Monday, 30 November 2009

C. S. Lewis to a Roman Catholic on the Development of Doctrine

C.S. Lewis, writing to a Roman Catholic, "The real reason I cannot be in communion with you is ... that to accept your Church means not to accept a given body of doctrine but to accept in advance any doctrine that your Church hereafter produces."

I have no reference for this quote, and while I don't particularly want to be responsible for disseminating a C. S. Lewis quote that isn't a C.S. Lewis quote (see previous post on the Luther quote that wasn't), it has been sitting on my desktop for weeks now and I can no longer resist posting it. What a classic!

The Luther Quote That Wasn't (and its Connection to Rundle Mall in Adelaide)

Recently Dr. John Kleinig, a lecturer at my alma mater, Luther Seminary, Adelaide, South Australia (or Australian Lutheran College as it is now more prosaically known) sent out a request for help in tracking down a well-known quote attributed to Luther. Here is the quote as it is referred to in an essay by Robert D. Prues, 'Word, Doctrine and Confession' (in Doctrine is Life, Essays on Scripture, Concordia 2006, p285-286):

If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.

I had heard the quote before, often given off the cuff by students in the refectory during a heated argument over morning tea and occasionally it was even cited by lecturers in the lecture room, and I suspect it is known at least in paraphrased form by most consciously confessional Lutherans; it is particularly relevant to our times and is therefore probably one of the three or four best-known quotations from Luther bandied about in confessional circles today. That and the fact that I love research meant that I couldn't resist following this request up.

The quote sounds like it might come from Luther's Table-Talk, but I'm sure better scholars than I have searched the Tischreden in vain for the citation. For example, I can't believe that a careful a scholar like Robert Preus did not spend quite a bit of time searching for the quote in the huge leather-bound volumes of the Weimarer Ausgabe von Luthers Werke before giving up and reluctantly referencing the citation thus in footnote #85 of the above cited essay that otherwise bristles with a familiarity with the original sources:'These sentences are quoted from Francis A. Schaeffer, "Truth Versus the New Humanism and the New Theology," in Erich Kiehl and Waldo Werning, eds., Evangelical Directions for the Lutheran Church , 1970, 21'.

So, where did Francis Shaeffer get the quote from? That I cannot say with certainty, since he did not reference it. But, I believe I have tracked down the first occurrence of the words in print, thanks to the wonders of the internet that allow an amateur scholar to access some of the world's best libraries without ever leaving his study in an old country manse (with an iffy internet connection at best!) .

Elizabeth Charles was a 19th century English novelist and hymn translator, who was once commissioned to write a historical novel set in Reformation times; the novel appeared in 1862 with the title Chronicles of the Schoenberg-Cotta Family and became a best-seller, being translated into several European and other languages -even Hindi! (the fact of the novel's popularity immediately reminds us of the deep religiosity of the second-half of the 19th century, which is perhaps comparable only in magnitude to the credulity of the second-half of the 20th century).

Charles' novel records the impact of the Reformation through the eyes of several members of the fictional Schoenberg-Cotta family. In chapter XIX, titled 'Fritz's Story' (p. 276 in the 1864 Thomas Nelson edition), you will find the following entry in the fictional diary of one Fritz, a sometime Augustinian monk converted to the Reformation cause by Luther (ellipses indicate editing on my part for the sake of brevity):

Ebernberg, April 2nd, 1526

A chasm has opened between me and my monastic life. I have been in the prison, and in the prison have I received at last, in full, my emancipation. The ties I dreaded impatiently to break have been broken for me, and I am a monk no longer...

But the time came when Dr. Luther's name was on every lip. The bull of excommunication went forth against him from the Vatican. His name was branded as that of the vilest of heretics by every adherent of the Pope. In many churches, especially those of the Dominicans, the people were summoned by the great bells to a solemn service of anathema, where the whole of the priests, gathered at the altar in the darkened building, pronounced the terrible words of doom, and then, flinging down their blazing torches extinguished them on the stone pavement, as hope, they said, was extinguished by the anathema for the soul of the accursed.

