Don’t be more spiritual than God

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In the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6, Christ gives his church 6 petitions to pray. The first 3 are rather lofty petitions: “Hallowed be your name”, “Your kingdom done”, “Your will be done” (Mt 6:9-10). They are, as we might expect, prayers exalting the name and kingdom of God. This is, after all the purpose of the Christian: to exalt God’s name, to spread his kingdom, to focus on God!

However, after these petitions are commanded, Jesus leaves the focus off of God, and gives three more petitions to  pray for ourselves: “Give us…”, “Forgive us…”, “Lead us not…”. This first petition especially is focused on one’s physical needs: “Give us this day our daily bread” (6:11). What a simple prayer: God, provide what I need! It’s focus almost seems selfish! 

However, in this simple prayer for bread, Jesus teaches us something rather important: namely, that God isn’t too spiritual to care about the physical, tangible, real things in our lives; God really cares about it all. He acknowledges and wants to provide your every need!

Frederick Bruner brings in further insight on this verse:

The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that it is not selfish to pray about physical, social, and personal needs. It is in fact Jesus’ command that we pray for these things…

The prayer for bread in this petition should be allowed to remain, first of all, a prayer for bread. At times in the church’s exposition this bread has been turned into spiritual bread (cf…Augustine…and Jerome, who believe that here we are praying especially for him who says, “I am the living Bread”). It is possible to be more spiritual than God. Why would Jesus who fed the five thousand not want us to pray for the feeding of our six billion? And while Jesus says that man does not live by bread alone, he is too realistic to say that man does not live by bread at all. We may pray, certainly, for spiritual bread, but here…we pray first for physical bread for physical people. (Christbook 1, 305-306)

I have heard from other commentators as well, that this petition is primarily for the “super-substantial” bread (from the Latin Vulgate translation), the Lord’s Supper. And while the Lord’s Supper is important, Bruner is quite right to highlight the fact that our Lord cares about the physical bread, and the physical people! He doesn’t just care about the spiritual.

It is important that we not be so spiritual that we miss the emphasis here: God cares about your paycheck. He cares about your children. He cares about your house. He cares about your physical state. And he wants to provide for you, if only you ask!

Don’t be more spiritual than God!

On Christian Triumphalism and Kim Davis

Above, drawing of the Crusades, beginning in1095, in which the church fought to regain the Holy Land back from Islam

I realize that most every Christian blogger in the internet universe has written something on Kim Davis (Kim is a county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples based on her Christian morals — story)

I just had a few thoughts that I wanted share (or air out) on this whole situation, because, while I believe that homosexuality and gay marriage does not reflect the teachings and morality of Christianity, I feel that this entire controversy has brought out some wrong-headed stuff within Christian circles: namely, Christian triumphalism.

What I mean is that there is this thought within western, American Christianity, that America is a Christian nation. Or that it should be. Or that it will ever be.

The reality is that America is not Christian (debate still broils over whether it has ever been Christian). America is a pluralistic country. It houses all sorts of religions, worldviews, peoples, ethnicities, etc. To pretend that America is Christian is to miss the reality of America as a pluralistic society; that it gives rights to each and every perspective. That it desires to house each perspective in a peaceful manner.

While many hail Kim Davis as a martyr, the reality is that she is not. No one is forcing her to reject Christianity, or to deny Christ, or to stop worshipping him. She is an employee of the government, who was asked to give marriage licenses to gay couples.

And while I agree that she should not have licensed their marriages (different conversation), I seriously disagree with the way she handled the whole situation. Why? Because the action she took in response to the new marriage law was to shut down her office, deny marriage licenses to everyone (not just gay couples), and do it on the basis of obedience to God. 

Placed in this perspective, Kim Davis was not the persecuted, but the persecutor. She not only refused to give out licenses, but she leveraged her governmental position to enforce Christian standards of morality on un-Christian gay couples. To me, that is a power grab if there ever was one.

