Tuesday, August 31, 2010

(A Couple More) Reflections on "Restoring Honor"

I have just got off of the phone with a friend with whom I've discussed the Restoring Honor rally in some detail. He's a Southern Baptist minister who agreed with me that Russell Moore's column was spot on. As we talked, I was reminded of a couple of things that built upon what I wrote last night:

1. When there was some discussion regarding Mitt Romney's Mormonism in 2008 I said at the time that I could vote for him if he got the nomination (I was a Fred Thompson backer from the beginning but when he dropped out after a lackadaisical campaign -- long after the South Carolina primary -- I hoped that Romney would be the candidate) because I was voting for my President, not my Bishop. It was, and is, a matter of sphere sovereignty; I could easily vote for a candidate whose positions were in line with a Christian worldview despite their having a heterodox theology over against a candidate with whom I was in theological agreement but whose politics were less than sound.

Ironic, then, that much of American Evangelicalism is ready to elevate Glenn Beck to something uncomfortably close to its episcopate.

2. I also recalled a conversation that I had years ago in college with a professor -- now deceased -- who leaned to the left both politically and ecclesiastically (a Southern Baptist, he was an early member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and complained about what had become of his Alma mater, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in the "Fundamentalist Takeover*"). I studied under him at a state university and, while our theological differences became more stark over the years, I learned much from him and counted him a friend until his death. As we were talking it came up that the Army curiously classifies LDS chaplains as "Protestant." He retorted, "I guess they don't have a category for 'cult!'"

Ironic that my liberal friend got what many of the Evangelicals in the United States seem to be missing!

*As an aside, when trying to determine the theological position of a Southern Baptist, a good indicator is to see how they refer to what happened in the late 1970s through the early 1990s. If it is called the "conservative resurgence" then they are reliably conservative/evangelical. If they call it the "Fundamentalist takeover" they are almost certainly a liberal. Another quick indicator is to casually work the name of Al Mohler into the conversation. If they get visibly angry, they're probably a liberal. If they smile, they're probably a conservative/evangelical, if they get puppy dog eyes, they're almost certainly of a Reformed stripe and are probably members of the Founder's Movement.

I hope all of my Southern Baptist friends know that the above was written in good natured fun, accurate though it may be!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reflections on "Restoring Honor"

First of all, if you want to read the definitive reflections on the "Restoring Honor" rally, read the Rev'd Dr. Russell D. Moore's "God, the Gospel, and Glenn Beck." I can't improve on what Moore says and won't even try; I'm in essential agreement with his reflections.

I've been listening to Glenn Beck on and off since 2003 -- when he first aired on one of the local talk stations and have generally found him informative and entertaining. I have from time to time somewhat jokingly referred to him as "my favorite Mormon," and while I have never gone to one of his shows nor have I bought any of his books, I did consider purchasing one and taking it to be autographed when he made an appearance at the Barnes & Noble that is across the street from my office (the crowd was unbelievable and I didn't have the time or the inclination to endure it to see him). When he launched the 9-12 Project I gathered with some friends at a local bar for a viewing party (I've not been to any meetings since then so I'm hardly a "member," but I so share some of their concerns and have attended a couple of Tea Parties [not the same thing, but there is certainly some overlap there]). I have friends who were on the Mall on Saturday; most of them will probably disagree with my thoughts.

Mr. Beck is an unapologetic member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is certainly his right to belong to that sect, and my disagreements with it -- which are substantial -- don't prevent me from enjoying his show (they also wouldn't have prevented me from supporting his fellow-Mormon Mitt Romney [which I did for a time in 2008, after Fred Thompson had withdrawn from the race for the Republican Presidential nomination)]. Harry Reid being a notable exception, most of the Mormons that I have encountered have been very traditional, family oriented, and pro-life -- people with whom I naturally have much in common and with whom I'm happy to stand politically and socially.

