Saturday, 26 December 2009

Fides Qua, Fides Quae

Fides qua and Fides quae may be literally translated as “the faith with” which one believes, and “the faith of” the believer, or more colloquially, the belief "in" and the belief "that". Others might refer to "actual faith” and "historical faith". It is an old distinction in theology which acknowledges the difference between the subjective faith that is exercised by the believer, and the objective content of the faith (de fide) in which he believes.

Luther touches on this distinction in the sermon extract I posted on Christmas Day, referring to the “first and second (types of ) faith”, and I find the Lutheran version of this distinction to be most evangelically sound and pastorally useful. Luther puts it something like this: It is not sufficient to merely believe that Christ was born and placed in a manger in Bethlehem (the fides quae in its bare essentials as it relates to the Christmas story); that is good as far as it goes, but it really goes no farther than the Turk (or as we would say today, the Muslim). It is not yet the belief, or rather, the faith (as in fides qua), that the Christ that was born and placed in a manger in Bethlehem is my Saviour, who came into the world in such a manner to rescue me from sin, death and the Devil, not with silver or gold but with his own precious blood and his holy life, und so weiter.

Of course, to put it like that makes it sound terribly egocentric, but it must be remembered that Luther was guiding people towards a sure and certain faith in a time when the popular religious teachers, nay, even the Pope, were purveyors of doubt and uncertainty for their own advantage. Put it in that context, and one can understand that Luther’s language and creative re-interpretation of this old distinction was a way of driving the objective content of the faith home to the subjective believer who was groping for assurance of salvation in the midst of much religious darkness.

In this new, evangelically reconceived Lutheran version of the distinction, then, there exists some tension between fides qua and fides quae, such that a person may have an imperfect, or even deficient understanding of the fides quae, and yet be saved, provided that said imperfection or deficiency does not fatally undermine the basis of that saving faith.
So, for example, one might have an imperfect understanding of the Trinity, and still be saved, provided the Godhood of the Son who became flesh for us is not denied, thus preserving his infinitely valuable satisfaction for our sins, on which saving faith rests.
Or, in speaking of the more grave matter of serious deficiencies in understanding the fides quae, one may hold, erroneously, to an unevangelical doctrine which can, in fact, undermine the possibility of saving faith (e.g. semi-Pelagianism, or faith + works), and yet, by a felicitous inconsistency, one may in one's heart of hearts trust in the merits of Christ alone for salvation, and thus be saved. There are numerous examples of such from church history, which I do not have time to go into now, but which I may post on in the future (in my post on Mary MacKillop, I suggested her case as a possible example of this, although this is merely hypothetical conjecture, as I have no 'hard evidence' to back this supposition up.)

The Lutheran use of the distinction between fides qua and fides quae also serves as a necessary corrective to a religious formalism that would make intellectual acceptance of dogma or doctrine salvific in itself, without an accompanying lively trust in the realities that those dogmas and doctrines teach and guard.

Of course, all this does not mean that grave deficiencies in understanding the fides quae creditur should be tolerated in the church, but it does assure us that their accidental intrusion into the life of the church does not necessarily negate the preaching of the Gospel or the salvation of souls (to cite an extreme case, even after the anathematisation of the Gospel, a grave error, Luther continued to hold that those under the Pope could be saved). But, if an unevangelical doctrine (i.e. a doctrine not consistent with the Gospel) was defined as de fide (of the faith) and persisted in, such a dangerous situation could occur.

May God preserve the Lutheran Church from such an error.

Friday, 25 December 2009

A Blessed Christmas

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

Sermon on the Afternoon of Christmas Day
Luke 2:1-14, December 25, 1530

You have heard today the story from the Gospel of St. Luke of how it came to pass that our Lord Christ was born and then also the message of the angel, who announced who the boy was who was born. Now we shall go on and take up the message of the angel. So for today you have heard only that the child was born and that he is the Lord and Savior. Thus we spoke of the story, how it unfolded, and who the persons in it were. This article is so high that even today it is believed by only a few. Nevertheless, God has preserved it even through those who have not believed it. For at all times in the monasteries and universities there have been disputations and lectures which dealt with the fact that Christ the Lord, born of Mary, is true man and God. But it went no further than saying and hearing it. But this belief is held by the devil too and the Turks and all the godless among Christians, and is the kind of belief which everybody believes that it is true but would not die for it, as Eck and many others show today...The Turk too admits that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, that Mary was an immaculate virgin, and that Christ was more than a man; but the Word of God, as it is given in the gospel, he is a high article to believe that this infant, born of Mary, is true God; for nobody’s reason can ever accept the fact that he who created heaven and earth and is adored by angels was born of a virgin. That is the article. Nobody believes it except he who also knows this faith, namely, that this child is the Lord and Savior...

