catholic mission statements that span groups from liberal to conservative. From the ELCA to Focus on the Family, churches and para-church ministries say that they want to “impact culture” or bring about a revolution of justice. Indeed, one has only to subscribe to certain Christian magazines engaged in the culture war (as I do) to be inundated with appeals for money in order to fund these organizations who believe that they can turn the tide in our culture.

Hunter’s quick summation concludes with this reflection:

I contend that the dominant ways of thinking about culture and cultural change are flawed, for they are based on both specious social science and problematic theology. In brief, the model on which various strategies are based not only does not work, but it cannot work.

Further Reading

Doug Wilson has been posting his running commentary on the book, available here.

There is an interview with Hunter here.

Defending Constantine

Coming in November, Peter Leithart’s new book:

Contents:

1 Sanguinary Edicts
2 Jupiter on the Throne
Instinctu Divinitatus
4 By This Sign
Liberator Ecclesiae
6 End of Sacrifice
7 Common Bishop
8 Nicaea and After
9 Seeds of Evangelical Law
10 Justice for All
11 One God, One Emperor
12 Pacifist Church?
13 Christian Empire, Christian Mission
14 Rome Baptized

I CAN”T WAIT!!!!

The Abortion Debate

Thomas Fleming has an ongoing series of important posts up at Chronicles on the abortion debate. So far there are:

Part I, II, III

Often, the comments after the posts are as insightful as the posts themselves. Here is a snippet from his first column:

There is really no good Scriptural text on abortion, and the common pro-life bumper sticker “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” assumes a knowledge of embryology on Jeremiah’s part (and an intention) that is quite out of the question.  The various fundamentalist/evangelical attempts to find a secure Scriptural basis for outlawing abortion are as futile as most of their theology.   Exodus 21, the most frequently cited text, merely states the penalty for causing the death of the fetus, though it is quite true that rabbinical commentators used this to support their condemnation of abortion.

Despite rabbinical prohibitions, there is no reason to believe that Jews did not behave more or less like other Mediterranean peoples.  This has no bearing on the undoubted fact that Christians were early on distinguished for their rejection of infanticide and abortion.

There is no need for Scriptural authority in this case.  Man is made in the image of the God who sent his Son in human form to take upon Himself the sins of the world, to die for us, and in rising from the dead to give us the promise of life everlasting.  The Christian vision, then, could give no support to infanticide or abortion, except in the difficult case where a mother’s life is at stake.  (I do not intend to take any position on this since it is of almost no significance today.  We shall stick to the main road.)

Like other ancient texts, the Old Testament says nothing nothing about the rights of children and very little about parental duties:  What matters most is the child’s duty to the parent and not the reverse.  Nonetheless, the OT texts, like the literatures of the Greeks and Romans, gives a very positive portrayal, generally, of parents. There is no need, I think, to speak of Abraham and Isaac, or  Jacob and Joseph, when we have the portrait of Mary and Joseph’s very tender regard for Jesus.  Mary’s outburst, on finding her son teaching in the temple, is almost amusing, it is so like what any normal mother would say when realizing that her son is safe–and not through any effort of his own!  I can hear my own mother’s “Where have you been? Do you realize your father and and I have been waiting up all night long…?

In the Christian tradition, then, there is no talk of a child’s universal human life to be guaranteed by a government or legal system, only the parents’ duty to love and care for their children.  This is not a universal or convertible obligation:  I have to take care of my children but not your children much less everybody’s children.  Of course, a Christian society will want to enforce up to a point Christian moral law and might even institutionalize some forms of charity, but in an anti-Christian society it is incumbent upon us to return to a more traditional Christian way of thinking about matters such as abortion, divorce, and charity, lest we find ourselves sacrificing the moral authority of family’s to the power of an anti-Christian state that makes war upon the family.

Charles Finney the Scary Heretic

My last post on wine in church reminded me that the source of all this frustration is the stupid Prohibition movement which still leaves its mark on American churches in the form of grape juice. Many of these movements stemmed from the crusading fervor of heretics such as Charles Finney. I call him scary both for his beliefs and his personal appearance [see below].

Finney’s heresies are ably outlined by Michael Horton here. Essentially, he taught a form of Christian perfectionism that meant not only that you *can* be free from sin prior to death [not possible] , but that you *must* be like this in order to be saved! Horton quotes him:

… full present obedience is a condition of justification. But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed … But can he be pardoned and accepted, and justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not.

You cannot be justified while any degree of sin remains in you! Christ cleaned the slate and now it’s up to you to get it done! I grew up in a church that held this man up as a hero and it plagued many years of my life with thinking that I didn’t measure up because I kept sinning. It is a theology that warps and destroys souls. If you want to see the extreme, cultish version of where it leads [including free love], read The Kingdom of Matthias. Finney -> Matthias -> Sojurner Truth, the 1800’s creep me out.

