By In Politics

Faith Like a Child?

Luke Welch has a master’s degree from Covenant Seminary and preaches regularly in a conservative Anglican church in Maryland. He blogs about Bible structure at SUBTEXT. Follow him on Twitter: @lukeawelch

Resources:
Paedofaith by Rich Lusk (Athanasius Press), pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church of Birmingham and teacher at Theopolis Institute

The Baptized Body, by Dr. Peter Leithart, president of Theopolis Institute and blogger at Patheos 

The Priesthood of the Plebs, by Dr. Leithart

This lecture was recorded at Men’s Theology Forum of the Eastern Panhandle. A new monthly gathering of men in the Martinsburg, WV area. If you are in the area and a male, go every 3rd Friday and support this effort! Contact Facebook or Twitter @MTFEP

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By In Worship

First Love

What makes a church a church? Is it the faithful proclamation of the Word, the correct administration of the sacraments, and the proper exercise of church discipline? Yes, but there is something even more fundamental to the existence of a church than these. There is a way to be technically correct in all three of these areas of church life and still fall short of being a viable church in the eyes of the Lord of the church.

The most fundamental aspect of the church’s being the church is love. It is obedience to the great commandment to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is obedience to the new commandment that we love one another as Christ has loved us. Only with this foundation will any church continue to exist as a church of Jesus Christ. You can’t have love without the truth, but you can have truth without love.

The church in Ephesus as addressed in Revelation 2 learned this lesson from the mouth of our Lord himself. (more…)

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By In Scribblings, Theology, Wisdom, Worship

Herbertian Lessons for Lent

Guest post from Brian G Daigle, Headmaster of Sequitur Classical Academy

I live in an area where Mardi Gras is in full swing, and I can remember from my upbringing that Fat Tuesday was a last ditch effort at debauchery before the pseudo-spiritual practice of “giving something up for Lent” really began. In my youth I would give up some kind of chocolate or candy, something that appeared to be a fast, and I would join others around me in sharing with friends and family what I’ve given up and why. Around day thirty it would turn into some kind of joke about how long I’ve been able to go without this first-world luxury. My aristocratic sacrifice was hardly creating in me a clean heart. Those imaginings still haunt me and each year I must consider anew why this kind of extended fast ought to be recognized. (more…)

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By In Politics

Should Personal-Faith Interfere with the Public & the Secular?

Recently, a candidate for political office in my home state of Texas said his Christian faith “is personal” and went on to insist “I will not let it interfere with how I govern.” Much has been written about the man, a Ruling Elder in the PCA, and his politics; my goal here isn’t to be yet another voice hitting him over the head. Instead of addressing the particular policy issues at play—which are no doubt important—I want to take a step back and ask whether or not the Christian faith can, in fact, remain wholly private and secluded from one’s politics.

Writing in 1935, Anglican Monk A.G. Hebert insists that the doctrine of the Incarnation precludes any effort to silo off the faith from any area of life, political or otherwise. His book, Liturgy and Society, was in every way ahead of his time, anticipating the sort of work in political theology that was to come thirty years later. In my reckoning, the book deserves a place next to Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism, to overstate the matter only slightly. His argument is worth quoting at length:

“The incarnation of the son of God claims the Kingdom of God over the whole of human life. It is the manifestation of God’s goodness in the flesh; it involves the redemption of the body, and therefore also of the social relations of the life lived in the body, and of the whole social, economic and political structure. God has established His Kingdom, a kingdom not of this world, but very much in this world. It is wrong to assume that the concern of Christianity is only with the religious life of the individual, and the endeavor of a select circle of devout people to live a sanctified life and attain an individual perfection: it is the denial of the Incarnation.

The method of the Incarnation means that the separation of ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ is broken down. Christianity is deeply concerned with the ‘secular’ activities of every kind: not so that the sacred becomes secularized, but so the secular activities are redeemed to God. It is impossible that he who loves not his brother, whom he has seen, should love God whom he has not seen. It is impossible because of the Incarnation; the will of the God whom we worship comes to us through our relations with the common humanity which God has taken on Himself. Insomuch as I have not served and helped one of the least of these, I did it not unto Him.”

To illustrate his point, Hebert points to how the church building relates to other structures in a city:

“In every parish the church building stands as God’s House. It is not that the church building is exclusively God’s House, and that all the other buildings, factories, shops and public-houses in the parish belong to the devil, but that the earth is the Lord’s: by the existence of a house called God’s House, these others are all claimed for Him. So the Lord’s Day at the beginning of each week claims all the other days and their occupations for God’s glory: and times of prayer are set apart, both for the Church service and by individuals for private prayer, not to imply that those times only are given to God, but to claim for Him all the rest of the day.