... Who, then, are those to whom this joyful news is to be proclaimed? Those who are faint-hearted and feel the burden of their sins, like the shepherds, to whom the angels proclaim the message, letting the great lords in Jerusalem, who do not accept it, go on sleeping. Beyond the first faith there must be the second faith, that Christ is not only the virgin’s Son, but also the Lord of angels and the Savior of men. The words anyone can understand, antisacramentarians, fanatics, sectarians, and Turks; but they do not proceed from the heart they come only from hearing and go no farther than hearing. This is not faith, however, but only a memory of what has been heard, that one knows that he has heard it. Nobody ventures upon it, so as to stake goods, life, and honor upon it. And yet we must preach it for the sake of those who are in the multitude to whom the angel preached...

...Therefore, remember it, sing it, and learn it, while there is still time! I fear that the time will come when we shall not be allowed to hear, believe, and sing this message in public, and the time has already come when it is no longer understood...

...What we have said, then, has been about that second faith, which is not only to believe in Mary’s Son, but rather that he who lies in the virgin’s lap is our Savior, that you accept this and give thanks to God, who so loved you that he gave you a Savior who is yours. And for a sign he sent the angel from heaven to proclaim him, in order that nothing else should be preached except that this child is the Savior and far better than heaven and earth. Him, therefore, we should acknowledge and accept; confess him as our Savior in every need, call upon him, and never doubt that he will save us from all misfortune. Amen.

Martin Luther

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Hail, Mary! (Mary MacKillop, That Is...)

Hail, Mary! Mary MacKillop, that is, who is soon to be the first Australian to be canonised by the Roman Catholic Church and officially declared a saint.

It would be well-nigh impossible to find an Australian who knows her story who would have a bad thing to say about Mary MacKillop, since she devoted her life to serving under-privileged children in ‘the outback’ and later homeless and battered women in the city slums, and founded a religious order to expand and continue that work, which it has done over the now one hundred years since Mary’s death, becoming legendary in itself (the ‘brown joeys’, as they are known). Add to that self-less life the colourful episode of her excommunication from the church for insubordination to her bishop – indeed some say she will be the only canonised saint to have been once excommunicated - and you can see why she appeals to Australians, whose national character has an ambivalent attitude towards authority seemingly built in to it dating back to convict days. Not only was her religion intensely practical in its outworking, but Mary also illustrates an Australian trait, which may be broadly labelled "egalitarianism", or more colloquially, a "fair go" for all.

Mary also lived or travelled through enough localities in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland that almost everyone can claim her has their own saint. Indeed, her father his buried but ten kilometres down the highway from where I write this, and Hamilton, the closest town to this old manse, forms part of the ‘Mary MacKillop Trail’ around which modern day ‘grey nomad’ pilgrims peregrinate, albeit with a caravan on the back of their car rather than a knapsack on their own back (but still, penitential enough, I reckon, six weeks or so on a pilgrimage in a caravan with your other half, worth a few years off your time in purgatory, I’m sure!)

I predict that even the fact that Mary MacKillop was Roman Catholic will not prevent an almost universal acclamation in response to her canonisation from Australian Christians in present-day, almost totally post-sectarian Australia, which is a far cry from the land Mother Mary trekked around in her coarse brown habit and white linen wimple, where an almost Northern Irish style sectarianism reigned in most quarters and did so until well within living memory. Indeed, the canonisation of Mary MacKillop, and her acceptance by non-Roman Catholic Australians, may finally signal that the Catholics have won that particular culture war. On the other hand, it may just signify that de-moralised Protestants surrendered many years ago.