...mine was not the only heart which glowed with burning indignation to hear that worthy name linked with those of apostates and heretics, and held up to universal execration. But, perhaps, in no heart there did it enkindle such a fire as in mine. Because I knew the source from which those curses came, how lightly, how carelessly those firebrands were flung; not fiercely, by the fanaticism of blinded consciences, but daintily and deliberately, by cruel, reckless hands, as a matter of diplomacy and policy, by those who cared themselves neither for God's curse nor his blessing. And I knew also the heart which they were meant to wound; how loyal, how tender, how true; how slowly, and with what pain Dr. Luther had learned to believe the idols of his youth a lie; with what a wrench, when the choice at last had to be made between the word of God and the voice of the Church, he had clung to the Bible, and let the hopes, and trust, and friendships of earlier days be torn from him; what anguish that separation still cost him; how willingly, as a humble little child, at the sacrifice of anything but truth and human souls, he would have flung himself again on the bosom of that Church to which, in his fervent youth, he had offered up all that makes life dear...

After the publication of the excommunication, they publicly burned the writings of Dr. Luther in the great square. Mainz was the first city in Germany where this indignity was offered him.

Mournfully I returned to my convent. In the cloisters of our Order the opinions concerning Luther are much divided. The writings of St. Augustine have kept the truth alive in many hearts amongst us; and besides this, there is the natural bias to one of our own order, and the party opposition to the Dominicans, Tetzel and Eck, Dr. Luther's enemies. Probably there are few Augustinian convents in which there are not two opposite parties in reference to Dr. Luther.

In speaking of the great truths, of God freely justifying the sinner because Christ died, (the Judge acquitting because the Judge himself had suffered for the guilty), I had endeavoured to trace them, as I have said, beyond all human words to their divine authority. But now to confess Luther seemed to me to have become identical with confessing Christ . It is the truth which is assailed in any age which tests our fidelity. It is to confess we are called, not merely to profess. If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point."

So, the mystery of the source of the famous Luther quote is solved. It is not Luther at all, but Elizabeth Charles, or so it would seem, unless someone, somewhere can turn up an original citation from Luther's works.

Finally, there is a delightful little twist in this tale too: Elizabeth Charles was the daughter of John Rundle, sometime Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons for the electorate of Tavistock in Devon. He was also a founder of the South Australia Company, which fostered much of the settlement and trade of the South Australian colony. The main street of Adelaide, the city from whence the original call for help came from Dr Kleinig at Luther Seminary, is named after him, "Rundle Mall".

(Pics: Top: Title Page, Luther's Tischreden or Table Talk; Middle: A popular level volume on English church history by Elizabeth Charles which advertises itself as by the author of the best-selling Chronicles of the Schoenberg-Cotta Family;
Bottom: Rundle Mall Fountain and the Adelaide Arcade at night)

Saturday, 28 November 2009

If present trends continue...

An article in The Times On-line edition today (click on post title to read it) states that the Church of England will lose a tenth of its clergy in the next five years (stipendiary clergy that is, the ones who get paid, as opposed to non-stipendiary, volunteer clergy who hold other jobs but also conduct services on a Sunday, of whom there are quite a number in the C of E) largely due to financial pressures caused by the GFC (although a clergy shortage also seems to be contributing to the impending disaster) which means that basically the C of E cannot afford to pay for every parish to have an incumbent pastor. Instead of being assigned to a parish, ministers will instead serve clusters of parishes in the near future.

To the average C of E worshipper used to having their own vicar in the parish, that news is no doubt quite disturbing. But frankly, what I would find more frightening if I were a Church of England member are the following projections buried further down in the article about attendance and the extent to which the Church of England will be representative of England's population in the future (or not, as the case may be):

"About one in sixty people worships with the Church of England on an average Sunday. This is projected to drop to less than one in 600 by 2050. The average age of a British Anglican worshipper was 37 in 1980, but is expected to rise to 67 by 2050."

Of course, this is all "if present trends continue...". Churches have been written off before and have subsequently experienced unforeseen renewal, for where God is involved things unforeseen by humans frequently happen! But churches have disappeared too (try to find the seven churches mentioned in the Revelation to John the Divine today), and peoples have ceased to be Christian, and it is entirely possible that - if present trends continue - not only could the Church of England cease to exist, but the English themselves could cease to be a Christian people before the end of the century, or even within my lifetime if the process of decline accelerates.