Now you may say: “Well, she wasn’t meaning to leverage her position to enforce Christian morals — she was trying to obey God rather than man! What else was she supposed to do?”

I simply ask: Why didn’t she just resign? Or, why didn’t she seek help from the courts to allow for gay couples to receive licenses without her involvement? Why did she shut down business? 

The only answer I can surmise is Christian triumphalism. The idea that America should be Christianized. The idea that Christianity was never meant to be a small, persecuted, misunderstood body of Jesus worshippers, but an institutionalized religion which everyone must follow. To me, it’s a new kind of crusade: let’s take America back again!

Under this vision, persecution mutates from “deny Christ!” (which, by the way, really happened during the early church, and does today in the east) to “you can’t just deny gay couples marriage licenses!” That is not persecution. That is simply a loss of privilege. The reality is that gay couples now have the right to marry, just like Christians have the right to worship Christ. No matter how much we may disagree with this ethic (and I do think homosexuality is sin), we will not win the culture wars by shutting down county clerk offices.

Whether America was at one time “mostly Christian”, is to me, irrelevant. Is a Christianized America the vision of the New Testament? Are we crusaders fighting to get back “our country”?

I really don’t think so: Jesus never promised a Christian country. He promised a kingdom, over which he alone was King. And it was a kingdom in which he envisioned his people would be a minority among the kingdoms of this world until his return. He envisioned a kingdom in which his people would be destined to suffer with their broken Messiah.

Even beyond this, I simply do not understand when persecution has become something that is unexpected, unwelcomed. Tertullian once said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. Paul said that we are heirs with Christ “if we suffer with him” (Rom 8:16). The early church was persecuted heavily at the beginning of her conception. Christians burned at the stake, used as lanterns in Rome.

Why do we feel exempt? Why don’t we believe the blessing from our Lord?: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (Mt 5:11). Blessing comes upside down within the kingdom of Christ!

My estimation is that we should stop feeling so persecuted at this Kim Davis deal, stop trying to be a Christian nation, and start being the kingdom of Christ.

Planned Parenthood and the 3% Abortion Statistic

So I have had multiple conversations about the 3% statistic that Planned Parenthood (PP) publicized about their abortion services. According to their calculations, only 3% of all of their services is abortion. This would mean that PP is not mainly a place to receive abortions, but mainly a place that offers pregnancy tests, pap smears, STD tests, et al.

But is that 3% stat true? That statistic is confusing at best, and misleading at worst. Why?

The reason is because that 3% stat considers all services rendered in general; it does not consider the patients who receive those services.

The problem is that each patient that goes to PP receives multiple (3-4) “services” per visit. So in one year, PP might perform 11 million services, but ONLY on 3 million patients. This immediately makes the 3% statistic misleading. Because while the abortion might be 3% of the services, the percentage of patients who receive abortions is much higher. If we take into consideration the actual patients rather than the services, about 1 in 9 patients receive abortion (source).

Even worse, if you take into consideration ONLY the pregnant women who receive services from PP, 93% of pregnant women get an abortion (video below). PP is purposely conflating the statistics to make abortion look like one of the “many services” offered. When in fact, abortion is the MAIN thing that PP does for their pregnant patients. And we now know they are profiting off of these abortions.

To get a visual glimpse into how PP conflates their stats, what the video below:

The Original Justice and Sin Debate

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As you might be able to tell from recent posts, I’ve been studying original justice and sin as of late, from different traditions.

What many may not know, is there is a disagreement between the Catholic/Eastern church and the Reformed church over the state of Adam pre fall and post fall. Both agree that Adam was in a state of justice and righteousness before the fall. And both agree that mankind fell in Adam.

However, the Reformers differed on Adam’s state in original justice, and especially on mankind’s state after the fall, from the Catholic church. Luther and Calvin wrote much on their disagreements on mankind’s pre and post fall states.

