Church and society: fusion or confusion of Christians?

Some of you may know that I’m a secret (actually not-so-secret) admirer of President Barack Obama, who I believe has a lot of admirable qualities. I believe that he will be known as one of the great political leaders of our day. But this article from the Catholic News Agency knocks some reality back into our consciousness. For those who are admirers (or even secret admirers) of Pres. Obama. We have to remember that he is not a messiah, but is only a man.

People packed St. Basil’s Church in Toronto on Monday listen to Archbishop Charles Chaput (Prelate of Denver) speak about how Catholics should live out their faith in the public square. This took place on the campus of the University of Toronto (St. Basil’s Church) and was attended by an overflow crowd of over 700 people. Here is what some of the article said:

“President Obama is a man of intelligence and some remarkable gifts. He has a great ability to inspire, as we saw from his very popular visit to Canada just this past week. But whatever his strengths, there’s no way to reinvent his record on abortion and related issues with rosy marketing about unity, hope and change. Of course, that can change. Some things really do change when a person reaches the White House. Power ennobles some men. It diminishes others. Bad policy ideas can be improved. Good policy ideas can find a way to flourish. But as Catholics, we at least need to be honest with ourselves and each other about the political facts we start with.”

Yet this will be “very hard for Catholics in the United States,” Chaput warned.
According to the archbishop, the political situation for Catholics is difficult to discern because a “spirit of adulation bordering on servility already exists among some of the same Democratic-friendly Catholic writers, scholars, editors and activists who once accused pro-lifers of being too cozy with Republicans. It turns out that Caesar is an equal opportunity employer.”

We have heard of conservative Christians and evangelicals cozying up with the Republicans (Conservatives); so much so that the two have almost become synonymous. Catholics and Protestants who lean left should also be aware of this fused identity of politics and church. It happens; and I have seen it amongst many mainline Christians who tend to lean left.

Here in Canada, the United Church of Canada (UCC), tend to lean toward the more liberal policies and politics of the New Democratic Party (NDP). I hear ramblings that the Saskatchewan NDP leader, and former Premier of Saskatchewan, Lorne Calvert, will become the next president of St. Andrew’s College (UCC) located here in Saskatoon, SK. Now if that’s not an example of fusion (or confusion) of politics and religion in a church, I don’t know what it is.

Click here to read the full article. It’s quite interesting.

Hat tip goes to Stan McCullars who just wrote a post based on this interesting article.

Our denominational differences and commonalities

When I hear the bickering that goes on between mainline churches and evangelical churches, I shake my head and laugh at what both sides are saying about each other. Mainline churches accuse evangelical churches of sheep-stealing; but the fact is that this is far less a significant issue than the baptised-confirmed members in mainline churches having chosen to stop attending church on their own, even before they have decided to make the switch. If they have switched to an evangelical church, they have chosen to do so likely because they have found that their once-staggering faith had been reignited and have experienced freedom and refreshment through the work of the Holy Spirit. Traditional mainline churches need to realize this and stop the blaming.

When young people choose to stop attending church, they do so mainly because their faith has not been solidly formed, and/or they no longer see church as being a significant community to belong to, except for, perhaps, the purposes of getting married, baptized and buried (or what is known as “match, hatch, and dispatch”). The fact is, many no longer even view these rites of “match, hatch and dispatch” as significant life rituals.

Increasingly, evangelical-conservative churches are also facing the same problems as mainline churches. Many young people raised in evangelical homes have chosen to stay away after they leave home for school. Why? Perhaps it was due to ineffective discipleship? Church is no longer a significant part of their lives because they have been overtaken by the mores and values of the dominant culture. They no longer see church as a significant community to belong to, so they choose never to return to church after college or university.

It is an undisputed fact that the majority of teens, twenty to thirty-somethings do not attend church, and, many, have absolutely no idea what church and the Christian faith is about. Many have never even stepped foot inside of a church and do not personally know anyone who is a regular church attender. Thus, it is safe to assume that we are living in a post-Christian culture.

Since we are living in a post-Christian society, or what I’ve heard some call a “repaganized” society, I am increasingly convinced that the church’s call to God’s mission (Missio Dei) must be approached within a contextualized framework that acknowledges a new generation of postmoderns who have no idea what the Christian faith is really about. We can no longer assume any knowledge of Christian faith. They may be spiritual, but are not religious. The problem of the church is that many who come from the traditional evangelical and mainline churches are either slow to recognize this, or they don’t want to admit this as a real-world fact. Many are living in what I call “lala land” and are self-deceived into believing that our society is still in an era of “Christendom”. They are stuck in their current framework and cannot figure out why their churches are seeing a greater decline in membership. This is true of many traditional denominations, from Lutheran (ELCA), Anglican/Episcopalian Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist, American Baptist, United Church (UCC), and others.