When thinking of the possible reasons for this decline, I think in terms of circles within circles, all squeezing the life out of the church - the inner circles are matters particular to the Church of England and its history and character, but the outer circles are religious and cultural forces that are operative on all church bodies in Western societies to a greater or lesser extent. I may post further on these matters in the near future - in the meantime, you're cordially invited to put your 2 pence worth in via the comments box.

Quite by co-incidence, Bill Muhlenberg over at Culture Watch uses the same phrase, "if present trends continue" relating to the receding Christian faith in Australia on his current post on the Prayer Breakfast held annually at Australia's Parliament House: or click on the link under the heading 'Other Blogs...' in the righ-hand links column.

Meanwhile, a 2008 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey of 35 000 Americans detected an almost 10% fall in those identifying as Christian as compared with 1986 figures.
A big loser was the Roman Catholic church, but mainline Episcopalians (i.e. Anglicans) and Lutherans (i.e. ELCA) are also experiencing significant and accelerating decline. Conservative or evangelical churches appear to be somewhat resistant to the decline, for now.
See here:

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Hausvater Project

"As the father of the house (hausvater) should teach it to the entire household..."
Lutherans will immediately recognise this line from Luther's Small Catechism, the book of basic instruction in the Christian faith that the Lutheran Reformation sought to put into the hands of every household head. Regrettably, at least in my experience, in the last generation or two, fathers generally seem to have 'gone AWOL' when it comes to the blessing and duty of teaching the Christian faith to their children, with dire consequences for the church.
During the course of seven years of pastoral ministry I've become increasingly convinced that, humanly speaking (for God can do anything), the renewal of the Christian congregation in the face of the challenges presented by post-modern society is directly linked to the renewal of the Christian family, and the renewal of the Christian family is in turn directly linked to the renewal of Christian fatherhood.
Therefore, I'm always on the lookout for resources that can, under God's grace, facilitate this renewal. I recently came across the website 'The Hausvater Project' (click on the post title to view) which is, as far as I know, the only website devoted to this topic from an exclusively Lutheran perspective (conservative evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox are streets ahead of us in these matters).

According to their site, a journal is in the planning process. We look forward to more from them - may God bless their work and cause it to have a positive impact! I have provided a permanent link under 'Other Blogs and Sites I Follow' in the column to the the right. (Oh, and there is something there for 'hausmutters' as well, of course!).

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Shock: Sydney Anglicans Discuss Theology!

Hermann Sasse once remarked wryly that the only reading matter available in Hell would be official church newspapers. Update to the 21st century and we might add official church websites. An exception to the rule might be the website of the Sydney Anglican Archdiocese, where instead of the usual banalities that are left up for months on end a selection of discussions takes place each week based on the lead of several 'columnists'. This past week the lead item has been a discussion on sola scriptura (click on post title to be taken there) led by Moore Theological College lecturer Michael Jensen. Jensen contends that the historical understanding of sola scriptura is not that scripture is the only authority in the church (a position more properly designated solo scriptura) but that it is the primary and only infallible authority - tradition - in the form of creeds and confessions, also plays an authoritative role in church life, albeit always subordinate to scripture.

For many evangelical Anglicans, and evidently some Lutherans (not to mention Presbyterians), this is apparently a revolutionary idea, so far have they departed from the roots of the confessions of the Magisterial Reformation. Perhaps in the case of the evangelical Anglicans this is at least understandable, since for Anglicans the 39 Articles of Religion long ago lost their confessional authority, and more recently the evangelicals seem to have have jettisoned the Prayer Book tradition entirely and replaced it with non-liturgical worship, as well as making common cause with evangelical descendants of the Radical Reformation, from whence solo scriptura derives.
Lutherans, however, with their distinction between scripture as the norma normans (the "ruling rule") and confessions as the norma normata (the "ruled rule"), which assumes the existence of these primary and secondary authorities in the church and sets out their relationship to each other, would seem to have no such excuse for their ignorance.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

"When a state court can decide that the church has to tolerate heresy in its midst, then the teaching office of the church is destroyed, and it ceases to be church."
Hermann Sasse, Lambeth 1958, Letters to Lutheran Pastors No. 48 (Translated by Holger Sonntag and published here with his kind permission.)

