Monday, October 31, 2011

The Moderate And The Radical

I went to a pro-life conference this weekend. There were some interesting speakers there. Two in particular made me think. One was a full time pro-life activist from CCBR. The other was a former publisher of Calgary's major daily newspaper. A guy named Peter Menzies. Menzies traced back the way the pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage won the media and eventually the public to their side. His point was they did it a little at a time. The changes they asked for were always incremental. He said the media love moderates. They don't like radicals. That is even more true in Canada than the US. Canadians are much more polite and not wanting to offend or even listen to someone who might be offensive to someone else.

His point was the social liberals have done a much better job of making their position seems moderate every step of the way even while the sum total of the change they have effected is quite radical. One example of how radical the change has been was the firing of Damian Goddard for tweeting that he supported traditional marriage. So his point was this step by step ever moderate approach has been working for the other side in this fight. We have not used it very well and have lost in large measure because we have been seen as the radicals.

His suggestion was to aim at some moderate gains. Gendercide is one battle we can win. Most people oppose aborting a child because it is a boy or because it is a girl. So we can sound moderate there. Making it a crime to coerce a woman into an abortion is another moderate gain we could aim for. How can a feminist oppose that? It is just protecting a woman's right to choose. These are battles we can win and we can move the ball forward. If we keep doing that and keep winning we can eventually move society a long way.

The other speaker, the pro-life activist, he does not care at all who thinks of him as a radical. He loves to show gory pictures of abortion fetuses. He wants to make people uncomfortable. He want to hit them over the head with the truth. He uses strong words like genocide and holocaust. His point is that it is not him who has taken the radical position. It is our culture that is radical.

So I ended up thinking these two guys should have had a debate. What one sees as counterproductive the other sees as the only way to make real progress. Both characterize the pro-life strategy to date as the opposite of what they are suggesting. The radical would say we have been too polite. The moderate would say we have been too offensive. The pro-life movement is large and diverse so examples can be found of each. But where should our efforts be concentrated?

One thought I had was that the pro-abortion and more recently the pro-gay movement did lie about their ultimate goals. OK, they may have been ignorant of where their own movement was going. I am a bit skeptical of that. Nevertheless, for pro-life people, they would definitely need to deal with pro-aborts saying this is a ploy to try and eventually make all abortion illegal. How would we respond? Would we lie? I have trouble seeing how you get around that. Satan can use deceit as a tactic. We can't. Even when we see deceit has worked well for him.

Thinking about the saints. How many saints were considered radicals and how many were considered moderate? I can't think of many moderate ones. Some were moderate on many issues and picked their spots about what position to take. But I can't think of any that consistently avoided taking radical positions.

For myself, I value logical consistency. Taking a moderate position on abortion might be an easier sell but it is fundamentally an incoherent position. Saying abortions based on gender should be illegal and not saying all abortions should be illegal is really ducking the central question. That is the question of whether the unborn child is a human person or not. The pro-life position appeals to me because it deals with the question and is not afraid of the logical implications of the answer. These more moderate ideas jsut don't have that property at all.

I wonder of God intentionally gives us radical truths that are hard to moderate without creating an incoherent position. The divinity of Jesus is one example. How do you construct a moderate version of that? I have thought that maybe if I encourage a person to go to mass more often then maybe they will drift into stronger Catholicism. But eventually a more radical choice will need to be faced. There is just no way around it.

The same is true of the church. How can you create intermediate steps between protestantism and Catholicism? It does not really work. Liturgically you can find a middle ground but in terms of doctrine and authority there really is no middle ground. Either you are your own pope or you let someone else do the job.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Two Kinds of Violence

Pope Benedict made a very interesting speech at Assisi. He talked about two sources of violence. The violence of religion and the violence of atheism. It is quite interesting. We can attack somebody because we believe they are evil. That is something all religions need to deal with. Of course all religions were represented at Assisi so it was a good time to bring that up. It is kind of against inter-religious etiquette to bring up topics like religious violence but there would have been little gained from a polite photo op. So he was quite bunt. We, as Christians, have engaged in violence and we need to deal with it. Violent Christianity has always been a perversion of the true Christian faith or at least an undeveloped version of the Christian faith. Still it has happened. To some extent it still happens. We need to do what we can to end it.

Of course many of the other religions represented there have a much worse track record for violence than Christianity. He especially focused on the 25 years since the last interfaith conference at Assisi.  A time when religious terrorism really began to become a problem in may parts of the world. The idea that people "consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others."