What is a Lutheran to make of all of this? As the people of my previous parish used to tell me, as Lutherans, their Protestant credentials were never quite accepted by their Anglican, Presbyterian or Methodist neighbours. “German Catholics” they were often called, perhaps more because they were isolationist like the Irish, marrying only their own kind, rather than because they were suspected of crypto-Romanism. But these Protestant neighbours were perhaps more perceptive than they realised, for the Lutheran attitude towards Roman Catholicism has always been ambivalent, retaining many obviously Roman elements, like crucifixes for example, and a service order based on the medieval Latin Mass complete with Gregorian chant, that Protestants of the Reformed stripe, once dominant in this land, unambiguously eschewed.

Add to these merely external elements a charitable evaluation of the possibility of Roman Catholic idolaters being saved even while remaining in Catholicism, and one can perhaps understand WASP suspicions about Lutherans. As Luther said, Rome had God’s Word and the dominical sacraments, and where those means of grace were one was sure to find true Christians, something a Presbyterian might well be loathe to admit about the Roman Catholic Church (there is still at least one Presbyterian church body in Australia in which Roman Catholic converts are ‘re-baptised”).

A Lutheran, however, need have no qualms about acknowledging the possibility that Mary MacKillop was a true Christian and as such entered heaven through the merits of Christ, and that she may serve as a fine example of a person in whom "faith was active in works of love” done for her neighbour.
But, at the same time, a Lutheran cannot ignore the fact that Mary owed her allegiance to the Pope, whom our confessional writings refer to as the Antichrist, because he anathematised the Gospel and taught his subjects that works as well as faith counted towards salvation. So, if Mary was a true Christian, Lutherans must contend, it was because, by a felicitous inconsistency, she in practice denied the official teaching of the Pope and trusted in the merits of Christ alone for salvation.

As the old Lutheran joke, once offered in retort to Roman claims that the Lutheran doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness was a legal fiction, goes: A human being justified by faith and works? Now that’s a legal fiction!

So, hail Mary, but praise Jesus!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Majority of Australians Believe in God...and UFOs!

As if on cue, following the American poll about religious syncretism earlier this week (see '1 in 5 Christians Believe in re-Incarnation' below), a poll of Australians on more or less on the same topic has come across the wires to my old manse this morning. I don't have much time to comment on this at present, but I thought it too relevant to recent posts here to delay drawing attention to it.
My first instinct is to question some of the results, as there is no indication of how the questions were framed, but one thing it probably does show quite clearly is that Australia, which had very high levels of traditional Christian belief at the start of the last century (i.e. circa 97% Christian) has over the last hundred years split into a strongly rationalist camp (almost 25%) and another, larger group that will seemingly believe just about anything (68% believe in "God" [however nebulously defined], but 41% also believe in astrology). Based on my anecdotal experiences as a minister, these figures seem about right (and you'd be surprised the number of conversations I've had with parishioners about UFO sightings and their significance).

Here is the report:

"A poll has revealed that most Australians believe in God or a similar universal spirit, but a majority also believe in miracles, life after death and angels, and many believe in astrology and UFOs.

The surprising findings from a Nielsen poll for Fairfax newspapers show Australia is a credulous nation, willing to mix and match religious faith with belief in other phenomena.

Although Australians are widely considered to be a secular people, nearly half of the population believe in psychic powers such as extrasensory perception, while 41 per cent believe in astrology.

The research shows that Australians are more religious than we might have thought - 68 per cent of us believe in God or a universal spirit.

But atheists and agnostics also had a strong showing in the national survey of 1,000 respondents, taken early this week.

Almost one in four Australians (24 per cent) do not believe in either God or a universal spirit, and seven per cent are not sure or say they don't know.

But God is not the only thing Australians believe in. They place their faith in a range of other phenomena. For example, 63 per cent believe in miracles, and 53 per cent believe in life after death.

Angels are also popular, with 51 per cent of respondents saying they believe in them, slightly more than the 49 per cent who hold faith in psychic powers such as ESP.

Forty-one per cent of people believe in astrology.

Thirty-four per cent of Australians believe in UFOs and 22 per cent think witches exist

Now, is this good news or bad news? On the one hand, there is quite evidently great hunger out there for the transcendent and for spiritual meaning; on the other hand it looks like most people outside of the orbit of the confessional churches (and some within!) are quite open to what I broadly term neo-Gnosticism and have in practice adopted its methodology of syncretism. So, there is a great need in this society for evangelism and catechetics; and if that doesn't impact upon the trends already evident, orthodox Christian ministers can take heart that as our congregations inevitably decline or slip into syncretistic practices, we are likely to pick up work as exorcists and witch-hunters! Seriously, there has been useful work done on the spiritual significance of the UFO phenomena and the New Age from a Christian standpoint, and I think it might be time for a sermon or two on it. Strange days, indeed.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Home to Rome?