In the Letter this quote is extracted from, Hermann Sasse discusses his reaction to the Lambeth Conference of the world-wide Anglican communion held in 1958, and he has some characteristically interesting things to say about Anglicanism (the essay will be published in an upcoming third volume of 'The Lonely Way' collection of Sasse's Letters and essays). The quote comes from the paragraph where Sasse, who knew a thing or two about the need to stand against radically non-Christian powers from experience in Nazi Germany, has been reviewing the famous 'Gorham Case' of 1850, where a civil court, the Privy Council, ruled against a bishop seeking to uphold baptismal regeneration as the doctrine of the Church of England. That decision was a result of the particular circumstances of the state Church of England, but it would have parallels in other countries later, for example in Sweden where the state directed the church to install women pastors. Things have since moved on considerably...
One hundred and fifty years after the Gorham case, and fifty years after Sasse wrote this Letter, Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical leaders signed the 'Manhattan Declaration' on November 20, 2009, affirming their intention to resist, through civil disobedience if necessary, any state encroachment on the right of the church to determine its doctrine and inner life in regard to the sanctity of life, the dignity of marriage between a man and a woman, and the liberty of conscience in religious matters.

Here are some excerpts from the declaration:
"We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right - and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation - to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence."
"We recognize the duty to comply with laws whether we happen to like them or not, unless the laws are gravely unjust or require those subject to them to do something unjust or otherwise immoral."
". . . We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriage or the equivalent or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family."

While the declaration has been drafted and signed by US Christian leaders with reference to their context, it has direct relevance certainly to the situation of the church in other English-speaking countries where a libertarian agenda threatens not just the Christian worldview but the very right of churches to determine their own doctrine and practice.

This is the sort of common witness in the public square that, frankly, churches in pluralistic societies like the US and Australia should do more of - it does not involve common worship or doctrinal compromise, but a much needed common witness to First Article of the Creed/Decalogue matters that the world needs to hear along with the Gospel. Call it the prophetic aspect of the church's teaching office, if you like (for once the word 'prophetic' seems apt to describe a public word of the church!). Now, why no Lutheran signatories?

Click on the post title to view The Manhattan Declaration website.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Lonely Convert Priest Returns to Anglican Fold

Click on the title to view a story from The Times on an Anglican priest who converted to Rome, only to find himself so lonely that he soon returned home to Anglicanism. The story highlights the lack of community life in Catholic parishes in the UK.

Now, I tread tentatively here, because lack of a sense of community can be a feature of congregational life in any denomination, but it does make me wonder if this is a feature of Roman Catholic culture, at least in Anglophone countries. The reason I say this is that when I began regular worship about 18 years ago it was largely in order to accompany my wife, who was then RC, to Mass. This I did for a couple of years in several parishes and experienced the same lack of community in each one that is highlighted in the story. I don't mean to be unkind here, but I did get the impression that the goal of worshippers was to tick the "Mass attendance" box, thus avoiding the mortal sin of not attending Sunday worship, in the way which demanded the least effort whatsoever; so it was off to the typically half-hour Mass with the 4minute homily and out the door as quickly as possible.

Compared to this, the Anglican and Lutheran congregational life which we experienced after I started seeking a more permanent spiritual home seemed a veritable feast of worship and community experiences. I'm afraid the only thing I learned from this exposure to Catholic congregational life was how not to do church!

Apologies if this seems like Catholic-bashing - I don't intend it to be such, just an honest reflection from an outsider's perspective.

OK, I just can't resist including the following:

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

What Needs to Be Said in an Age When the Presence of the Dead at Their Own Funeral Is Optional

The following says what needs to be said in an age when the presence of the dead at their own funeral is increasingly becoming optional. It is an 'op-ed piece' written by a preacher and homiletics professor of some renown in clerical circles, Thomas G. Long, and appeared in The New York Times, October 31, 2009 edition (imagine that, the New York Times still asks preachers to write opinion pieces; I thought such a practice would have gone out of fashion at the end of the 19th century, or at least when 'religion' got relegated by the newspapers to a special column). The original is here:

There is wisdom here that pastors will do well to heed:

AT a funeral directors’ convention recently, I wandered around an exhibition floor crowded with the usual accouterments of the trade — coffins, catafalques, cemetery tents, cremation furnaces and the like. Scattered among these traditional goods were also many new baubles and gewgaws of the funeral business — coffins emblazoned with sports logos; cremation urns in the shape of bowling pins, golf bags and motorcycle gas tanks; “virtual cemeteries” with video clips and eerie recorded messages from the dead; pendants, bracelets, lamps and table sculptures into which ashes of the deceased can be swirled and molded.