I think this is awesome. One of the myths about atheism is that not believing in God makes you better able to speak out against religious violence. It just isn't true. I can't imagine any atheist being as effective as the pope was here. He has credibility precisely because he is a man of faith and not a wishy-washy faith.

He also warned that as much as religion has an issue with violence atheism has a bigger one. He mentioned concentration camps but he also mentioned drug abuse. What he calls the "decline of man." We might not embrace full blown atheism at the state level but secularism is causing us to drift morally. It is the absence of God in a different way than the communists and the Nazis imposed it but it leads to violence none the less. The number of people killed by the US government in the war on terror has been skyrocketing. The body count from the war on drugs is huge. Then you have abortion. The numbers for that are insane. This is all violence that we accept as a society. We have lost our moral center. Even when we protest we don't know why. We occupy Wall Street and all we can do is babble about 1% and 99%. We can't articulate a moral principle.

I think the "decline of man" should be one of those phrases that forms a shorthand for what Catholics believe is wrong with the world. Like the "culture of death" was for John Paul II. The evil has grown to effect much more than our view of the sacredness of human life. It has effected politics big time. The financial sector is in serious trouble because of moral failings. It is all over the academic world especially in philosophy. The Decline of Man seems like an insightful phrase. He just needs to keep using it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Religious Life

When discerning a vocation the first step is to understand the beauty of each choice. If you look at either marriage or the religious life and see nothing attractive about it then there is something wrong with you. That is not an insult. That is information. We know that about marriage. If someone says there is nothing about marriage that is appealing you would wonder about them. Those that do say that mean they could not bring themselves to commit to one partner for the rest of their life. But most don't say that. Most people love the idea of falling in love and having it last forever. Having children. People might not be willing to make the sacrifices required to get there but they understand that it is a good place to be.

It is much less common with religious life. Many people react with complete aversion to the idea of becoming a nun or a priest. They see nothing at all appealing about it. That is honest. But they need to understand that shows a lack of spiritual maturity. It is not that they are not called to religious life. It is that they have not taken their faith seriously enough to even ask themselves the question. Do you believe God alone is enough to full satisfy all your desires for as long as you live? The theological answer to that is easy. Of course He is. He is God. But do you believe that in your heart? Is there something in the vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience that is just too much? That you cannot imagine God would satisfy that desire and bring you to a place of joy.

That is not a matter of calling. It is a matter of faith. When faith gets practical you find out how real it is. It is hard. It is something we need to grow into. But the exercise has benefits that go way beyond any potential religious vocation you might have. What happens is your desires are reordered as desires for God that might involve an intermediate goal. You might want a career. But why do you want a career? Is it so you can feel significant? Is it so you can earn money and do some good for yourself and for others? These are not bad things to want but why do you want them? You keep digging and you either get to God or you get to self. Ultimately those are the two real ends we pursue. The part that is ordered towards God can be sacrificed at God's command. The part that is ordered towards self needs to be repented of. We need to give ourselves fully and unconditionally to God.

If you go there then you can see marriage and religious life as two great goods. It will be sad that you can only do one. That is a good space to be in. Often someone will take a long time to surrender to the religious life and when he finally does God surprises him with a wife. I see something good about stories like that. Entering marriage in a place of total surrender to God. The point is not to make everyone religious. Most people should marry. But everyone needs to leave the choice up to God.

One of the big problems with marriage is many don't enter it in that place of surrender. There is a mentality of contraception and divorce in our culture that we can drift into all to easily. Often the reason why marriage appeals to us more than religious life is because we think we are required to give less in marriage. In some ways that is true but we should not marry out of an aversion to self-donation. If we are still in that space when we marry that is a very bad sign.

Preference for the Poor

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace came out with a document. I though John Allen had a good take on it. He talked about how the majority of the Catholics in Africa, Asia and Latin America have some very different thinking about economic justice than Catholic in Europe and North America. This document was written by an African, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. It reflects African thinking. This is one of the great things about being Catholic. You benefit from the wisdom of Christians of other times and other cultures. We tend to get trapped in the modern western mindset. Not only the secular western culture that influences us but the Christian western culture that is better but still very narrow in it's perspective. Catholic tradition breaks us out of that to some extent. It works for issues that have been around for a long time. But what about the more recent issues like globalization. Tradition has less to say. But we still benefit from the fact that the church is Catholic and it is one. We share the church with men like Cardinal Turkson and about 750 million other Catholics who are not part of the western culture. We can benefit from them. We also benefit from the fact that the church is holy and apostolic. That is the magisterium has special gifts to be able to discern God's wisdom. That does not just apply to infallible documents. We need to learn to think with the church.