I recently posted the quote below over at ‘What Sasse Said’. It is taken from a lecture Sasse gave to an evangelical student organization, the Inter-Varsity Fellowship, in my hometown of Brisbane, Queensland in 1967. Writing just two years after the conclusion of Vatican II, Sasse is reflecting on what Rome’s entry into the ecumenical movement, signalled at Vatican II, means for Christendom. At the present time, when the currency of ecumenism has been devalued, it is helpful to place Sasse’s comments in context, and note that at the time of this lecture the movement still held some promise, particularly with Rome’s entry, albeit on its own terms.
Sasse, like many confessional Lutherans, remained ambivalent about the movement. On the one hand, history and politics had determined that the Lutherans had always been engaged with the Reformed on one side and Rome on the other, particularly in Germany, but the advent of the ecumenical movement meant that now this engagement could take place through dialogue rather than polemics, a refreshing development for many. On the other hand, especially from his visit to the US in the early 1920s and his familiarity with Anglicanism, Sasse knew the danger to the Gospel from a ‘lowest common denominator’ attitude towards doctrine. Rome at least took doctrine seriously, unlike the Anglicans, for whom it often appeared to be nothing more than a troublesome hindrance to unity under an episcopacy in the apostolic succession, something to be agreed upon speedily in the broadest possible terms so that the real business of church polity could be discussed.

Here’s the quote, followed by my take on the interesting recent developments vis a vis Rome and ecumenism:

“[The] entry of Rome into the Ecumenical Movement of our time has completely changed the ecumenical situation. We are all now no longer confronted only with the Anglican concept of a future Re-united Church, based on that minimum of doctrine which East and West, Catholicism and Protestantism have in common, and with the concept of church unity that underlies the World Council of Churches. These concepts presuppose that Rome would eventually give up her claims and cease to be Roman. We are now confronted with a plan for reunion in an ecumenical church in which all churches, without giving up any of the treasures each of them possesses, but spiritually and theologically renewed and enriched by what they can mutually accept, would come together under the renewed office of the supreme shepherd of all Christians, who would rule the Universal Church together with the universal college of bishops. The advantage of the Roman plan over those of Canterbury-Lambeth and Geneva is its feasibility. It would include Rome in the process of reunion which could never reach its goal as long as the largest church of Christendom remained outside.”

From Holy Church or Holy Writ? The 1967 Inter-Varsity Fellowship Annual Lecture in Queensland.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since Sasse uttered those words from a lecture podium in Brisbane, casting his mind and those of his hearers across the world (and across the Tiber!) to Rome. Sasse was speaking amidst the first flush of optimism that the entry of Rome into the ecumenical movement at Vatican II brought. To put this quote and this lecture into perspective, it should be remembered that this attitude of openness to the possibility of rapprochement between the churches was a complete reversal of the isolationism that Rome maintained for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. It can reasonably be said that much of the promise that this development contained has failed to come to fruition. While dialogue has contributed to the removal of caricatures and increased mutual understanding, the actual goal of reunion presently seems as far off as ever.

Indeed, it might be observed that there is presently an intra-Roman struggle to define Rome's stance towards ecumenical engagement, with Cardinal Kasper representing the optimism of Vatican II and Pope Benedict XVI representing a repristination of the Roman conservatism of the past, albeit with a radical face: witness the special provisions for Traditional Anglicans announced in 2009, which seems like a new, Western 'uniatism' parallel to Rome's Eastern uniate churches.

To what extent does this now represent Rome's future approach to ecumenical engagement, that is, not to seek communion with, so much as absorption of the orthodox remnants of Protestantism? (Who shall be victorious in this struggle, Kasper or Ratzinger? I suggest we shall not know the outcome until the election of the next Pope.)
Which brings us to the observation that it is the moral and doctrinal disarray of Anglicanism and much of Protestantism which explains Rome's shift; it can now position itself as a 'rock' (petra!) of stability in comparison with the shifting sands of Protestantism, and turn its eyes towards reunion with the Orthodox East, recently liberated from the shackles of communism (yes, I realise this liberation happened twenty years ago this year, but twenty years is but the blink of an eye in ecclesiastical history).