With that said, what is the main difference between the Catholic church and Reformed?

Charles Hodge, in his Systematic Theology, aptly lays out the disagreement here:

The doctrine of [Catholic church] as to the original state of man agrees with that of Protestants, except in one important particular. They hold that man before the fall, was in a state of relative perfection; that is, not only free from any defect or infirmity of body, but endowed with all the attributes of a spirit, and imbued with knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, and invested with dominion over the creatures. Protestants include all this under the image of God; the Romanists understand by the image of God only the rational, and especially the voluntary nature of man, or the freedom of the will. They distinguish, therefore, between the image of God and original righteousness. The latter they say is lost, the former retained. Protestants, on the other hand, hold that it is the divine image in its most important constituents, that man forfeited by his apostasy. This, however, may be considered only a difference as to words. The important point of difference is, that the Protestants hold that original righteousness, so far as it consisted in the moral excellence of Adam, was natural, while the Romanists maintain that it was supernatural.

Now what is Hodge saying here? What he is describing, is that fact that the Catholic church distinguishes between the “image of God” (man in his natural state), and Adam’s state of original justice. For them, Adam’s state of righteousness and relationship with God was something supernatural, rather than something within his nature; it was an endowment given above and beyond his natural state. Thus, Adam’s original righteousness and justice was preternatural. It was a gift of God, infused into the soul of Adam at the point of creation, which made him more than a creation; it made him a divine son with divine qualities.

What is to be noted here, is that Catholics argue that without this supernatural endowment, Adam would have been subject to death and temptation. Matter, by definition, is subject to change, breakdown, and finitude. And thus even the universe itself would be subject to constant breakdown without supernatural intervention. Adam was thus unfused with supernatural life, enabling him to live beyond his naturally created state.

In contrast, Protestants hold that Adam’s state of righteousness was something natural to him. Adam’s righteousness was the “image of God”; something he was created with. And so he was created naturally righteous, naturally immortal, naturally in fellowship with God. Had Adam not rebelled, he would have lived confirmed as he was. He possessed within himself that life and righteousness which God desired.

This disagreement, as would be expected, flows into one’s understanding of original sin. Both the Catholic and Protestant tradition agree that something fundamental happened to the entire human because of Adam’s sin. Adam fell, but from what? And how does it affect us?

Protestants, logically hold from the position that Adam was naturally righteous, that mankind fell from an upright nature. As Hodge says, Protestants “hold that it is the divine image in its most important constituents, that man forfeited by his apostasy”. In other words, the human nature became cursed and depraved as a result of the fall.

As a result, humans, while still containing the image of God in some form, are said to be born marred and defaced in their nature. Man then operates from this broken nature; and thus sinful desires, thoughts, and actions spring from this depravity.

In contrast, Catholics hold that, rather than falling into a depraved nature, mankind fell from this supernatural grace which endowed them with eternal life. Hodge says,

[Catholics] distinguish, therefore, between the image of God and original righteousness. The latter they say is lost, the former retained

Mankind lost the grace which upheld them, but the human nature is retained. In other words, human nature is not defaced; rather, it is only deprived of the grace which upheld it. Thus, mankind is evicted, as it were, from God’s life, and left to death and sin.

Catholic Taylor Marshall distinguishes the difference such:

The Catholic Church teaches that Adam and Eve were constituted in grace prior to the Fall … The Catholic Church teaches that Adam “fell from grace”; where as some Protestants teach “Adam did not fall from grace, because he wasn’t sinful and was therefore not in a state of grace.” This begs the question: If Adam “fell”, then from what did he fall? It seems that the answer is that Adam fell from nature (source)

Catholics, would then not hold to total depravity. However, they would add that human nature is wounded in several ways:

The fall of Adam and Eve brought the “four wounds” to human nature. These are enumerated by St Bede and others, especially St Thomas Aquinas (STh I-II q. 85, a. 3):
  1. Original sin (lack of sanctifying grace and original justice)
  2. Concupiscence (the eleven passions are no longer ordered perfectly to the soul’s intellect)
  3. Physical frailty and death
  4. Darkened intellect and ignorance (source)