So how has the Catholic community been doing? I don't see a lot of attempts to learn from this document. It has fallen into the left/right political divide. The conservatives have been most disappointing because they normally take the church quite seriously. They know the church has wisdom but cannot bring themselves to consider the possibility that some conservative orthodoxy might need to be questioned. They point out that it is not infallible. they have pointed that out again and again and again. OK. Got that. But it is still a document written by one of the church's foremost African thinkers. Someone Pope Benedict trusts on matters of justice and peace. It represents a very common viewpoint inside the church at all levels. One the pope is endorsing. Not a powerful endorsement but a thumbs up nevertheless.

I believe the proper Catholic response to such a document is constructive engagement. We can debate. We can disagree. But we should not write off Cardinal Turkson as a liberal. Trying to fit him into the American political picture is just nonsense. We should expect him to transcend those categories. We need thinking like that because both Republican and Democrats have managed to run us into a mess. How much constructive engagement have their been? Mostly it has been a defensive, dismissal. 

One big point of difference is the view of the United Nations. Nobody knows better the the Catholic church how the United Nations has been used to make abortion and contraception more available. But Catholic thinkers have not been willing to call the entire institution a bad thing. Pope Benedict took his name from the WWI Pope Benedict XV. That Pope Benedict put forward some of the ideas that President Woodrow Wilson adopted and later grew into the League of Nations and then the United Nations. Pope Benedict XVI is actually a big fan of Pope Benedict XV. So it is no surprise he thinks the idea of international authority has some potential. WWI showed how one war could engulf the whole of Europe so conflict resolution really was everyone's business. The recent crisis shows how one nation's financial policy can cause major problems worldwide. Why should preventing such crises in the future not be done on an international level?

Yes, there is a national element here. As John Allen points out, many are "wary about the global influence of the United States." I can see that Americans might have a different view of this. Giving up sovereignty to international bodies is something they rarely do. Economically they are still powerful but not quite the superpower they once were. The times are changing. The church is not afraid of new ideas.
We should not be under the illusion that we can get to utopia through human effort but we can and should try to make things better.

Monday, October 24, 2011

When God Seems To Change

Called To Communion has responded to an article arguing that Catholicism has changed its doctrine on salvation outside the church. This is a common claim. Atheists often make a parallel criticism that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is bloodthirsty, vengeful, and mean. There are some documents from church history that don't seem to fit with modern Catholic teaching and there are some passages from the Old Testament that don't seem to fit with our image of God shaped by the New Testament.

I think atheists and Catholics are right to point out that this is a real problem. God never changes. When something claiming to be a revelation from God changes over time we need to wonder. It could  possibly be evidence that their claim is false. That this is just man trying to know God but it does not have the reliability of God but rather the reliability of the people involved. When we examine the claims of Muslims, Mormons, or Jehovah's Witnesses to speak for God we find inconsistent statements they have made over time and they become Exhibit A in our case against these false prophets. So can a similar case be made against the bible? Or against the church?

The answer is that God did not reveal everything about Himself and His plan to save man all at once. We see it being revealed slowly over many centuries. God chose to take man on a journey. Man needed to know the seriousness of sin. So we have the event of the flood. Every child knows the story because their are lots of animals involved. But the story is really about the fact that sin was everywhere. God is a powerful and when we sin we are just daring Him to destroy us. This is not smart. God is gracious and does save eight people but only eight. Was that the whole picture of God? No. But it is truth about God. The same God we serve today.

This pattern continues. God focuses His efforts on the Israelites. Why just them? Why not everyone? God wanted to show a contrast. Here is My chosen people and here is everyone else. Did God abandon everyone else? No. But the focus was on the special graces being given to the nation of Israel. God did use His power to carve out a space in a heathen world for His people. He decreed that some nations be exterminated to make room for the Israelites.  A pretty extreme measure to be sure. Is God guilty of mass murder? God is the giver of life so He has the right to take life away. Murder involves us taking that prerogative from God. So murder does not make sense as a charge. But God was showing a contrast. His people could not just fit in with all the other nations. In fact, they needed to be protected from their influence. Extreme measures were needed.

The point is salvation history is not just about Good Friday and Easter. It is very long and complex for a reason. We start to have problems when we simplify it. It is a natural thing to do but we must never lose track of the fact that the big picture is very big.  We end up with a very truncated spirituality. We end up in serious doubt when people point out parts of the bible we have been ignoring.

