Category Archives: Theology

Honest Church Expectations

Great Expectations (1999 film)
Great Expectations (1999 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is in the same mold of an ongoing discussion of why people leave congregations.

Some studies (studies… because we can make them say what we want) have shown that people want Churches to be honest. They want to know what “welcome” means. Guess what…

Churches aren’t always welcoming to everyone. Churches have expectations. Organizations have expectations. Units accepting new members have expectations. Then, those same members have expectations as well. Mainly, honesty.

In the end, seekers and searchers simply want the church down the street to be honest. No, we will not accept you if you choose to remain gay. No, we will not accept you if you choose to remain a wife-beater. No, we will not accept you if you choose to remain conservative, orthodox, liberal, a democrat, pro-life, pro-choice, emergent, etc… Yes, we have expectations that you will grow as spiritual beings; yes, we have expectations that you will “faithfully participate in its (i.e., the local congregation) ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness.” Even “progressive” churches have expectations of their members.

If you have no expectations, then this is actually an expectation. “We expect you to not expect anything from us and to remember we won’t expect anything from you.”

This is not a bad thing.

And, on the other hand, many people actually want the Church to be “the Church” (in other words, Church-y, however they define it).

Sam has a good point,

Because some churches are listening to this sort of cultural critique, it’s gotten ridiculous. Since some churches actually believe that they should not be churchy, they try to hide their spiritual donuts, if you know what I mean. Participants can attend, be fairly comfortable and entertained, without being confronted with too many spiritual matters. Then, right at the end, a little “Jesus” is slipped in.

If you are looking for a church, congregation, or small group — don’t you want it to be honest with you and not change to attract you? Are you looking for a church or an extension of yourself?

By the way, at no point should the expectation from the congregant to the congregation be that it (i.e., the denomination) does not change. Change is not dishonest. Hiding or refusing to be something you are is dishonest. 

What do we do at the end of Christendom?

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We live at the so-called end of Christendom. For most of the Western church’s history, its identity has been inseparable from the social, cultural and political institutions of wider society. But now the church’s identity is being slowly and painfully separated from secular society. The result is an identity crisis for the church. We have some vague notion that we are a community called by God to do God’s will, but we seem to lack a compelling description of what exactly that entails.

via Ministry Matters™ | What are theologians for?.

Anytime there is a discussion about the end of Christendom, one person springs to mind — St. John of Damascus (the Damascene). Why? Because when the Eastern empire came to a crashing, and crushing, halt, he survived to give theological aid to Christians living in a world hostile to them. In the end of his Christendom, he could a way to delve deeply into theological controversies in order to strengthen the ship and to aid the Church in ensuring its survival against the Islamic onslaught. He produced solid defenses of Christian doctrine, without backtracking or forgetting anything, finding a way to establish the goodness of God in everything.

Perhaps, as the end of Christendom comes, we should look East to see what role the Church played, what role theology played, and how theologians were shaped.

The dominant narrative of the West is no longer Christian and that is a good thing.

John Chrysostom’s Christmas Homily

Mosaic in the northern tympanon depicting Sain...
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I have come to admire the Golden Mouth, John Chrysostom, from a homiletic standpoint as well as an interpretative standpoint. He is sound in many of this thoughts, and although we may arrive at a different view of the Godhead, it would be difficult at best to find that difference in this homily.

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.

For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature.

For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

St. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Christmas Morning”

HT.

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Mary’s Song (Repost – 2014)

Molnár József: Ábrahám kiköltözése
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It is well said that had Mary sung her song today, she would be a political rebel – and indeed, then, she was as well. The Magnificat is a beautiful reminder of the hope of God expressed, I would hope in all seasons, but more especially so this one.

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
(Luke 1:46-55 KJV)

Scholasticially, Mary is combining Deuteronomistic promises, the hope of the (Psalms of) Solomonic Messiah, with the valiant women heroines of the bible. Shucks, even theologically she is doing that! I tend to think that whereas Protestants believe that the Catholics have so overblown the adoration of Mary, they have in turn generally committed the same error but in reverse. She was the first church, after all, and the first evangelist.

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What if Jesus didn’t come to be your savior?

savior good willDuring this time of year, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. Christian tradition believes that this singular birth is God Incarnate, the one who came to deliver all both Jews and Gentiles from the clutches of evil unto the hand of God, from whence they cannot depart. But, this is where we start to differ.

And by “we,” I mean Christians of orthodox doctrines (please note how I phrased this).

The Trinity is an orthodox doctrine. The Incarnation is an orthodox doctrine. The Atonement is an orthodox doctrine. Strains of understanding God’s foreknowledge and covenantalism is sectarian.

I am an Arminian, with a strong lean to an absolute sovereignty of God. I would attempt to explain that, but this is not a post on that.

Rather, I want to ask you a question. What if Jesus didn’t come to be your savior?

There is no real concept of “individual savior” in the New Testament. Rather, Christ delivered the Church, a corporate body of believers.

But in Acts 2.47, the Church exists before the individual who is “being saved.” The Church exists as the destination of the person who has in some way come to Christ. This fits theologically with Matthew 16 when Christ establishes the Church (we can get into the Greek later).

But, then there is the verse in the Lukan natal announcement:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:14 ESV

Or, “…peace on earth to men of God’s good will.” In other words, God’s blessing is not to sum total of humanity, but to a select few.

I am not one given to “supersessionism,” usually defined as a discontinuity between the Church and Israel. Rather, the Elect, Israel, was renewed and expanded to include Gentiles. The (Re)New(ed) Covenant had new features, but was fundamentally the same. It was a treaty of sorts between God and His people, with expectations of both parties to one another, as well as to those outside the new Kingdom. Again, not the post for that.

So, the question is… what if Jesus did not come to be your savior?

Two ways to digest this. One, Jesus came to establish the Church as the covenanting symbol (not the New Israel, but the All Israel). This corporate election stands apart from individual choices so that the Church exists in all times and places regardless of membership. The Church, just as Israel was, is the elect. Or, we can see this as an individual election, so that some are elected into God’s good will while others are condemned by virtue of non-election.

If number one is the correct option, then Jesus is the savior of His body, the Church. Meaning, we must belong to that Church (as it says in Acts among other places). Belonging, by the way, does not mean membership, but as we are reminded through the Donatist controversy, it requires something of us. Wesley knew this. Membership meant nothing to Wesley, but rather it is the acts of sanctification — growing in holiness — defining “belonging.” This is why he had no issue removing people out of the societies. St. Paul had no issue removing people from his groups. Belonging is not membership.

 What do you think? And, if you disagree with me, be prepared to give your answer in well-sourced theological citations drawn from the entire corpus of Church History, as approved by the Holy Spirit — usually before 20 August 1884.

Merry Christmas.