…The same principle is seen in a hundred other ways. In the Church service we make use of the common things of daily life: we use water in a solemn ritual washing; we use bread and wine, we eat and drink before God; we read aloud, we sing in chorus, we light candles—all these things are done in church in order to signify that the corresponding actions in daily life are redeemed to God. The fact that the Eucharist is the Lord’s Supper makes the family dinner also a holy meal.

In actual fact, we Christians sin against the Gospel of the Incarnation by our slowness to recognize the significance of these things. We are fools and slow of heart to believe: we are even ready to acquiesce to the Church becoming a preserve for the devout instead of being a home for the people.”

Hebert goes on to emphasize the ways in which the “Incarnation principle” should influence our Christian education classes. He says catechists need to go out of their way to connect the gospel with, “the boy’s actual interest, his home, his football club, his work as an assistant at a garage, and showing him how it is just these things that are to be laid on God’s alter and redeemer. We might show him the place of his little daily job within the social structure; how the things that he uses in his daily work, petrol, oil and machinery, are God’s things, used by God’s children; what the Sacrament of Baptism teaches about the people who use them, that they are human beings and not wage-slaves or cogs in an economic machine, that God has a meaning for their lives.”

To be sure, there is a wave of sound literature trying to hammer away at the sacred/secular divide within the church. But the aforementioned statement made by the politician is a fairly typical sentiment among even the most thoughtful Christians in my experience. What’s needed today is exactly that for which Hebert calls: an intentional, concentrated effort by the church to show forth Christ’s grace-filled, chain-breaking rule to every square inch of creation. In short, we need Christians with a faith that can’t help but interfere with every area of life.

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By In Family and Children, Wisdom, Worship

Some Thoughts on Lent & Fasting

Every year around this time the internet is flooded with essays and interviews concerning Lent: Should we observe it? If we observe it, how should we observe it? And so on. Good folks disagree about these issues. But it is a good discussion to be having. I thought I’d chime in on the issue. Hopefully, I can help keep people thinking through the issue.

First, let me clear some ground here. I agree with many of my brothers who despise some of the Lenten practices. There are people who have superstitious views of the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, for instance. Here in Louisville, KY, we even had one church who set up shop in a local business so that you can get your ashes to go. This was a one-stop shop for groceries and a dose of humility and repentance. People who do this sort of thing are, in most cases, viewing the imposition of ashes as some type of talisman that is going to keep God off their backs for a little while longer. I have witnessed people through the years from many branches of the Christian church act as if the religious ritual itself (whether it is the imposition of ashes, fasting, attending worship, going to revival services, or whatever) was an end in itself. After you do the deed, then you are free to live any way you want outside of the time of that special rite. According to what God said through the prophet Isaiah in his opening salvo, he has never taken kindly to superstitious views of religious rituals (cf. Isa 1.10-20. Mind you, the rituals that God is condemning in Isaiah are the ones that he himself set up. These were not manmade rituals. These were God’s own rituals that were being abused by superstitious views.) Superstitious views of the imposition of ashes or even fasting have no place in the Christian Faith. (more…)

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By In Politics

Would Paul Send Elders-to-be to Seminary?

How should a church select its elders? Should those men, particularly teaching elders, go away for several years to seminary before assuming the task of shepherding? Ronald Allen, Anglican missionary to China from 1895-1903, sheds light on such questions in his seminal work, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? He begins by pointing out that those elders we see in the New Testament were selected primarily based upon their moral character, not their intellectual competency. Says Allen:

“They were not necessarily highly educated men, they cannot have had any profound knowledge of Christian doctrine. It is impossible that St. Paul can have required from them any knowledge of Hebrew, or of any foreign language… It is not probable that he expected or demanded any profound knowledge of Greek philosophy. It is inevitable that he must have been satisfied with a somewhat limited general education, and with a more or less meager acquaintance with the Septuagint and with his mystical interpretation of it, with a knowledge of the brief outline of Christian doctrine set forth in the Epistle to the Thessalonians, and some instruction in the meaning and method of administration of the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The qualifications of elder were primarily moral. If they added to moral qualifications intellectual qualifications so much the better, but high intellectual qualifications were not deemed necessary. Very early there grew up a class of teachers who by virtue of their spiritual insight into the meaning of the Old Testament, or the sayings of Christ known to them, occupied a place of great importance in the Church; but they were not necessarily elders. This is the state of affairs depicted in the Didaché, and the Didascalia agrees with this. ‘If it be possible let him (the bishop) be a teacher, or if he be illiterate, let him be persuasive and wise of speech: let him be advanced in years.'”