The same is true of early church history. There was an emphasis on the importance of the church for a long time. That is not something that went out with Vatican II. It was not part of Catholic confusion. It is a real truth about how God is working in the world. To leave the church and try and maintain your relationship with God was and is spiritual suicide. That is the truth God chose to drill into us first. It is possible that a person might have such a dysfunctional view of the church and the sacraments that not much would be lost. That case was not really address until more recent times. The reasons should not be hard to see. People today have used that teaching as an excuse to stop evangelizing and start dissenting. We are very good at ignoring subtle distinctions when it suits our own agenda. If that that had been revealed at the Council of Florence people would have misunderstood it much worse. God wanted to show us anther millennium and a half of what He could do with the church before he made us aware that He has always been working outside it as well. He knows we are slow to grasp certain concepts like obedience.

So at the end of the day both the bible and the church pass the scrutiny. Atheists can fail the bible and protestants can fail the church but that is their choice. We are not logically forced to reject them because the two stories are not incompatible. One is a deeper telling of the other. It forces us to remember some truths about God that may not be fashionable to talk about today but that is a good thing.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fertility and Pornography

Marc Barnes says a lot of interesting things. One of them has got me thinking quit a bit recently. It comes in point #6 in his post called 10 Reasons The Pill S@#%$. He points out a study that found when you give female chimpanzees contraceptives the males in the community showed an increase in confusion, violence, masturbation and homosexual behavior.
Increase in confusion, violence, masturbation and homosexual behavior? All well and fine, a cute experiment, right? It’s what your average, American, teenage boy is growing up with! The truth is we don’t know exactly what it’s doing to the modern man, but it certainly isn’t something we can conveniently gloss over. We would never look at a chemical that causes cancer in monkeys and say, “Oh, but this couldn’t happen to us! We like this chemical!” And yet no-one seems to be worrying about The Pill’s affect on men. I am willing to bet my life that the rise in pornography-use/masturbation in adult men does not mirror the rise in hormonal contraceptive use by some strange and coincidental accident.
What attracts men to women? There are many factors. A lot only get turned on while a woman is fertile. Fertile women smell different. They talk different. Their eyeballs look different. These are subtle cues that cause men to become aroused much more quickly and effectively by a fertile woman. Women are also more interested in men while they are fertile. It should not surprise us. The church teaches us the God intended sex for procreation. Science is just confirming that.

But what happens when you put a man into a community where almost all the young women are using the pill? Most of what should be attracting him to women isn't there. First of all, both men and women will have a lot less pleasure from the sexual energy of their interactions. Secondly, what remains in woman to attract men will be over-emphasized. What is that? Mostly it is the body shape of a woman. That is still there. So men get overly interested in breasts and buttocks. That leads to immodest dress and pornography. But that is not the way God made men and women. The shape of a woman's body is taking a role that is out or proportion to what God has intended.

What happens when you have a Christian community of young people? There you have men and women committed to chastity. Obviously the woman won't be taking the pill. Women dress modestly. What happens? Do men ignore the modest women and find someone who is wearing less clothes? No. They find the modest women very attractive. Why? Maybe it is because they are allowing their bodies to be what God made them to be. Attractive to men in more ways then we can imagine. Not a constant attraction but in a monthly cycle. It is an interesting dynamic to contemplate. Who does she want to spend time with when she is more attractive? Who wants to spend time with her when she is less attractive?

As a protestant I thought a lot about how premarital sex was messing up the dating and courtship process. This is another way the start of good marriages and strong families has been disrupted by societies decision to embrace sin. The damage is always so much deeper and more widespread than we foresee.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Poster Boy For Hate

Rev. Robert Jeffress has been making a lot of waves because he makes blunt statements and he has ties to Rick Perry. Bill Donahue of the Catholic League made this comment:
Where did they find this guy? When theological differences are demonized by the faithful of any religion—never mind by a clergyman—it makes a mockery of their own religion. Rev. Jeffress is a poster boy for hatred, not Christianity.
So what has this guy said? I have not gone into a lot of depth but the quotes I have see are that Mormonism is a cult. Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are false religions. He also said, “Much of what you see in the Catholic Church today doesn’t come from God’s word. It comes from that cult-like pagan religion. Isn’t that the genius of Satan?”

OK, those are not sounding very charitable but they are likely phrases picked out of longer talks. The point is he is just plainly stating what he believes. I agree with him on some of it but not all of it. But should we call him the "poster boy for hate" because he says this? That is a very short-sighted and dangerous comment.

The one thing that Christians and especially Catholics are accused of frequently is hate speech. I think it will get a lot worse. Many people will lose their jobs or go to jail because they voice their Christian faith and society labels it hate speech. It is already happening. Mostly to people on the fringes of Christianity that make more shocking statements. Rev. Jeffress seems to be one of those. But if we start to deny people's freedom to speak that way then it won't be long before all serious religious discourse is banned.