What is notable, is that the Catholics do not understand the temptation to sin, or disordered passions, labeled “concupiscence”, as inherently sinful. Passions are disordered — given to sin — as a result of the deprivation of grace. Contrastly, Protestants teach that desires or passions for sin come from the depraved nature, and are thus sinful. Consequently, Catholics do not believe the individual person himself is worthy of wrath — rather, from a deprived (not depraved!) nature, those actions which are sinful merit punishment. Reformed thinkers believe that the human nature is inherently fallen, deserving of wrath.

So then, there is much debate over the state of Adam in original justice, and the state of mankind after his apostasy.

While we can agree on much, this teaching creates some dissonance between the Protestant and Catholic traditions.

1 Corinthians 13: A Still More Excellent Way (Sermon)

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This is a sermon I gave at Fellowship Bible Church, in Batesville AR.

Description: In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is trying to explain to the Corinthians church What Maturity isn’t, and What Maturity is. It falls in the middle of a discussion Paul was having over the issue of spiritual gifts, where the Corinthians had inadvertently made tongues the “end all” of Christianity. For Paul, to equate maturity with gifts was a misstep. And so he describes the “still more excellent way” of love

Listen here: 

On the Necessity of the Church

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In his Foundations of Christian Faith, Karl Rahner has an interesting section in which he argues that church should not be seen as simply a secondary help in the Christian life (I can’t tell you how many Christians I’ve talked to who make church out to be a sort of “advice column” to their relationship with Christ). Instead, Rahner says, God acts toward his people through the church. The church is God’s action; His objective, concrete, act of grace. For this reason, Rahner says explains that the church is necessary, and not optional. It is primary, not secondary.

Rahner explains,

Christianity is essentially ecclesial, and not just a secondary way or from the viewpoint of the social or pedagogical aspects of religion. The church as such belongs to Christianity, at least when Christianity really becomes conscious of itself and when it intends to maintain continuity of a real history of salvation and has to prolong this continuity. Church is more than merely a practical and humanely unavoidable organization for fulfilling and satisfying religious needs. Christianity as the event of salvation, as God’s act upon us and as man’s response to God’s ultimate self-communication, is ecclesial

Christianity is essentially more than an affair of [man’s] own subjective and pious dispositions and his own religious consciousness, and is more than the objectification of this. From this perspective church means the church which makes a claim on me, the church which is the concreteness of God’s demands upon me. Basically this concreteness is to be expected precisely if Christianity is not a religion which I create, but rather is the event of salvation which God bestows upon me by his own incalculable initiative. And if this salvific event as an act of God is not merely to come to me in the ultimate depths of conscience, but rather in the concreteness of my existence, then the concreteness of this God, who makes demands upon me and who is not my discovery or creation, is Jesus Christ and his concrete church makes demands upon me in the same way. (pg 347)

Rahner makes an astute observation that if Christianity is more than “pious dispositions and… religious consciousness”, which is certainly is (though not less), then there must be something concrete about the way God interacts and disposes himself to his people. And how does God act concretely toward his people? Through the church. Through the church, God condescends and acts savingly, graciously, toward us.

Karl Adams agrees with Rahner. And he goes a step further. He says,

Christ the Lord is the real self of the Church. The Church is the body permeated through and through by the redemptive might of Jesus.

Meaning, it is through the church that we necessarily encounter God in Christ. Why? Because it is in the church, through the church, that Christ communicates his grace

Adams goes so far to say that we should see the church and Christ as indistinguishable:

Christ and the Church: the two are one, one body, one flesh, one and the same person, one Christ, the whole Christ.