In our day, laments Allen, “The examination test is made the real test of fitness for the priesthood. Moral qualifications may suffice for the office of catechist, but if a man is to proceed further he must pass an examination of a very artificial character. In other words, we select by examination.”

He goes on to name four (I’ll only list three) “very serious consequences” of such a selection process, each of which is being experienced in spades in our day and land:

“(1) The young men so educated are sometimes, by that very education, out of touch with their congregations. They return to their people with strange ideas and strange habits. They are lonely, and they have to struggle against the perils of loneliness. They are not even the best teachers of people from whose intellectual and spiritual life they have so long been absent. They do not know how to answer their difficulties or to supply their necessities. They know so much Christian doctrine and philosophy that they have forgotten the religion of their country. The congregation has not grown with them, nor they with the congregation. They come, as it were, from outside, and only a few exceptional men can learn to overcome that difficulty.

(2) The grave men of the church, the natural leaders of the village life, and the natural leaders of the church are silenced. The church is not led and administered by the people to whom all would naturally turn, but either by a foreigner, or by a young man who has come with a foreign education. In this way a great source of strength is lost. The real elders of the community are not elders in the church, and the whole church suffers in consequence.

(3) The natural teacher, the divinely gifted preacher, is silenced. The only teacher is the foreign-educated minister. There is no opportunity for the church to find its prophets, nor for the prophets to find themselves. The prophet is in danger either of losing his gift or of leaving the church in order to find opportunity for its exercise.”

For the record, I’m the very thankful beneficiary of a wonderful theological education. In fact, irony of ironies, I first read Allen’s work while in the hallowed halls of the seminary I attended. One could certainly overcorrect and throw the baby out with the bath water. Still, it seems to me the current model of selecting and training clergy needs to be reconsidered along biblical lines. While the current schema of pastoral training has produced much good fruit, it’s no doubt aided and abetted the modern tendency to make the “examination test” the exclusive qualifier for ministry at the expense of the “moral tests” which clearly seem to be of utmost importance to St. Paul (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Tim. 3:1-7).

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By In Politics

Having Faith & Being Faithful: Doctrine & Disposition

 

In his little book on the nature of faith, Transcending All Understanding, the Roman Catholic Cardinal and German theologian Walter Kasper draws upon Augustine to argue that faith is as much an attitude or disposition as it is a set of presuppositions:

“Augustine differentiated three meanings of religious faith—the content-oriented belief that (credere Deum, to believe that God exists), the belief of trust (credere Deo, to believe God in the sense of trusting God) and the belief of the journey (credere in Deum, to journey toward God, and to do this in common with all the members of the Boyd of Christ).

But the theological understanding of faith has often been narrowed down to the first aspect. Faith was often one-sidedly understood as belief that and as the affirmation of propositions of supernatural realities. If belief is understood only in this narrow content-oriented fashion, then the crisis of faith consists in the fact that nowadays even many baptized Christians no longer accept all the church’s teachings with respect to many crucial points of doctrine—for example, the existence of angels and demons, the Virgin Birth and sexual morality.

The knowledge of faith has in many ways fallen to a new low today. This is a very serious phenomenon, for a faith without a content is an untenable faith, without an object in the twofold sense of the word. It quickly evaporates and is in danger of getting confused beyond recognition with other positions, movements, ideologies and utopias.

…But belief is much more than the affirmation of propositions such as one finds in a catechism. Belief is also an act and a carrying out [Augustine’s second usage of the word]; indeed, it is an attitude that determines one’s whole life. An aspect of the contemporary crisis of faith that should not be underestimated is the fact that many of the fundamental attitudes of belief—reverence, humility, trust and devotion—have become foreign to us. The act of faith and the content of faith have both come under attack today.”

We’ve all met individuals with “right belief” whose pride, flippancy, or sarcasm nevertheless hinders a true, deep faith in the triperspectival way in which Augustine speaks. So, the upshot of Kasper’s argument is that the church’s responsibility is twofold vis-à-vis spiritual formation. To be sure, she must faithfully disseminate doctrinal information, but just as crucial to the wellbeing of the flock is the cultivation of certain attitudes and sentiments conducive to the church’s lofty dogmas. Achieving the latter can be as difficult as doing the former. But J.I. Packer’s teeter-totter principal may be of help: do that which causes you to have a lofty view of yourself and you’ll necessarily have a diminished view of God. Conversely, insofar as you’ve humbled yourself before God, God will appear all the larger. As you go down, God goes up, and visa versa.

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