But out of all this perfectionist fervor came Prohibition, amongst other weird things like Quaker Oats and Graham Crackers. Graham was another perfectionist with bizarre dietary theories that are probably right at home with our modern practitioners of magnets and needles. Susan Cayleff writes in Wash and Be Healed, “Graham admonished his listeners against culinary gluttony, believe that the stomach was the center of the system, and advocated the use of only whole grain bread, unbolted. This belief eventually produced the “graham cracker,” which was a dietary mainstay in hygenic households.”

The Wikipedia entry on Graham says, “Graham was also inspired by the temperance movement and preached that a vegetarian diet was a cure for alcoholism, and, more importantly,sexual urges. The main thrust of his teachings was to curb lust. While alcohol had useful medicinal qualities, it should never be abused by social drinking. For Graham, an unhealthy diet stimulated excessive sexual desire which irritated the body and caused disease. While Graham developed a significant following known as Grahamites, he was also ridiculed by the media and the public for his unwavering zealotry. According to newspaper records, many women fainted at his lectures when he aired opinions both on sexual relations and the wearing of corsets…In 1850 he helped found the American Vegetarian Society modeled on a similar organization established in Great Britain.”

Vegetarianism, socialism, sinless perfectionism, prohibition, it’s all there. These folks figured that your diet produced sinful lust in you, so it must be regulated. Alcohol was evil, so it must be eliminated. They placed the source of sin in the object outside of you, rather than your own failure of self-control. Due to these fine folks, most churches today disobey Jesus and use grape juice in Communion.

 

I’m Going Crackers

Sigh. I know that the church we are attending is not everything I hoped and dreamed of. I know it, I do. But why oh why do churches use grape juice and crackers in the Lord’s Supper? It probably doesn’t phase a lot of folks, because they don’t think about it much, but once you think about it, it drives you…crackers…as the Brits say. People who know that every word of Jesus is important and to be obeyed think nothing of ignoring him when he says “bread” and “wine.” As if bread is the same as Saltines and wine can be grape juice.

James Jordan has put it better than I can:

But do the churches do these things? Let’s see. First of all, Jesus said to bring wine. How many churches use wine today? The American evangelicals have decided to give wine over to the devil, instead of claiming it for Christ. As a result, they use grape juice. Jesus, however, used (alcoholic) wine. He turned water into wine as the first manifestation of His Kingdom. He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard which shows what He was drinking (Matt. 11:19). He prescribed just this kind of liquid for His meal.

But do we do what He said? Usually not. And this is nothing new. For centuries the Western Catholic Church (“Roman” Catholicism) rejected the cup altogether. It has only been since the Second Vatican Council that Catholics have been able to drink wine in communion.

Well, what about bread? Suppose my wife phoned me at work and said, “Jim, would you go by the store and get some bread on your way home?” Now, let’s say I bought some saltines instead. My guess is that she would be unhappy. She would say, “Jim, that’s not bread; those are saltines. Don’t you know the difference between bread and saltines?” Or suppose I brought some pressed-out wafers home?

I think we know what bread is. I do. Don’t you? Bread is bread. If we believe in using unleavened bread, it should still be unleavened bread and not crackers or wafers.

Amazing, isn’t it? Jesus asks us to do two simple things, and century after century the Church comes up with weird substitutes. Why is this? Why can’t we just do what Jesus said to do? As I reflect upon this, it seems to me that the reason has to be that there is real grace in the Lord’s Supper, and that Satan fears that grace. Thus, Satan has persuaded people not to do what Jesus said to do.

I thought that at least a Presbyterian church would use real wine, never mind that they don’t allow baptized Christians to partake (the youth). But lo, they do not. Grape juice and crackers, just like every other shallow church on the block. Gag. Truly, the Protestant churches are much like the Medieval Catholics, as more and more folks are noticing:

Third, communion is administered infrequently, as in the late Middle Ages, so the faithful only receive a few times a year. And Evangelicals have found a new way to effectively deny the cup to the laity by avoiding the biblical element of wine. (Where is Jan Hus when we need him?) Against dominical command and the clear words of the New Testament, most Evangelicals persist in employing grape juice rather than wine in the sacrament. Paradoxically, those whose approach to Scripture might be deemed most literalistic choose to set aside Christ’s clear injunction.

Here, in a sense, is a modern Evangelical version of what the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles call a “work of supererogation.” Evangelicals may still reject the idea of accumulating surplus merit, but the implication of substituting grape juice for wine in the sacrament is that we know better than our Lord and can be more pious than Jesus. And some Evangelicals have an attitude toward alcohol that one could only describe as superstitious.