I wish both evangelicals and mainliners would stop fighting each other and try to begin to understand each other, and understand their common struggles, and begin to work together in God’s mission. It is funny how denominational lines and theological differences can prevent cooperation. Yes, I know there are still theological differences between mainliners and evangelicals. Sometimes, I see hope, and sometimes I don’t see any glimmer of hope of bridge-building and real ecumenism. My personal hope is to help each other to begin to understand our differences and our commonalities so that we can cooperate and do ministry together within a postmodern society without the bickering, blaming, and high-nosed snobbery that goes on.

For the near future, I’m thinking about starting a series of posts to discuss the differences and commonalities between evangelicals and mainliners for the purpose of building mutual understanding and demystification.

Thomas R. Kelly on submitting to God’s holy guidance

I have just finished reading from a wonderful book called: “A Testament of Devotion” by Thomas Kelly. As an intellect who holds a doctorate in religious philosophy, he recognized his need to listen to the divine Center. He sought out how to live a simple inner spiritual and physical life and the simplicity of devotion toward God. May this quote by Kelly be a blessing. In the 5th and final chapter, Kelly writes:

“Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center. Each of us can live such a life of amazing power and peace and serenity, of integration and confidence and simplified multiplicity, on one condition—that is, if we really want to. There is a divine Abyss within us all, a holy Infinite Center, a Heart, a Life who speaks in us and through us to the world. We have all heard this holy Whisper at times. At times we have followed the Whisper, and amazing equilibrium of life, amazing effectiveness of living set in. But too many of us have heeded the Voice only at times. Only at times have we submitted to His holy guidance. We have not counted this Holy Thing (who is God) within us to be the most precious thing in the world. We have not surrendered all else, to attend to it alone.” (Kelly, 93).

He continues several pages after saying:

“We calculated that that task had to be done, and we saw no one ready to undertake it. We calculated the need, and then calculated our time, and decided maybe we could squeeze it in somewhere. But the decision was a heady decision, not made within the sanctuary of the soul. When we say Yes or No to calls for service on the basis of heady decisions, we have to give reasons, to ourselves and to others. But when we say Yes or No to calls on the basis of inner guidance and whispered promptings of encouragement from the Center of our life, or on the basis of a lack of any inward “rising” of that Life to encourage us in the call, we have no reason to give, except one—the will of God as we discern it. Then we have begun to live in guidance.” (Kelly, 99).

Related post on Thomas R. Kelly.

Life application bible studies: John, Acts, Hebrews, James

Tyndale has released a new bible study series called the Life Application Bible Studies. To date, four books are available: John, Acts, Hebrews, and James. More are scheduled to be released.

Each book in this bible study series include two parts: 1) the complete text of the selected bible book from the Life Application Study Bible in the New Living Translation (2007 ed.), including the study notes, full maps, charts and people profiles; and 2) bible study questions. Each book in this series include thirteen ready-to-use lessons to stimulate thought, discussion, and practical life application. They each begin with a few warm-up questions; the reader is then invited to read the passage. This is followed by 10-16 questions to help the reader reflect and apply the biblical lessons into real life situations. There are also extra questions at the end to help the reader reflect more deeply upon the passage at hand.

The series of questions are divided into sections:

  • Reflect on your life (5-10 min.)
  • Read the passage (10-15 min.)
  • Realize the principle (15-20 min.)
  • Respond to the message (20-30 min.)
  • Resolve to take action (10-15 min.)

The Life Application Study Bible is probably the most helpful devotional study bibles to help readers reflect upon their personal lives. It helps the reader make sense of the bible and apply the lessons into their lives. I don’t think there is anything else out there that does it better. It is the most unique devotional study bible available because it does what other bibles don’t do. This, combined with study questions, gives the bible study participants and leaders a lot of thought-provoking material for a very enjoyable bible study. Good job Tyndale.

My thanks go to Laura Bartlett from Tyndale for sending me review copies of John, Acts, Hebrews, and James.

Call to politicians: honesty and fairness needed

I hope that Pres. Barack Obama and the Democratic-led Congress can do the right thing to set things in place to help stimulate the economy and get it back into gear. Hopefully a stimulus package can help but it should not be seen as a salvation for the economy; but who says lower taxes and wiser spending can’t help either? None of these can guarantee anything to stimulate the economy but we seem to put so much premium in our human ways and means.