It is hard to know what to make of this wild blossoming of unconventional mortuary merchandise. Perhaps it is the creative expression of a society grown weary of the extravagant hearse-and-limousine funerals of the past and ready to experiment with less costly and more personal ways to memorialize the dead. Some funeral directors seem to think so and are responding like dazed Blockbuster managers outmaneuvered in a Netflix age, scrambling to stay afloat in the wake of new technology and cultural improvisation.

But there is another, more accurate way to understand current funeral fashions. They illustrate the sad truth that, as a society, Americans are no longer sure what to do with our dead.

Rituals of death rest on the basic need, recognized by all societies, to remove the bodies of the dead from among the living. A corpse must be taken fairly quickly from here, the place of death, to somewhere else. But no healthy society has ever treated this as a perfunctory task, a matter of mere disposal. Indeed, from the beginning, humans have used poetry, song and prayer to describe the journey of the dead from “here” to “there” in symbolic, even sacred, terms. The dead are not simply being carted to the pit, the fire or the river; they are traveling toward the next world or the Mystery or the Great Beyond or heaven or the communion of the saints.

And we are accompanying them the last mile of the way. Every generation re-imagines these images of what lies beyond this life, but what persists is the conviction that the dead are not refuse to be discarded; they are human treasures traveling somewhere and it is our holy responsibility to go with them all the way to the place of farewell.

Thus, funerals often involve processionals, sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate, a form of community theater in which we enact publicly the journey from here to there, thereby enabling both the dead and the living to process the reality and meaning of mortality. Historically, funerals have not simply been quiet times of reflection in secluded chapels but often have included noisy parades winding through the streets.

Today, however, our death rituals have become downsized, inwardly directed, static and, as a result, spiritually and culturally impoverished. We tend now to recognize our dead only for their partial passions and whims. They were Mets fans, good for laughs at the office, pleasant companions on the links. At upbeat, open-mike “celebrations of life,” former coaches, neighbors and relatives amuse us with stories and naïvely declare that the dead, who are usually nowhere to be seen and have nowhere to go, will nevertheless live always in our memories. Funerals, which once made confident public pilgrimage through town to the graveyard, now tread lightly across the tiny tableau of our psyches.

Even those mourners who, by will or habit, wish to take their dead to the place of departure often find their way blocked. Some cemeteries, fearing liability lawsuits from falls and the like, no longer allow funeral processions to go the distance to the open grave but encourage the mourners to leave the coffin in a faux sanctuary at the entrance. And many American crematories, unlike their European counterparts, are not designed to allow mourners to accompany the body all the way to the fire. Instead the dead must be dropped off, like a night deposit at the bank.

We hardly complain, though. For the first time in history, the actual presence of the dead at their own funerals has become optional, even undesirable, lest the body break the illusion of a cloudless celebration, spoil the meditative mood and reveal the truths about grief, life and death that our thinned-out ceremonies cannot bear.

A corpse is a stark reminder that human beings are inescapably embodied creatures, and that a life is the sum of what has been performed and spoken by the body — a mixture of promises made and broken, deeds done and undone, joys evoked and pain inflicted. When we lift the heavy weight of the coffin and carry the dead over the tile floor of the crematory or across the muddy cemetery to the open grave, we bear public witness that this was a person with a whole and embodied life, one that, even in its ambiguity and brokenness, mattered and had substance. To carry the dead all the way to the place of farewell also acknowledges the reality that they are leaving us now, that they eventually will depart even from our frail communal memory as they travel on to whatever lies beyond.

“Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people,” William Gladstone, the British statesman, is said to have observed. Indeed, we will be healthier as a society when we do not need to pretend that the dead have been transformed into beautiful memory pictures, Facebook pages or costume jewelry, but can instead honor them by carrying their bodies with sad but reverent hope to the place of farewell. People who have learned how to care tenderly for the bodies of the dead are almost surely people who also know how to show mercy to the bodies of the living.