Think about it. All evangelism takes the risk of offending someone. When we say something that might convict someone of their sin and produce repentance it might also produce another reaction. It might cause them to convict us of hate and get angry. That is why so many evangelists were martyred.

So when we see talk in society of hate speech we should be concerned. We should not be encouraging it and we should certainly not be engaging in it. So I was very disappointed to see Bill Donahue using that kind of language. He has gotten into the media frequently as a defender of the Catholic faith. Not sure how that happened but it is reality. So he needs to be careful what he says. Calling Rev. Jeffress the poster by for hatred is a very bad way to react to the statements in question. Sure he says Catholicism is wrong. The way to deal with that is to start a dialogue and try and correct some of the false statements he made.

I know most media and most people don't have the patience for that. They love to hear someone shout out a clever insult. But we can't go there. We need to be about reason and love. Calling someone hateful is not love. Putting the truth out there for anyone who cares to listen is harder but it is needed.

Then there are the true statement he made. He is not far off when he talks about Mormonism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Sometimes we need to say negative things about other religions and we need to say them quite clearly. We even need to say negative things about Evangelicals. To say a religion is false is not to hate the people who adhere to that religion. To equate the two is a big mistake. It suggests dialogue with other religions can be meaningful or it can be charitable but it can't be both. But it must be both. We must love those in other faiths but that love must motivate us to point out the very serious problems with their religion.

Think about smoking. If someone is a smoker and I am not what is the loving thing to do? To avoid the topic of smoking? To not say one negative thing about it? But there are really solid reasons I don't smoke and really bad consequences for smoking. Should I not bring those up?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Schism and Heresy

Brian Cross has a post responding to Michael Horton's thoughts which he thinks reduce schism to heresy. He is right as he usually is. But he focuses on the fact that the church fathers saw heresy as distinct from schism and modern protestants don't. Now if a protestant is going to start being bothered by discrepancies with the early church fathers I don't think this is the one that is going to be the hardest to ignore. So I wonder how convincing this particular line of reasoning will be.

For me, I found it more convincing the idea that schism was my issue and heresy was not my issue. You can see this in the biblical language. Eph 4:3 says, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." There is no verse that tells us to make every effort to keep doctrinal purity. We are not told to do that. Why not? Because it is Jesus' job. He says, "I will build my church." We can't so it because we will mess it up.

Think about it this way. When did Arius fall into sin. When he taught that Jesus was no God? No. He was teaching what he thought was truth. It was not yet condemned by the church so he was not putting himself into schism by teaching that. Over time that changed. Eventually the council of Nicaea decided the matter and condemned Arianism. That is when he committed the sin of schism. The body of Christ had chosen one path and he refused to follow.

As a protestant I thought of heresy as teaching a theological opinion that I strongly disagreed with. If that is the definition of heresy then it is not a sin. People have all sorts of opinions. Most of the time they have them in good faith. How are they supposed to know their opinion is wrong? That is the key. Should they know? In the Catholic world that question can be answered objectively. Do they explicitly reject some infallible teaching of the church? If so, they have separated themselves from the church by doing that. It is really a form of schism. So theological error that has grown into schism is really the problem.

Perhaps we might not have a full blown schism but just some form of discord with the magisterium. In that case we cannot be sure who is right. The smart money is on the magisterium but infallibility is not in play yet so it is at least possible the opinionated individual might be right. That is when the individual in question needs to worry more about keeping the unity of the church and not at all about the possibility that the church has it wrong on this issue. There are two things that can go wrong. The church can split or the church can teach false doctrine. The first problem is ours to prevent. The second problem is God's to prevent.

Thinking about that was big for me. I had this notion that I had to fight for the truth. That in this world of theological confusion we were supposed to embrace the true doctrine. That meant not just giving in to the Catholic church. When I realized that God might not want me to do that it was quite a break-though. Why does God need to me to show people the truth? I can't be sure I even have the truth.

But what about schism? I had a heart for church unity but could I really say I was not just embracing a schismatic culture? My desire to fight for truth was keeping me from being united with the Catholic church. I was letting truth trump unity when I was supposed to let unity trump truth. Not that truth was unimportant. Just that I could not get it by pursuing it. Unity I could get. Truth would come.