What is the confessional Lutheran answer to the questions these developments propose to us today, forty years after Sasse delivered this lecture? Some Lutherans are open to the 'uniate' option offered to Traditional Anglicans, seeing it as a lifeboat in which to escape the sinking ship of Protestantism. Where once the cry of Lutherans was ‘Away from Rome!’ (the German Lutheran equivalent to English Protestantism’s ‘No Popery!’), now the cry on the lips of some of the Lutheran Church’s best and brightest seems to be ‘Home to Rome!’ (In fact, Sasse’s own son, Hans, who studied for the Lutheran ministry, later converted to Rome, being led in that direction through reading the journal of the American Lutheran liturgical movement, Una Sancta ).

But does not the return to Rome necessitate the sacrifice of conscience? Even if one may, for argument's sake, judge that the church divisive issue of justification, the central question of the reformation, has been resolved by the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, what of the doctrines Rome has promulgated since the Reformation? How do Lutheran pastors and theologians who rightly question the role of private revelations in Pentecostalism subscribe so readily to the new revelations granted to the Papacy?

What is a confessional Lutheran to do if his own church, adrift on the sea of post-modernity without ballast or anchor, begins to sink? Go home to Rome? Check ‘What Sasse Said’ for Sasse's answer to these questions, as the remainder of the lecture, in edited form, is posted there (link in sidebar) over the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Ten Greatest Englishmen?

Somehow, comments on my last post regarding Catholics riding the neo-Gnostic wave turned into a discussion of the greatest Englishmen ever (it was via Celtic spirituality, actually). So, history buffs and Anglophiles, what do you think? Here's my list of the 10 greatest Englishmen ever:
1. King Alfred the Great, 849-899, king and founder of the English nation.
(King Alfred's statue at his burial place, Winchester is pictured).
2. Winston Churchill, 1874-1965, soldier, statesman, historian and wordsmith.
3. King Athelstan of Wessex, +939, soldier, 1st truly national king of England, consolidator of laws.
4. King Edward III, 1312-1377, soldier, king for 50 years, laid foundations for English military and economic supremacy in the centuires that followed.
5. Oliver Cromwell, 1599-1658, soldier, Lord Protector, founder of the British Empire (?), a difficult one, since he can also be held responsible for regicide and attempted genocide, but the impact of his 'reign' determined much that followed.
6. Boniface, 672-754, Churchman, Apostle to the Germans, Martyr.
7. Thomas Cranmer, 1489-1556, Churchman, Primate, King's counsellor, author/editor of the Book of Common Prayer, martyr, crafter of the English language.
8. Shakespeare 1564-1616, Poet and dramatist, definitive English stylist, England's national poet, crafter of the English language.
9. Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784, poet, essayist, pioneer lexicographer, crafter of the English language.
10. Bede, 672-735, churchman, monk and chronicler of early England's history, which was inseparably bound up with the church.

It might be helpful if I define 'greatness': I regard it as stature which is the result of a figure's contribution to forming or defending the English nation and character or accomplishing feats which had a defining impact on subsequent history beyond the borders of England (Boniface). It does not necessarily imply moral greatness, although strength of character is certainly a factor here.

Now, here's where it gets really interesting, who makes up the next 10? And if we included women, who would we list? (It's noy misogyny that explains their absence, I assure you, but the fact that it is a list of Englishmen). 5 women probably come to mind quite easily, but after that?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Catholics Riding the Neo-Gnostic Wave

My last post, '1 in 5 Christians Believe in Reincarnation', prompted a question from an American reader, Phil, regarding the extent to which the sort of neo-Gnosticism that has existed in the US under different guises over the centuries since 1776 had penetrated Australia.

Generally speaking, Australia is not fertile ground for new religious movements, although there are some notable exceptions which, however, only tend to prove the rule. The 'hothouse' religious atmosphere of the US, where a significant new religious movement seems to spring up every decade or so, is certainly not replicated here. That suggests to me that neo-Gnostic movements in Australia might need to be parasitic on already existing religious institutions if they are to successfully infiltrate Australian society (I don't mean to suggest a conspiracy on the human level is operative here, only that neo-Gnosticism is 'in the air' and spreading like a virus. Of course, there most definitely is a spiritual conspiracy behind this).