Here is Long's book, Accompany Them With Singing, The Christian Funeral (click on the post title to view its contents at Amazon). Long is professor of preaching at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He is a Presbyterian of the progressive confessional sort, so while I wouldn't endorse everything he says, this book looks to be on the right track and to have some valuable things to say for those in pastoral ministry encountering post-modern atittudes to death both in their congregations and amongst the wider community.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Chrysostom on How the Thief on the Cross Was Justified by Grace Alone through Faith Alone

I just added this quote to the category 'Justification' over at Lutheran Catholicity (link available under 'My Other Blogs' in the column to the right), but I thought it worthwhile posting here as well. It is from John Chrysostom (c.347-407), or John the 'Goldenmouthed' as he was known because of his eloquence as a preacher, on how the thief on the cross was justified by grace through faith without the deeds of the law.

"Let us see, however, whether the brigand gave evidence of effort and upright deeds and a good yield. Far from his being able to claim even this, he made his way into paradise before the apostles with a mere word, on the basis of faith alone, the intention being for you to learn that it was not so much a case of his sound values prevailing as the Lord's lovingkindness being completely responsible.

What, in fact, did the brigand say? What did he do? Did he fast? Did he weep? Did he tear his garments? Did he display repentance in good time? Not at all: on the cross itself after his utterance he won salvation. Note the rapidity: from cross to heaven, from condemnation to salvation. What were those wonderful words, then? What great power did they have that they brought him such marvelous good things? "Remember me in your kingdom." What sort of word is that? He asked to receive good things, he showed no concern for them in action; but the one who knew his heart paid attention not to the words but to the attitude of mind."

John Chrysostom, Sermon 7 on Genesis, in St. John Chrysostom, Eight Sermons on the Book of Genesis, pp. 123-24 (2004), Robert C. Hill translator (for the record, Hill is an honorary fellow and adjunct professor at the Australian Catholic University, and the book is published by an Orthodox publishing house, so let us have no "this is a Protestant mistranslation" complaints!)

Christian Lithuania vs. Pagan Europe?

The picture above is of the 'Hill of Crosses' in northern Lithuania, begun spontaneously by the Lithuanian people in 1831 as a memorial to freedom-fighters killed in an uprising against imperial Russia,it gained even greater significance from 1944-1990 as a symbol of Christian resistance to Communist domination. Nearly twenty years ago Lithuania escaped the clutches of that atheist power, only to find itself less than a generation later seemingly in the grip of a pagan power which is seeking to suppress the Christian conscience of the nation.

A wise Lutheran theologian, Charles Porterfield Krauth, once observed that error in the church progresses in three stages. First it asks for toleration, next it aserts equal rights with truth, and finally it claims supremacy and seeks to suppress all opposition. It seems the same law applies in the political realm. The homosexual lobby first asked for toleration, e.g. the de-criminalisation of laws against sodomy; next it asked for equal rights, e.g. the right to civil unions if not marriage and all the benefits at law of this estate; and already there are signs that, having come this far, it will seek to suppress all opposition and claim supremacy. Witness what is unfolding in the highest court of the European Union at the moment in a case involving the sovereign state of Lithuania, a pre-dominantly Christian, majority Catholic country with significant Lutheran and Orthodox minorities.

Lithuania recently introduced a law prohibiting the promotion of 'homosexual, bi-sexual and polygamous relations' among children under 18. The European Parliament, apparently beholden to the agenda of the homosexual lobby, condemned the law in a vote and discussed applying the big stick to Lithuania, in the form of expelling them from the Union with the consequent economic and political penalties that would result. The matter is now before the European Court of Justice, where Lithuania is fighting in effect not only for the rights of parents to protect their children from this insidious propaganda, and even for its own sovereignty, but also for its Christian identity, for there is a spiritual dimension to this battle against 'the principalities and powers... of this world' (Eph 6:12).