If you think about it schism has always been a much harder problem to solve. When bad theology is taught the church can institute reforms and correct the issue. Maybe they hold a council. Maybe God raises up a saint. There are lots of examples of theological errors being fixed. But schisms are another matter. How often are schisms healed? Even when the reasons for the schism are long forgotten they tend to be very hard to fix. So how did we get so focused on heresy to the point where we completely ignore schism?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Kings and Kingdoms

Scott McKnight has an article about how misused the word "kingdom" is in modern Christianity. He has a point.
One of my college students told me her sister was not working in the Church but was doing “Kingdom” work and “justice” work at a social service. Another student explained to me she was joining hands with a local inter-faith group to further peace. She called it “Kingdom” work and added, “It has nothing to do with the Church.” There’s a common theme here: the “Kingdom” is bigger and better than the “Church.”
So people talk about kingdom work because they want to avoid talking about church. You can see why. The protestants concept of church is a mess. People want to unite with other Christians to serve God but they no longer see any church as a good vehicle for doing that.
The word “kingdom” comes from Jesus, and so to Him and His Jewish world we must go. It was impossible in Jesus’ world to say “kingdom” and not think “king.” Either the word “king” referred to Caesar, the empire-building, worship-me-or-die emperor of Rome, or it referred to Israel’s hoped-for King, the Messiah. When Jesus said Kingdom, He meant the Messiah is the one true King and Caesar is not.
 This is important. The concept of kingdom has lost some meaning today. Certainly Israel would think of Caesar and they would think of the ultimate King promised by God someday. But there would be others. King Herod was there. King David was big in their thinking. So the Messiah as the one true King would be seen in the light of those kings. A wise and kind ruler that could keep order and foster prosperity. A brave warrior who could lead them into battle when enemies attacked. Someone who would not abuse the power of taxation and arrest.
Furthermore, a first-century Jew couldn’t say “Kingdom” or “King” without also thinking of “Kingdom people” (or citizen-followers of the Messiah). The most unusual of people were Jesus’ Kingdom people—sinners, tax collectors, fishermen, hookers, demonized women and ordinary, poor Galileans.
I don't think this is true at all. A king was not someone who asked you if you wanted to be part of his kingdom. Everyone has to be part of it. There was no concept of kingdom people and non-kingdom people. If you opposed the king you were a traitor and would be executed. But there was a matter of who has the king's ear. Who would he listen to and often what favors has to be done to get the king to do what you want. Jesus was different because He was not at all self interested. Kings of that day were always interested in those who had money or influence. Jesus wanted broken spirits and contrite hearts.
There’s a third element about what Kingdom means for Jesus. Kingdoms only work well when they have a constitution. The Jews of Jesus’ day called it “Torah.” Jesus swallowed up Israel’s Torah into His Kingdom vision—and it broke loose one day when He was teaching His disciples. We call it the Sermon on the Mount. This is the Torah for followers of King Jesus. 
Again this seems strange to me. The Torah was not associated with the king. It was associated with the priests and the teachers of the law. Sure a kingdom needs rule and it needs structure. But the sermon on the mount was about personal morality and not about community action. The king's role was more about appointing magistrates than it was about writing law. There might be some laws a king would proclaim but most laws were already there. It was a matter of it being applied fairly.

A kingdom without a magisterial structure was just unthinkable. It still is. Every government has one. Every church has one. Every company has one. To say that Jesus established a kingdom but did not establish a hierarchy for governing that kingdom is to really confuse matters. In fact, that is the root cause of all the misuse of the word "kingdom" among Christians today. It is all over the gospels. Jesus mentions it more often than any other concept. But in protestant thinking Jesus never left us anything remotely resembling a kingdom. So of course the word is misused because using it properly would make Jesus' statements into nonsense. Or they would be Catholic. Either they refer to nothing at all or they refer to the Catholic church as one visible organization that is charged with governing all Christians.