Prime candidates for such 'infiltration' would seem to be the mainstream Christian churches in which Biblical and creedal authority has been weakened by decades of use of the historical-critical methods of Bible interpretation (most particularly sachkritik, loosely translated as 'content criticism', in which the 'enlightened' modern interpreter sits in judgment on the content of a Biblical text) and liberal theology generally. In Australia that means primarily the Uniting Church, a body formed in 1977 from de-confessionalised Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregationalists, and, perhaps surprisingly to some readers, the Roman Catholic Church, which in Australia has been ravaged by liberalism in the post-Vatican II period.

Click on the post title to read an article by a conservative Australian Catholic commentator on the now infamous case of St Mary's Catholic parish in my hometown of Brisbane, Queensland, for an insight into the nature of neo-Gnosticism in Roman Catholic circles in Australia. Then reflect on the fact that St Mary's is but a high-profile example of something that is happening quietly in countless parishes across this archdiocese, and has been for decades. My personal observation of this archdiocese suggests to me that it serves as one of the most advanced examples of the infiltration of neo-Gnosticism into a mainstream church in the world, and as an example of the disintegration of Roman Catholic culture, I think it parallels what happened in the Netherlands and Quebec.

The irony in this particular case is that the Archbishop who finally, after prompting from the Vatican, exercised church discipline against the priests involved, has himself dabbled in Buddhism, etc, for decades, and is regarded by those same priests as something of a 'grey eminence' in the movement.

All church bodies in Australia and elsewhere must observe and learn from this example. And yes, the photo does show a Catholic Mass in a Buddhist temple.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

1 in 5 Christians Believe in Reincarnation

Roughly 20% of American Christians believe in reincarnation and don't necessarily see a conflict between that belief and their Christian faith. At least, that's what the following Associated Press report which came ‘across the wires’ to my old manse this week, implies, and since it's based on data collected by the respected Pew Forum, we'd best pay attention. It reports on the popularity of religious syncretism among Americans generally, and American Christians in particular, such that a significant minority (i.e. up to 25%) of those who identify as Christian also incorporate elements of other religions into their 'belief system', tailoring a religion for their own needs (and we're not just talking about Roman Catholics here, although they have a long history of religious syncretism and studies that I am aware of consistently show higher levels of belief in reincarnation among Catholics as compared to Protestants).

Survey: Americans mix and match religions
By ERIC GORSKI (AP) – 1 day ago
When it comes to religion, many Americans like the mix-and-match, build-your-own approach.
Large numbers attend services of traditions other than their own and blend Christianity with Eastern and New Age beliefs, a survey finds.
The report Wednesday from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life also shows tremendous growth over the past three decades in the number of Americans who say they have had a religious or mystical experience.
Though the U.S. is an overwhelmingly Christian country, significant minorities say they hold beliefs of the sort found at Buddhist temples or New Age bookstores. Twenty-four percent of those surveyed overall and 22 percent of Christians say they believe in reincarnation, the idea that people will be reborn in this world again and again.
As for the significant numbers who visit more than one place of worship, it's not just an occasional visit while on vacation or for special events like weddings and funerals.
One-third of Americans say they regularly or occasionally attend religious services at more than one place. One-quarter say they sometimes attend services of a faith different from their own.
"It is as much now the norm as it is the exception for Americans to blend multiple religious beliefs and practices," said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.
Among the report's other findings:
_ About 1 in 4 Americans believe in Eastern or New Age ideas, including reincarnation, which is part of Buddhism and Hinduism; yoga as a spiritual practice; spiritual energy in things like mountains, trees and crystals; and astrology.
_ About 16 percent of Americans believe in the "evil eye" — that certain people can cast curses or spells. More than 1 in 10 white evangelicals who attend church weekly and 3 in 10 black Protestants believe in the phenomenon, which can be found in Islam, Judaism and traditional African beliefs.
_ Roughly 3 in 10 Americans say they have felt in touch with someone who has died — up from 18 percent in 1996. The belief is most common among black Protestants and Catholics. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans say they have been in the presence of a ghost.
_ Three in 10 Protestants say they attend multiple types of religious services, including services at Protestant denominations different from their own. Almost 1 in 5 Protestants indicate they also attend non-Protestant services. About 1 in 5 Catholics say they also attend non-Catholic services.
_ Nearly half of Americans say they have had a religious or mystical experience, or a "moment of sudden religious insight or awakening," the survey found. That represents a doubling since Gallup asked in 1962.
...D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist of religion, said the results illustrate what he calls the "playlist effect" in contemporary American religious practice.
"The way we personalize our iPhones, we also personalize our religious lives," he said.
Count Chandler Pierce, a 27-year-old cook from Duncansville, Pa., in that group. He was raised Baptist, dabbled in Mormonism, said he is "with the whole Christianity thing," most closely identifies with Buddhism and believes in astrology and all manner of supernatural phenomenon.
"My religion now ... it's complicated," he said.
That so many Christians believe in astrology and reincarnation will trouble Christian leaders already concerned about professed believers who take what they need from the faith and leave the rest.
The build-your-own-religion findings show that "culture and pop culture and the Internet are probably more powerful teachers than Sunday school teachers," said Scott Thumma, a sociologist at the Hartford Institute of Religion Research.
Maryann Bogus, 59, of Kingsport, Tenn., another participant in the survey, attends an evangelical Christian church weekly and believes in reincarnation even though her church teaches otherwise.
"My daddy told me that a long time ago, and it stuck with me because he believed it, too," she said.
Her belief in astrology and spirituality in nature and yoga are things she picked up from "watching TV and listening," she said. She said she does not see any conflict with her Christianity.