Dr Hermann Sasse once observed that such is the inter-connectedness of the churches in modern times that a malady that afflicts one church body will soon afflict them all. Just as with Krauth's observation, that is possibly even more true for nation states, especially in light of the various international treaties and political unions that are taking shape rapidly in our time and binding previously disparate peoples' destinies together. Watch this development closely, it has repurcussions for us all.
HT Cranmer

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Remembrance Day, 2009

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Anthem for Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen
September - October, 1917

Lest We Forget.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Dulles on Doctrine and Division

One of the most significant Roman Catholic theologians writing in English in the last century was Avery Dulles. One cannot consider oneself abreast of recent theological developments without at least being familiar with several of Dulles' books, notably Models of Revelation, Models of the Church, and The Catholicity of the Church. Apropos the recent 10th anniversary celebrations connected with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, I appreciate his thoughts on the lifting of the mutual condemnations (more impolitely known as 'anathemas') issued by Lutherans and Roman Catholics against each other's positions on justification during the Reformation,which was one of the goals of the discussions leading up to JDDJ:

"In the present atmosphere, Christians find it all too easy to
declare that the doctrinal disagreements of the past have lost
their church-divisive character. Pervasive though the present
climate of agnosticism and relativism may be, Lutherans and
Catholics must resist it. One of the most precious things we
have in common may be our conviction that pure doctrine is
crucially important and that ecclesial unity should not be purchased at the expense of truth."
Cardinal Avery Dulles, On Lifting the Condemnations, Dialog, Summer 1996, p.220.

I couldn't agree more. In the end, I wonder if Roman Catholics like Dulles and confessional Lutherans who maintain their reservations about JDDJ don't have more in common with each other than with the gushing ecumenists in their own communions?

Here's a pic of the late Cardinal, whose father was John Foster Dulles, one-time US Secretary of State and namesake of Dulles Airport in Washington. I note he's wearing a beret, too. Might be a Catholic convert thing?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Christianity on the Small Screen

Click on the title to go to a recent article in The Times on-line re attempts by the BBC to "place Christianity on the small screen". Then reflect on the fact that both C.S. Lewis' 'Mere Christianity' and J.B. Phillips' 'Plain Christianity' had their inception as BBC radio addresses - and very popular they were too. Popular Christianity has indeed come a long way (or should that be fallen a long way?) since the 1940s & 1950s, but I suppose we should be grateful that the BBC is at least considering this programming.
While on the subject of church-themed TV shows, I do confess to missing the riotous absurdities of Fr Ted! (Not sure if American readers will have seen 'Father Ted' on their small screens; it was a sit-com about three Irish priests whose bishop exiled them for their sins to 'Craggy Island', where they could do no serious damage to the good name of the church. It managed to be both irreverent as regards Catholicism's sacred cows and yet at the same time was never gratuitously offensive. I'm not sure how well it would 'translate' into American culture, though.)

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Feed My Sheep

"There is a story told about a group of pilgrims who were touring the Holy Land with a guide who was native to the place. The guide was explaining how since time immemorial the shepherd did not walk behind his sheep but rather in front leading them and they followed him, just as the Lord describes Himself as the good shepherd: ". . . the sheep hear His voice and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice" (John 10:3-4).

As the guide finished this explanation, the group laughed when they saw a man walking behind a flock of sheep and driving them along with a stick. Someone commented to the guide, "I thought you said the shepherds here always lead the sheep. Why is that man walking behind and driving them forward?" The guide answered, "Because he isn't the shepherd; he's the butcher."

"I am the good shepherd: I know my own and my own know me" (John 10:14). The English word pastor is borrowed directly from the Latin word pastor meaning a "shepherd." Bishop John (Martin) of blessed memory once stated, "There are too many pastors for the work that is being done and not enough for the work that needs to be done." What is the work that needs to be done?

"So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Feed My lambs.' A second time He said to him, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Tend My sheep.' He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, 'Do you love Me?' And he said to Him, 'Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep'" (John 21:15-17).

The Lord did not say to Peter, "be a great liturgist, discuss theology, rule over the faithful, be a great scholar, dress strangely, have long prayers or shun the world," nor any of the other things that often typify the "work that is being done." He says simply, "Feed My sheep."

It is easy for all of us to forget that the task of the priesthood is to nourish the faithful of the Church, to "Feed My sheep." There is simply no other way for the priest to show his love for Christ than to begin by showing it for the people for whom Christ died."

