Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Review

Yes, I know, there's nothing more boring than blogging about blogging, but around about this time of year, when I'm on holidays, I usually find myself asking whether I should continue with this blog. It's not that it takes a lot of effort but there are other things I could do with my spare time - like more reading, research and walking. So, a review is in order.

Looking back at four years of blogging I've had 48 000 page hits and 1600 comments from all continents with the 'hot spots' appearing to be Brisbane and Sydney in Australia, San Francisco, Chicago, St Louis, Atlanta and Philadelphia in the US, London, Paris and Arad, Romania of all places (whence hails my indefatigable Romanian Orthodox correspondent Lucian!). Last time I checked, about three years ago, average daily visitors numbered about 30, but as of today I note they are about 100, which is encouraging. Not that numbers were ever a goal (honestly!), as I enjoy blogging as a hobby, but it's nice to be read! So, we'll continue for another year and see how it goes. Meantime I'll be tidying up the virtual old manse, which means getting my links into order and eliminating any redundancies in them.

One thing I must add is that while I always endeavour to personally reply to all comments and off-blog correspondence and enjoy receiving it, especially from overseas visitors, with a family and a real space and time ministry to attend to (in a parish which measures 100 kilometres from north to south as the crow flies) I don't have the time to offer pastoral counsel by e-mail (nor would it be ethical to do so in most cases). My advice to all who seek such is to contact your nearest confessional Lutheran pastor. I'm always happy to advise where he may be found.

A peaceful and prosperous New Year, my friends!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

A Saviour is Born To You


'Behold here what the Gospel is, namely, a joyful sermon concerning Christ, our Saviour. Whoever preaches him rightly, preaches the Gospel of pure joy. How is it possible for man to hear with greater joy than that Christ has been given to him as his own? He (the angel) does not only say Christ is born, but he makes his birth our own by saying to you a Saviour is born. Therefore the Gospel not only teaches the history concerning Christ, but it enables all who believe it to receive it as their own, which is the way the Gospel operates, as has just been set forth. Of what benefit would it be to me if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would daily be sung into my ears in a most lovely manner, if I were never to hear that he was born for me and was to be my very own? If the voice gives forth this pleasant sound, even if it be in homely phrase, my heart listens with joy for it is a lovely sound which penetrates the soul. If now there were any thing else to be preached, the evangelical angel and the angelic evangelist would certainly have touched upon it.'

Sermons of Martin Luther - The Church Postils
Volume 1, Sermon for Christmas Day (revised)

A blessed Christmas to all who visit the virtual old manse!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas Was Originally a Pagan Festival, Right?

Wrong. 'Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism [and many neo-atheists - MH], who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.'

Read it all by clicking here.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Sordid Dregs of Sin

Well, there I was leading Divine Service at St Peter's, Warwick, announcing the first hymn - 'Our first hymn is No. 1 in the hymnal, 'Hark a Herald Voice is Calling'. I sat down and opened my hymnal only to realise 'Ah, we have Powerpoint now' (old habits die hard!). I looked up to notice that this wasn't Caswell's familiar version of the hymn but a modern translation.


Soon we were into the second verse, singing:

'Now our sluggish minds are rising
from the sordid dregs of sin;
now above, the New Star shining
puts to flight all harmful dreams.'

Sordid dregs of sin... 'What a striking line', I thought. Come the last verse (I for one find it disconcerting that you never really know what's coming next with Powerpoint) I took note of the translator: it was none other than our erstwhile Lutheran brother David Schutz. Now, I think David's version is more of a paraphrase than a strict rendering (the allusion to John the Baptist has disappeared, I note), but then translating from the Latin is, as I understand it, more of an art than a science, an exercise in 'dynamic' rather than 'formal' equivalence, especially with poetry and hymnody, where rhyme and metre are necessary considerations. But I do think that, by any measure, this is a fine modern version of the 6th C. Latin original which is simple enough to be singable by modern congregations and which therefore deserves to be widely used. Here 'tis:


1 Listen to the sound of thunder,
see the dark clouds rumbling near:
Christ will rouse us from our sleeping
when, from heaven, he appears.

2 Now our sluggish minds are rising
from the sordid dregs of sin;
now above, the New Star shining
puts to flight all harmful dreams.

3 Christ the Lamb is sent from heaven,
God as human here to live;
comes to hear repentant voices,
full of kindness, to forgive.

4 When he comes again like lightning,
and the world is gripped by fear,
safe from guilt and retribution,
we will gladly greet him here.