It’s really difficult to be a Christian in America when basic things like creeds, sacraments and liturgy are unheard of and wild notions to the vast majority of flocks. I hope it changes someday.

Our Future

It is hard to imagine what the future of the USA will look like, and forecasts are useless anyway, because none of us actually KNOWS the future. That said, we face such tidal waves of debt in this nation and globally that a reckoning day will come. [I will make my own useless forecast] Since we are unlikely to cut spending much or raise taxes much, my guess is that the reckoning will be in the form of hyperinflation. Inflation makes debts small at the cost of destroying the currency and punishing savers. What all this means for me and my children is worrisome.

I am post-millennial, which means that I think the future is ultimately bright for Christ and His Church. I think things have gotten better since the Resurrection. You only think things are the worst now if you don’t know history very well. While I expect a form of “collapse” for the USA I don’t think it will be “end of the world” collapse, just something like the collapse of the British Empire. We won’t be able to police the world, tell everyone what to do, and so on. Rod Dreher talks about where to live and whether or not to move on his blog. Will there be social unrest? I would think so. I don’t think living in cities will be pleasant at times. On the other hand, living in extremely rural areas doesn’t seem great either due to driving distances, lack of supplies, and so on. If oil prices go up, driving distances may become untenable and low income / fixed income folk aren’t going to be able to commute. All of this seems to point to suburbs and smaller cities becoming more livable, walkable and pleasant, so that is an upside.

I would imagine that our standard of living will stagnate, but on the other hand it seems possible that there will continue to be an uber-class of vastly wealthy elites and an underclass of the proletariat who cannot protect their savings with gold, overseas banks and the like. Stress will come on the institutions of governance and perhaps they will fall apart. And yet technology affords the government with unprecedented means of spying, control and punishment.

Perhaps a public burned by experiences with debt and disabused of the notion that the Messianic State can take care of everything will mature in wisdom. Perhaps fragments of our society can begin to return to taking care of local things instead of always worrying about national issues that we can do nothing about. Or perhaps we are in for several centuries of darkness, where fragility and uncertainty reign and the political landscape shifts all the time. Either way, there are great opportunities for the Church in the coming century, due to technology, upheaval and the failure of institutions that are given over to evil.

Greek Orthodox Deacon Traffics Fake Relics

As I have noted here previously, relics are still for sale in our day. The idolatrous veneration of bones, teeth, hair and paintings lends itself to the unscrupulous preying on the gullible. In this case, a Greek Orthodox deacon assisted a Swiss man in trying to pass off “normal” bones as the bones of saints.:

Police in the northern city of Thessaloniki arrested 43-year-old Swiss Stephan Meyer, an electrician from Zurich, after airport security found 197 human bones and three skulls in the man’s luggage as he tried to board a flight from Thessaloniki to Germany.

Mayer was due to pass the bones onto a representative from the Russian Orthodox Church in Germany, pretending that the bones were from the skeletons of Orthodox saints.

Police also arrested Meyer’s accomplice, a 24-year-old deacon from the diocese in Sidirokastro near the Bulgarian border, after they discovered 505 human bones and 15 skulls at his home.

The bones that had been cleaned were also labelled with various names of saints.

Both men were in custody in Thessaloniki and will face the city court Tuesday charged with theft, trafficking and profanation.

Of course this begs the question regarding if they had succeeded. Orthodox folks would have been “venerating” the bones of who knows who…makes you wonder if this happens anyway?
UPDATE: This article adds details:
the items were meant to be delivered – i.e. sold – to a Russian Orthodox priest presently living in Germany. It seems that the Greek and Swiss accomplices tried to sell the items as genuine relics of deceased saints. Some items had name-tags such as St Andrew, St Dimitris and St Basil, and all of the skulls and bones had been doused in incense-like fragrances.
As of now it is unknown whether or not the receiver was to be deceived, who planned to take the ‘relics’ to India in order to start a new church, or if he perhaps knew that it was all faked and wanted to deceive his future parishioners with some ancient relics from Christian lands. Among the items found by police were also two nails labeled ‘Holy Nails of Jesus,’ apparently an attempt to pass them off as nails used during the crucifixion.
UPDATE 2: [source]
A search of the deacon’s home on Monday by Thessaloniki Security police turned up 10 narcotic pills, 505 bones and 15 skulls on which names of saints were written, as well as a 19th century Byzantine icon, a 19th century Byzantine cross, two Byzantine rings, and five ancient and Byzantine coins which are protected under antiquities laws.