Who in Jesus' day would say they were loyal subject of Caesar and yet openly disobey Pilate? It would make no sense. Being loyal to Caesar was the same thing as being subject to his local magistrates. It did not mean you only had to listen to Caesar if he got on a boat and personally came down from Rome and gave you an order. That is not the way kingdom's worked. So why should the kingdom of Jesus work any different? Why should my acceptance of Jesus as king not imply I obey the local officials of His kingdom? How else is the kingdom supposed to work?
The biggest problem with the Church for many is that the people they know who go there don’t follow Jesus. Which is the exact reason why so many today want to disconnect Kingdom from Church: Too often a church looks like anything but the Kingdom because too many so-called Kingdom people don’t follow Jesus!
But the kingdom of God is supposed to have wheat and tares. It will always have people who don't follow Jesus or follow Him so differently that I don't recognize them as followers. That is not a problem with the church. It is a feature. We can't fix it. God won't fix it. So church has to work anyway.
Christians need to sit down with the gospels, read them and compare the themes of Jesus’ Kingdom vision with the themes of many local churches.
This is a nice thing to do. It won't fix the problem. Never has. Personal renewal does not fix a church. It is a good thing but it is actually more likely to make the differences greater and more intense. It will also make it more important that you get Jesus' kingdom vision right. I think Scott McKnight has gotten it quite wrong. I think many people will get it quite wrong from just sitting down with the gospels. More is required.
I wish we would all dig in all over again and construct new foundations for a Kingdom vision of the Church. A church embodies  themes like love, justice, peace and wisdom. The Kingdom church will not only talk about such themes, but will be a society marked by a Gospel justice, a Gospel peace and a Gospel wisdom. It will be a people who eat together, love one another and who see the needs in the world around them and do something about those needs. According to Jesus, a local church is designed to be a local fellowship of Kingdom people who love and follow King Jesus.
What makes him think we can construct new foundations that are better than the foundation laid by Christ?(1 Cor 3:11) He keeps coming back to eating together. As a Catholic I immediately think of the Eucharist. Maybe going to a church with a valid Eucharist would be a good place to start.

I wonder what text he is thinking of for the last sentence. Jesus only used the word "church" twice in the gospels. Mat 16:18 and Mat 18:17. Don't see it there.
Instead of choosing either the Church or the Kingdom, Christians are called to see church as a living manifestation of the Kingdom.
 This is so true. Making the Kingdom invisible and subjective really robs it of it's power. But the same is true of the one, holy, catholic, and  apostolic church. It needs to be visible and objective. As a protestant I pretended that my denomination was the living manifestation of that. I knew it wasn't but my I needed to pretend it was for my faith to work. As a Catholic I could stop pretending.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Did We Get Here?

We saw that secular society sees all religions as basically the same. That the differences are superficial. It is really quite a silly notion. So why do so many people accept it? A lot of it flows from doctrinal indifference within Christianity. When you ask a Christian about his church what does he say? Typically they talk about the superficial stuff. The preaching, the music, the kids programs, the fellowship. People almost never focus on doctrine. If they go to a non-denominational church they might not even know much about the doctrines the pastors believe. Often churches try and steer clear of anything that might cause controversy. Just focus on Jesus and never mind the details. But what do they mean by that? They typically don't mean just focus on the cross. They typically mean a warm fuzzy loving Jesus.

But if you go there then it does not matter if you are Reformed or Pentecostal or Anglican or Catholic. It is all basically the same mush underneath. Even atheists are capable of the same mushiness. People say it is because we are all approaching the same God. That is not really it. We are all going nowhere. If you don't go deep into your faith then the content of you faith does not matter. All traditions end up in the same spot but it is not God. It is self. We start out with human impulses to love and to worship and we never get beyond that.

But why do we avoid depth and opt for mere Christianity? Because we lack truth and we lack unity. You can try and contemplate the depths of God's truth but the deeper you go the fewer people you will have with you and the less certain you will be about whether you have made a serious error or not. The exception to this is Catholicism but protestants and even many Catholics don't embrace the Church as the source of truth and unity. So many Christians end up with basically a man-made religion that secularists can dismiss because it really is pretty superficial.

There are exceptions. Some people are undeterred by the lack of certainty and end up getting many things right. But they remain exceptions precisely because they lack the unity that would make them something else. Only the Catholic church is united enough around a faith with enough content to not fit into the secularist model. Even then the secular person will not see it because there are so many weak Catholics. It makes it easy to dismiss them all rather than deal with the orthodox core.

So Christians have created this secular beast by running away from their faith. They have created a mass of contradictory faiths that make it easy to dismiss all the differences. It seems like the smart thing to do. It even seems fair because you are treating all the faiths equally. You are not picking one right one. So freedom of religion means disrespecting all religion equally. Even those who still practice their faith can be seen to disrespect their own religion because they buy into this fairness idea. Who knows what is really true? Even Catholics talk that way.

The good news is God has given us the grace to be able to unite around one truth. The hard part is we all have to abandon our pet doctrines and unite around God's truth. It is easier to just shrug and say "Who knows?" But it is better that there is a truth in this world worth living for and worth dying for. We just need to discard all the forms of Christianity that come from the works of man and embrace the one that comes from the grace of God.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What Is Religion?