Vox clara ecce intonat
Latin hymn, 6th century
Tr David Schütz, alt. 2001

'Sordid dregs of sin' - nice turn of phrase, David; let us indeed rise above them!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Luther on the Virgin Mary

'For thus Isaiah announced, in his eleventh chapter: “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root, and the Holy Spirit shall rest upon him.” The stem and root is the generation of Jesse or David, in particular the Virgin Mary; the rod and flower is Christ. Now, just as unlikely, nay incredible, a thing it is that a fair branch and flower should spring from a dry and withered stem and root, just so unlikely was it that Mary the Virgin should become the mother of such a child. For, I take it, she is called a stem and root, not only because she became a mother in a supernatural manner and without violation of her virginity, even as it is above nature to make a branch grow out of a dead tree-stump, — but also for the following reason: Of yore, in the days of David and Solomon, the royal stem and line of David had been green and flourishing, fortunate in its great glory, might and riches, and famous in the eyes of the world. But in the latter days, when Christ was to come, the priests had usurped this honor and were the sole rulers, while the royal line of David had become so impoverished and despised it was like unto a dead stem, so that there was no hope nor likelihood that a king descended therefrom would ever attain to any great glory. But when all seemed most unlikely-comes Christ, and is born of the despised stem, of the poor and lowly maiden! The rod and flower springs from her whom Sir Annas’ or Caiaphas’ daughter would not have deigned to have for her humblest lady’s maid. Thus God’s work and His eyes are in the depths, but man’s only in the height.

Luther's Works, American Edition, vol. 21, 'The Magnificat' (Concordia, St Louis, 1956), pp299-300.

Friday, 16 December 2011

What Should Christians Think About the Death of an Outspoken Atheist?


Tonight on the car radio I heard the report that Christopher Hitchens had died of complications brought about by his throat cancer. What should Christians think about the death of this outspoken atheist? Douglas Wilson, a Christian intellectual and Presbyterian minister who debated Hitchens several times, has this to say, and I doubt anyone could put it better (click on the post title).

Monday, 12 December 2011

Krauth on the Rights and Limitations of Conscience in Matters of Religion

'We concede to every man the absolute right of private judgment as to the faith of the Lutheran Church, but if he has abandoned the faith of that Church, he may not use her name as his shelter in attacking the thing she cherishes, and in maintaining which she obtained her being and her name. It is not enough that you say to me that such a thing is clear to your private judgment. You must show to my private judgment that God's Word teaches it, before I dare recognise you as in the unity of the faith. ..In other words your private judgment is not to be my interpreter, nor is mine to be yours. ..You have the civil right and the moral right to form your impressions in regard to truth, but there the right stops. You have not the right to enter or remain in any Christian communion except as its terms of membership give you that right.'

Charles Porterfield Krauth (1823-1882; Professor of Systematic Theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia from 1867 and Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania from 1868), The Conservative Reformation and its Theology (3rd ed., United Lutheran Publishing House, Philadelphia, 1913, p172)

Note - Not all legal jurisdictions recognise the civil right of freedom of conscience in matters of religion, and some today do not even acknowledge the moral right to such freedom. Such liberties are features of societies influenced by the Reformation's conception of the importance of conscience, beginning with Luther's symbolic stand at the Diet of Worms in 1521, when he declared:'Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.'

Yahweh or My Way?

“Christianity, and nothing else [is] the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

Jürgen Habermas (1929- ) German sociologist and philosopher, A Time of Transitions (2006)

Monday, 5 December 2011

Sign of the Times

Being school holiday time, one of my two teenage sons and his best friend met up at the main shopping mall here in Toowoomba (context: a conservative regional city, pop. 100 000, which serves mainly as a service centre for a large and productive rural hinterland) today to pass some time and see a movie. He returned home to report that while sitting in the Food Court having lunch they had a conversation with some Buddhist monks who my son described as 'missionaries'. It seems likely they are connected with the 'Pure Land Buddhist Learning College' located not far from the city centre in what was once a Presbyterian church which they've extended into a campus by buying several neighbouring properties. The brown robed monks and nuns are a common site around the city and I've seen them at the university too - they seem to come here from Taiwan for a short stay, much like the American Mormon missionaries of a previous era. A sign of the times, no doubt.

I've heard many an expert on 'world religions' state that Christianity and Islam are the only 'missionary religions' (usually said with a sneer and a warning about how dangerous missionary zeal is), but if 'Pure Land Buddhists' are truly 'missionary' it gives the lie to that statement. It would be worthwhile looking into the soteriology of this group to see what makes them different from other Buddhist sects. What could be gleaned from a study of their religion that might serve as a contact point for proclamation of the Christian Gospel, a la Paul in Athens? 'Men and women of Pure Land Buddhism, I perceive that you are very religious...'