Part of a meditation by Protopriest Lawrence Barriger of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese.
HT Bishop David Chislett, Traditional Anglican Bishop of Brisbane (click on the post title to be re-directed to Bishop David's blog, but please note that provision of this link is not an endorsement of all of Bishop David's views - I just find it an interesting site to visit in order to keep up with Anglican developments as well as a link with my old hometown).

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Hitchens vs Wilson, A Collision of Lives

This film looks interesting, but I don't think it will make it to your local suburban multiplex:

Here's some more:

COLLISION outtake: King's College from LEVEL4 on Vimeo.

Hitchens you know, Wilson is an evangelical Reformed pastor, which leads me to believe he would major on the epistemological shortcomings of Hitchens' worldview (i.e. how does he know what he claims to know is true?) rather than debate the evidence for Christian claims with him. Pre-suppositional apologetics - where one "defends" by attacking the fundamental and erroneous assumptions of an opponent -is a strong suit of the evangelical Reformed. It is a particularly good place to hit Hitchens and his ilk, since their hubris makes them blind to their own presuppositions.

I await the DVD. A concern is how the classical debate format is reconciled with the values of video entertainment. As far as I know, the film is not produced by a Christian but by a well-accredited documentary film-maker who in the final analysis needs to recoup his financial outlay. Debate with the New Atheists is becoming very mainstream, which can only be a good thing, in my view. A couple of Amazon reviewers who admitted to being on Hitchens' side do say that nevertheless they were impresed enough by Wilson to seek out his books.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Plenary indulgence, anyone?

With the various celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification happening around the world in the past week I thought it relevant to remind ourselves that the Roman church's teaching on purgatory and indulgences which led Martin Luther to his courageous actions on 31st October, 1517 remains substantially intact almost 500 years later.

The basis of the teaching is that 1) the death of Christ obtained the remission of the eternal punishment, not the temporal punishment of sins, and 2) the Roman church has "a treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints" (notice it is always "and" with the Roman church, "Christ and Mary/the saints", "the Bible and Tradition", "God's grace and man's free will") which she has authority to open from time to time and grant to the faithful upon the fulfilment of certain conditions (I suppose we can give thanks at least that indulgences are not sold anymore). The teaching can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1471-1479 (this catechism can be viewed on-line here

The most recent indulgence is applicable today, All Soul's Day, so do hurry to fulfill the prescribed conditions to obtain the remission of sin's temporal punishment, but note that the indulgence can only be applied to the "poor souls" in purgatory (unlike the indulgence attached to World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008, which some of our Lutheran youth in Catholic schools attended, or that attached to viewing the relics of St Therese of Lisieux which are currently touring England, which many Anglicans are taking advantage of, which could/can both be applied to oneself).

Just how all this continues after the Lutheran World Federation and and the Vatican supposedly reached a basic agreement on justification (i.e. the forgiveness of sins) in 1999 I will leave for you to ponder.

Here is the text granting the indulgence, which came in my "in-box" today from a Roman Catholic news source I subscribe to:

"On All Souls’ Day (2 November) a plenary indulgence, applicable only to the Poor Souls, is granted to those who visit any parish church or public oratory and there recite one Our Father and the Creed.

On all the days from 1 November to 8 November inclusive, a plenary indulgence, applicable only to the Poor Souls, is granted to those who visit a cemetery and pray even if only mentally for the departed.

Conditions for both indulgences are:

1. Only one plenary indulgence can be granted per day.
2. It is necessary to be in the state of grace, at least by completion of the work.
3. Freedom from attachment to sin, even venial sin, is necessary; otherwise the indulgence is only partial. (By this is meant attachment to a particular sin, not sin in general.)
4. Holy Communion must be received each time the indulgence is sought.
5. Prayers must he recited for the intentions of the Holy Father on each day the indulgence is sought. (No particular prayers are prescribed.) One Our Father and one Hail Mary suffice, or other suitable prayers.
6. A sacramental confession must be made within a week of completion of the prescribed work. (One confession made during the week, made with the intention of gaining all the indulgences, suffices.)"

Now, I ask you, does not this teaching and practice detract from the completeness ("It is finished" "Today you will be with me in Paradise") and thus the glory of Christ's sacrifice for us?