Now, this trend, which has been noted now for a generation or so, doesn’t actually surprise me, for two reasons:

Firstly, with reference specifically to the American situation, it has been noted often that a form of neo-Gnosticism has always been the actual de facto religion of the USA, despite the high levels of overall Christian identification which have resulted historically from the two great evangelical awakenings and the high rate of Lutheran and Catholic immigration to the mid-west in the 19th century. Many of the founding fathers of the US, for example, were nominally Christian but actually subscribed to a form of Deism often accompanied by membership in Freemasonry. Their beliefs about the nature and destiny of man were written into the cultural DNA, so to speak, of Americans. Those influences have remained a part of the American religio-cultural worldview ever since, but have mutated considerably in their outward form. So it is that America has always been fertile ground for sects and new religious movements to grow in, Mormonism being a perfect example. The propensity, therefore, to experiment with and ‘mix-n-match’ elements from different religions has always been a live option for Americans, whereas similar Anglo dominated cultures remained more bound to traditional forms of religious belief, although the exportation of American culture, including religious culture, has broken down these traditional structures somewhat (see, for example, my last post on Sydney Anglicans and infant baptism).

The second reason this trend doesn’t surprise me is that the ultra-modern culture (a term I prefer to post-modern, for various reasons) we live in promotes a superficiality that does not value the moral commitments and discipline of thought that unconditional subscription to religious belief requires. The individualism that the Enlightenment fostered has now gone to seed in the ultra-modern deification of self, and for people raised in such a milieu (prizes for everyone!), it makes sense to pick and choose from the smorgasbord of religious options available today rather than have one’s choices confined by the strictly a la carte menu offered by the traditional churches.

So, while this reported survey does not hold any surprises, it is somewhat alarming to note that the levels of syncretism among Christians appear to be on the increase,
and all indicators are that this is no longer simply a feature of American Christian life either. As one who believes that the health of a church is directly related to its doctrinal integrity and the degree to which doctrine and life are connected in adherents lives, I suggest this presents a major challenge to the churches at present and into the future.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Sydney Anglicans Discuss Infant Baptism

Sydney Anglicans (a definition for American friends: evangelical Anglicans of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia's largest city, who are collectively probably the most influential representatives of Christianity in Australia outside of Roman Catholicism) are having an interesting informal discussion about the place of infant baptism in the congregations of their archdiocese (my post title links to this discussion). It seems that infant dedication services are becoming an option alongside baptism in some of their congregations which are heavily under the influence of American Reformed Baptists like Mark Dever.

I must say this is not the first time I have noted how far evangelical Anglicanism has wandered from the 39 Articles of Religion, which, whatever their failings may be, would not be a bad place to hoist one's flag if one wanted to be an evangelical Anglican. After all, much of what is best in the Articles is a result of the direct influence of the Augsburg Confession, while most of what is questionable or ambiguous comes from the attempt to make them as inclusive as possible of the spectrum of English religious belief at the time of their final drafting.