Why, then, am I less than enthusiastic about Restoring Honor, an event that I actually considered attending? Sarah Palin, who made voting for the 2008 Republican Presidential ticket acceptable to me and of whom I continue to be a fan, was there, as was Alveda King, whom I heard speak eloquently and with conviction at a banquet for the Lowcountry Pregnancy Center here in Charleston several years ago. One would think that this would be my must-attend event of the summer, something to which I would flock like a moth to a flame. One would, it turns out, be mistaken.

Mr. Beck called for a renewed emphasis on family and faith -- with which I completely agree. "The Kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One" may or may not be original to Cal Thomas, whom I first heard say it in 1994, but it is completely true. If the Republic is to be preserved politics will indeed play a part, but it will be a bit part as hearts are turned to God and renewed individuals, families, and churches proclaim God's truth and live transformed lives. Again, shouldn't I be completely on board with Glenn Beck?

It turns out I can't be. Time and again I heard people -- Christians who are on the right side of the battles raging in their churches regarding doctrine and manner of life -- say that Glen Beck says what pastors don't have the guts to say and that what he says is what he need to hear in the churches. While some of that may be true (the cultural mandate is very real and Christians are called to declare the whole counsel of God), one can hardly be said to be doing so if one gets all of the family values messages right and then gets the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, and the Holy Trinity wrong. Mr. Beck, as a faithful Mormon, gets all of these and more wrong -- despite how right his message may sound and despite how attractively it may be packaged, I cannot pretend that those issues are inconsequential. I do not claim to have watched all of the rally (I was in a class for most of it), but I do know that time and again Mr. Beck referred to himself as a Christian (he frequently does so on his radio program) and time and again speakers who hold to the historic Christian faith did so as well either directly or by implication.

Mr. Beck proclaims another faith. A faith that is similar to Christianity (therein lies much of the danger) but different on key points. As Dr. Moore so aptly points out, the problem is not with Glenn Beck, the problem is what it says about American Christianity. Dr. Moore writes, "It’s taken us a long time to get here, in this plummet from Francis Schaeffer to Glenn Beck" -- true indeed and very damning, as Glenn Beck couldn't be dubbed the leader of America's Christian Conservative movement with approbation from many of those Christian Conservatives unless there was a huge vacuum at the helm; there is, and his ascendancy to that spot indicates just how vivid it is.

Do I think Christians should be active in the pro-life movement? Absolutely! I have been and will continue to be so. Do I think that Christians should be active in the political process, seeking to apply their faith in the public square? You bet. Do I think that Christians should work with those of other faiths in the political sphere? Yes, if they can do so without compromise. But most certainly do not think that Christians should be willing to sacrifice the essentials of the faith in so doing. Katharine Jefferts Schori , John Shelby Spong, and others are rightly taken to task when they preach a liberal universalism that denies the uniqueness of the Gospel; a conservative universalism that does exactly the same thing is just as bad -- maybe even worse. If the Church wins the culture war but denies historic Christianity in so doing, it will be no victory at all.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service; Grant, we beseech thee, that we may so faithfully serve thee in this life, that we fail not finally to attain thy heavenly promises; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. Galatians 3:16-22 (ESV)

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

The Gospel. St. Luke 10:23b-37 (ESV)

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

St. Mary the Virgin

The Collect.

O GOD, who hast taken to thyself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of thine only Son: Grant that we who have been redeemed by his blood may share with her the glory of thine eternal kingdom; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Eleventh Sunday After Trinity.

The Collect.

O GOD, who declarest thy almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity; Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. Isaiah 61:7-11 (ESV)

Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion;
instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot;
therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion;
they shall have everlasting joy.

For I the Lord love justice;
I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring shall be known among the nations,
and their descendants in the midst of the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge them,
that they are an offspring the
Lord has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord
God will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.

The Gospel. St. Luke 1:46-55 (ESV)

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity.

The Collect.

LET thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and, that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (ESV)

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

The Gospel. St. Luke 19:41-47a (ESV)

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

And he was teaching daily in the temple.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Collect

GRANT to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right; that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle. 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 (ESV)

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

The Gospel. St. Luke 15:11-32 (ESV)

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”