No matter what political persuasion we align ourselves to, we do need to pray for President Obama, his Administration, and Congress to get through this economic downturn . Whether we admit it, or not, the fact is that other nations, including Canada, Europe, Asia and the rest of the world, are also relying on the success of the American economy because almost every nation around the world today is, in many ways, interconnected and interdependent upon one another. Whether we like it or not, we are living in a global economy; and when one nation “sneezes”, other nations will somehow be affected. Whether our economies are in an upturn or a downturn, we need to help one another within this community of nations. St. Paul says that we, as a church, are each interconnected and interdependent upon one another because we are all members in the body of Christ. If Christ calls us individually to live as a community of people within our immediate world, then Christ’s call to live in community also applies to our community of nations; and as a community of nations, Christ also calls us to genuinely care for other nations around the world. We must never allow ourselves to live as islands unto ourselves. To do so is to ignore the call of Christ to love and serve one another. Let us live and act justly while relying upon the power of the Holy Spirit to love God and love one another.

In the world of politics, this Christian principle can and should ideally be applied in the world of politics. Democrats need Republicans and Republican ideas, and Republicans need Democrats and Democratic ideas. Policies and ideas get hashed out in debate in both houses and committees but don’t often get done with much honor. I wish politicians played fairly and honestly. There are many people who haven’t given up on politicians but I think people do want to listen to politicians if they speak and act with fairness. We need politicians and political operatives who are committed to acting being honest, just and fair.

Now that President Barack Obama has been president for about one month, I whole-hearted wish him congratulations. I was happy to see his inauguration and was very impressed with his speech. However, we should not forget about the good things that the Bush administration has done either. I believe the press and Democratic political operatives have been overly harsh with Bush’s record. God bless former President George Bush. President Obama honoured him on Inauguration Day by seeing him off when they stood on those steps of Congress waiting for the helicopter to land . Despite Bush’s blunder on the Iraq War, some of his policies, overall, have done some good for America and for other nations around the world. Pro-Democrats have harked on and on about the Bush Administration’s mishandling of the economy. I’m tired of hearing this. It’s the Democrats’ turn now and they’ll be on the hot seat.

Many may disagree with me but I think the Republicans have actually handled the economy very well, or at least as well as anyone else could have done with what they had. The economy during the two terms under George Bush cranked into high gear and grew in strength since the Clinton Administration. More jobs were created during the Bush Administration and the economy got so hot that it overheated into a housing crisis. The housing crisis was not a result of George Bush’s policies because it was a direct result of the banks’ bad judgment for handing out too many loans to home buyers who could not afford to pay their mortgage payments when the economy overheated. I feel badly for the many millions of hardworking homeowners who saved up for their down payments only to lose it all in the end. If anything could have been done to prevent this housing crisis, it could have been done way back in 2003. The new RNC Chairperson, Michael Steele, reminded George Stephanopoulos, a Democratic advisor-turned-political commentator on ABC, that President George Bush introduced a bill back in 2003 to correct the dangers inherent in Fannie and Freddie. However, the Democratic-led committee refused to allow this bill to be addressed in Congress. Democrats also need to take responsibility and stop this blame game. Now they say they want cooperation but they refuse to take any responsibility for what happened back then?

People who can only complain, criticize, and are self-seeking are selfish and are blowing hot air and people recognize this when it happens. We are not blind and can’t be easily fooled. Talk-only doesn’t cut it. We need fair and honest people in government in all political parties who act fairly, honestly, and justly. Let’s hope and pray that the Obama Administration can do this. May God bless President Barack Obama and give him the strength to do the right thing.

Functional equivalence comparison #2: 1 Samuel 3:13 – What blasphemy?

The comparison between functional equivalent translations continues with the First Samuel 3:13.

NLT: I have warned him that judgment is coming upon his family forever, because his sons are blaspheming God and he hasn’t disciplined them.

GW: I told him that I would hand down a permanent judgment against his household because he knew about his sons’ sin—that they were cursing God—but he didn’t try to stop them.

NIrV: I told Eli I would punish his family forever. He knew his sons were sinning. He knew they were making fun of me. In spite of that, he failed to stop them.

Message: I’m letting him know that the time’s up. I’m bringing judgment on his family for good. He knew what was going on, that his sons were desecrating God’s name and God’s place, and he did nothing to stop them.

GNT: I have already told him that I am going to punish his family forever because his sons have spoken evil things against me. Eli knew they were doing this, but he did not stop them.

NCV: I told Eli I would punish his family always, because he knew his sons were evil. They acted without honor, but he did not stop them.

CEV: He knew that his sons refused to respect me, and he let them get away with it, even though I said I would punish his family forever.

REB: You are to tell him that my judgement on his house will stand for ever because he knew of his sons’ blasphemies against God and did not restrain them.

In the original Hebrew, it is not very clear what “making themselves vile” really means. What were the sons of Eli doing to actually make themselves contemptible or vile? To make oneself vile is taken to be a blasphemy against God. But was it an act directed against God’s holy sacrifice (as the NCV implies), or were they doing something to themselves that made them vile? Amongst the functional equivalent (F.E.) translations, the NL T renders it as “blaspheming God”, which is the traditional rendering (also NRSV, ESV, TNIV). It is all by itself on this one because the other F.E. translations are very wide and far apart in their interpretation of the nature of this blasphemy.