I suppose that fact reminds us that the sort of pragmatism that can permit both a dedication service and the sacrament of holy baptism to be offered to infants in the same congregation has always been at the heart of the Anglican experiment.

(Perhaps it might also lead us to ask our evangelical Reformed friends, of whom evangelical Anglicans and Baptists like Dever are a sub-set, whether the covenant is a strong enough ground on which to base infant baptism - there has always seemed to me to be some ambiguity inherent in this position in Reformed theology, but that is really another discussion.)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Sasse on the Future of Catholicism in 1967

I have posted this on What Sasse Said as part of a contining series of extracts from Hermann Sasse's 1967 Lecture to the Inter-Varsity Fellowship in Queensland, titled Holy Church or Holy Writ, The Meaning of the Sola Scriptura of the Reformation and thought it germane to the most recent posts here:

"The accession of John XXIII marks the turning point. The Roman Church as we knew it, the Church of the Syllabus, of the First Vatican Council, the Church which was always at loggerheads with the modern world, has come to an end. A new era began of which no-one can know where it will end. The exciting debates, the passionate controversies, the obvious breakdown of a centuries old discipline within Roman catholicism, the revolutionary excesses in the Catholic Churches in America and the Netherlands, are indicative of a deep spiritual crisis within the largest church in Christendom which may well end in the breakdown of its organisation, in the disintegration of the vast body of the Roman future centuires the Pope, the Patriarch of the West, may share the destiny of the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, or Constantinople, without, of course, ceasing to be for the faithful remnant of the Roman Church the successor of Peter and the Vicar of Christ with all the prerogatives of primacy."

An extract from Holy Church of Holy Writ?
The 1967 Inter-Varsity Fellowship Annual Lecture in Queensland

Forty-two years later, there is little to indicate that Sasse's prediction is off-track; his view co-incides with Ratzinger's view of the "smaller, purer church".

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

What's Wrong with Catholicism? The Novus Ordo!

What's wrong with Roman Catholicism? The Novus Ordo! At least that's what many conservative Roman Catholics will tell you. The First Sunday of Advent marked the
40th anniversary of the implementation of the Novus Ordo or 'new order' of the Mass, and British Catholic Damian Thompson has a wryly humourous post marking this commemoration on his blog (click on the post title to view). Scroll down the comments page to the comments by Benedict Carter for an articulation of a conservative Roman Catholic viewpoint on all this.
I must say, having attended quite a few Novus Ordo masses, that I can to some extent sympathise with the lament of conservative Roman Catholics over the loss of the numinous and transcendent aspects of the old Latin mass that the introduction of the Novus Ordo seemed to bring about; it must have been quite a wrench for the generation that experienced the change. Even as resolute a Lutheran as Hermann Sasse remarked that the Novus Ordo introduced the spirit of Zwingli into the heart of Rome.
But at the same time I remain ambivalent about those lost aspects of traditional Roman Catholic worship; if one thinks of what happens in worship as a set of concentric circles, with God's means of grace in the centre, then the response of faith that those means elicit forming the next circle, and so on, then much of what ultra-conservative Catholics lament as lost by the Novus Ordo is at best on the perphery or outer boundary (or even outside the circle set altogether!), rather than at the centre of worship.
Futhermore, to what extent, I wonder, second-guessing myself, does the craving for numinosity and transcendence that marks the journey of so many of my generation suggest the failure of faith to grasp the reality that God's presence and grace is there for our justification wherever his people are gathered in his name around his Word and sacraments? (These are thoughts, not theses, I hasten to add.)
Perhaps the best response to the problem of the loss of a sense of the transcendent in worship, whether among Lutherans or Roman Catholics, is not to restore the worship practices of a bygone era (e.g. the Latin Mass!), but to teach people to pray the liturgy and enter more fully into its drama. Without the response of faith the most awe-inspiring and beautiful liturgy is incomplete and ultimately lifeless, is it not?

(Note - As of 3.12.09 I have edited this post in light of a discussion with Phil in the comments section that led me to realise that there were ambiguities in the original that could lead to misunderstanding. I put it down to haste in posting the original!)