It seems people are confused about freedom of religion. They get that we need to allow people to worship in different ways and have different teachings about God. They will follow different leaders and have different holidays. But these things are the religious facade. Behind them there are very deep ways of thinking that are very different. But many don't seem to get that. They seem to assume that once you get past all the traditions and mumbo-jumbo then all religions boil down to the same thing. Except they don't. The assumption that they do is actually part of a secular world and life view. We can never know what people really believe in their most secret thoughts so the secularist just injects himself into that and assumes everyone must think pretty much like he does.

This thinking becomes more extreme when we get to sexual morality. Secularists are sure that religious people are always breaking their moral code when it comes to sex. That no matter what their faith teaches about sex that behind closed doors everyone is really a secularist. Well, maybe not everyone but most of them are. Secularists believe that sexual self control is just not possible. People will always cheat. To an extent they are right but they tend to assume sexual sin is much more serious and much more widespread than is warranted. You see that when you look at historical fiction. No matter what time period the story is set in and no matter what the religious or cultural reality existed the story will always involve characters jumping in and out of bed with each other freely and frequently. Like they can't take seriously the possibility that people might have lived chaste lives.

So now we get to the HHS mandates. Why don't they see an issue of religious freedom? First of all because people are being allowed to worship any way they want. Catholics can have their smells and bells. Evangelicals can have their mega-church bands. What is the problem? You don't want to deal with unplanned pregnancy and STD's because you expect people to live chaste lives? We all know that people don't REALLY do that now don't we? Can't we put aside that illusion when we are dealing with people's health?

The sad part is that for many Christians they are right. Many are really living like secularists when it comes to matters of sex. They have bought the lie that self control is impossible. We know the church will always be full of wheat and tares. But the Christian wants to treat everyone like wheat to maximize the fruit they bear while the secularist wants to treat everyone like weeds because the weeds are more like him.

So at the end of the day the secularist thinks he understands perfectly what is going on in the minds and the bedrooms of religious people. They are just secularists who do a few funny things on Sunday morning. Their leaders think they are living out their faith but we know better. They are really just like us. What it boils down to is a state religion. You can have different religious customs and festivals but to have a truly different religion is not allowed. We don't allow it because we take it as an article of faith that religions are not truly different. They just claim to be different. We know this is true based on the state religion that must be believed regardless of which visible religion you mix it with. It is a bit like the old emperor worship laws. Believe what you want except you must accept Caesar as divine. Only the Jews found that unacceptable.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Church Welfare Bums

From the recent trip to Germany the pope's talk to the German parliament is getting the most attention, and rightly so, a really clear analysis of why we don't want too much or too little religion in politics. But what the German clergy is really worried about is what he said about the church taxes levied by the state and given to the church. He didn't bluntly call for them to end but he certainly opened the debate by saying the church needs to deal with it's problem of worldliness and becoming poorer is likely to make this happen. Here is a story of prominent German Catholics trying to deny he could possibly be talking about getting poorer by giving up the church's $6.3 billion a year government check.

Freiburg, Germany - A call from Pope Benedict XVI for the Catholic Church to massively change by getting rid of its worldly wealth has shaken German clergy, who say this is not the reform they had in mind.
Even a long-time critic of the German-born pope, theologian Hans Kueng, was incredulous a day after the call, contending that it was just a dodge by Benedict, 84, who dropped the bombshell on Sunday, the last day of a four-day trip to Germany.
In a first response, the head of the Catholic Church in Germany, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, later insisted the pope was not criticizing the German church's revenue streams, which include levies on registered Catholics, administered by government tax authorities.
But the church establishment may have difficulty pushing this genie back into the bottle after Benedict's statement.
The German church has essentially become a welfare bum. They just sit around and get fat while waiting for the government money to arrive. Not all of them but way too many. What is worse is the institution has taken on a political character and has lost it's focus on God. They are Martha's and not Mary's. They have forgotten the one thing that is essential. All of German society really has but it is most striking in the church.

The pope's answer? Get poor. That is how to get worldliness out of your system. It is the money that is corrupting you. Get rid of it. Go cold turkey. That will force you to turn to God for help.
Kueng, 83, contended the pope was like a 'doddery old doctor handing out spiritual fruit juice' instead of the proper medical treatment.

I see some irony in that last statement of the article. Kueng's spiritual fruit juice is married priests, female priests, contraception, etc. Pope Benedict is actually suggesting taking out a tumor that has sapped the life our of the German church for a long time. Other churches have tried the path Kueng suggests. They have not been revitalized. Quite the opposite. Pope Benedict's idea is scary. If God is not real it will kill the church. The church needs to die. Then it needs to rise again. But how can a leadership that has lost it's faith choose that path?