The NCV’s use of “acted without honor” implies a physical action. Whereas, GW (“cursing God”), NIrV (“making fun of me”), and GNT (“spoken evil things against me”) implies speech. The renderings of CEV, Message, NLT and REB could go either way—action or speech. CEV’s (“refused to respect me”) uses an inactive adverb; whereas, NIRV’s (“making fun of me”) uses an active verb. However, this is very subjective because everyone may have their personal opinion as to what constitutes speech or action.

I prefer the rendering in The Message the best because it seems to most accurately describe blasphemy while covering both aspects of blasphemy in speech and action, and is easy to understand. Most people do not know what “blasphemy” means so I have to prefer a thumbs up for The Message. HCSB also has an excellent rendering: “his sons were defiling the sanctuary”. It’s extremely clear and understandable, but it’s in the mediating translation category.

Where many of today’s young evangelicals are at politically

I just bought my current issue of Relevant magazine from the local Christian bookstore this afternoon and read an interesting article about where many of today’s young evangelicals are at politically. Brett McCracken’s article: “A change we can believe in?” really hits the nail on the head as to how some young evangelicals feel about politics and how they vote. Even though I tend to be conservative on many issues, I can relate to some of what McCracken says concerning young evangelicals. I think his assessment is fairly realistic and open-minded because I feel there is a change in the undercurrent that many of us don’t see. Here’s a brief blurb:

….Even though young evangelicals veered farther to the left this election, their older counterpoints actually voted in higher percentages for McCain than they did for Bush.

“We’re seeing that younger generations are more and more concerned with living a life that is consistent with the teachings and ministry of Jesus Christ than they are with towing a particular party line,” Merritt told PBS.

Indeed, fewer and fewer young evangelicals are identifying with old-school Republicanism. They may side with Republicans because of issues like abortion, but when it comes to Reagan-style economic philosophies or Cold War-infused, us-vs.-the-world foreign policies, many young Christians are finding more in common with the left.

…Rather than tow a particular party line, young evangelicals are increasingly more concerned with simply living a life that is defined by and consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ. That can mean Democrat or Republican, but most often it means both and neither. Two parties cannot contain the cause of Christ, many Christians would say. And as such, many of us feel trapped between a rock and a hard place.”

I don’t entirely relate to this but I do feel this is why some of our younger evangelicals really feel inspired by President Barack Obama’s speeches. I know he does inspire me.

Where do you stand as a younger or older Christian voter? Can you relate to feeling trapped between a rock and a hard place, or do you feel strongly one way or another?

You can read the entire article here (see p. 38).

A Testament of Devotion: The Holy Fellowship, the Blessed Community

If there is one contemporary literary classic I would suggest to others to read on personal devotion, it would be A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly, a Quaker. His single volume is actually a collection of essays, and was first published in book form in 1941. It is one of the deepest and most profound writings of personal devotion I have ever read. It is worth reading over and over again. His eloquent and passionate writing is most beautiful; but that’s just what’ on the surface. Going deeper, it is his passion of the inner life humbles me. The cry of his soul for the Holy Spirit’s deeper life inspires me to seek a closer relationship with the Lord Jesus. I feel like an ant standing before a giant. With this said, I do not wish to elevate Kelly because it would be abhorable. If there is one person who really understands and experiences the deeper spiritual life, it is Thomas R. Kelly. Therefore, I wish to share some of this with you who frequent the New Epistles blog. I will be including tiny excerpts from his book on a continuous basis.

“See how these Christians love one another” might well have been a spontaneous exclamation in the days of the apostles. The Holy Fellowship, the Blessed Community has always astonished those who stood without it. The sharing of physical goods in the primitive church is only an outcropping of a profoundly deeper sharing of a Life, the base and center of which is obscured, to those who are still oriented about self, rather than about God…. (p.53)

….Yet still more astonishing is the Holy Fellowship, the Blessed Community, to those who are within it. Yet can one be surprised at being at home? In wonder and awe we find ourselves already interknit within unofficial groups of kindred souls. A “chance” conversation comes, and in a few moments we know that we have found and have been found by another member of the Blessed Community. Sometimes we are thus suddenly knitted together in the bonds of a love far faster than those of many years’ acquaintance. In unbounded eagerness we seek for more such fellowship, and wonder at the apparent lethargy of mere “members.” (p.55)

In the Fellowship cultural and educational and national and racial differences are levelled. Unlettered men are at ease with the truly humble scholar who lives in the Life, and the scholar listens with joy and openness to the precious experiences of God’s dealing with the workingman. We find men with chilly theologies but with glowing hearts….

Kelly, Thomas R. A Testament of Devotion. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.