So then, it is through the church that we encounter Christ, because the church is Christ. Augustine himself articulated that in the church we encounter not a (only) mass of individuals, but we encounter the whole Christ. Augustine says that “Christ is not simply in the head and not in the body, but Christ whole is in the head and the body”. What he means here is that the church is totus Christus, the “whole Christ”.

So then, through the sacraments, preaching, body life, church discipline, et al, we not only encounter random spiritual disciplines; we encounter the whole Christ. As Rahner says, God acts by way of this objective reality, this thing we call the church. And so, the church herself is the whole Christ, God’s saving activity.

Because of this, church should be something more than just a social club. It should be something more than just a weekly sermon. It should be something more than just consumerism. If Christianity is ecclesial, then we must expect to encounter Christ in his body. We must expect to submit to Christ himself through the local church. Local ecclesiology is therefore no mere option. If we wish to do the will of God in Christ, it is necessary that we be in his body, under his authority, in the local church.

Karl Adams says,

Is not all human exercise of authority tantamount to a usurpation? Yes, if it be merely human, it is. For every merely human governance necessarily rests on might, whether it be the tyranny of an individual or the despotism of a community. Only in theocracy is a man free from men, for he serves not men but God. Therein lies the secret of that child-like obedience, so incomprehensible to the outsider, which the… [believer in Jesus] gives to his Church, an obedience whereby he freely and cheerfully submits his own little notions and wishes to the will of Christ expressed in the action of authority; an obedience whereby his own small and limited self is enlarged to the measure of the great self of the Church. That is no corpse-like obedience or slave mentality, but a profoundly religious act, an absolute devotion to the Will of Christ which rules the Church, a service of God. And so this obedience is not cowardly and weak, but strong and ready for sacrifice, manly and brave even in the presence of kings. It is faithful even to the surrender of earthly possessions, yes, even to the sacrifice of life itself, offering itself to the Christ who lives in the Church.

The Mission of the Church? Transforming the Culture

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What is the mission of the church? Hans Urs von Balthasar has a fascinating excerpt from his Theo-Drama IV, in which he tries to explain.

Essentially, his answer is that the church’s mission is meant to redeem and transform the culture. von Balthasar says,

The whole notion of “Church”, in radical contrast to the Synagogue, is centrifugal; not only is the Church open to the world, which in principle already belongs to Christ: she is also jointly responsible for it. It is not enough to preach the message of salvation to the world from outside: this message must permeate it like leaven, becoming disseminated throughout it. What we are speaking of is—in the modern expression —“inculturation”. The cultural materials that exist in the world must be taken up and adapted, albeit critically. Again, this must not be done by the forced imposition of Christianity onto a reluctant substratum; conquests of this sort continue to take their revenge centuries later. Rather, there must be a loving appreciation of the existing values; it must calmly be shown that they are genuinely fulfilled only in the message of Christ.

However, this is difficult, from both sides. It is difficult on the part of the culture that is to be transformed: particularly in its most highly developed form, its Gestalt exhibits an earthly perfection, like a work of art; in its own order, it seems incapable of improvement. The Christian reality, however, lives entirely in relationships of continual transcendence and in principle (not accidentally) breaks open the complacent, earthly forms, putting them in touch with a Catholic universality: thus they must open up to the world around them but also to the world above them. It is even more difficult on the part of the Church; the gospel message is embedded in the structures of the “missionized” culture, a fact that threatens to bring the movement of the missionary Church to a full stop. Inculturation threatens to adapt Christianity to the existing culture; the salt of the gospel is in danger of losing its savor. Amalgams are formed between Christianity and secular culture; at times this produces marvelous cathedrals of art, of philosophy and of piety, yet it is not clear whether these are a pure expression of the gospel.

The Church can only effectively pursue her task, therefore, if she herself alternates between two impossible poles: preaching to the world purely from without and transforming it purely from within. As Church, she must penetrate without becoming “establishment” and advance without leaving unfinished business behind. Paul represents a kind of ideal: he founds communities, moves on, then returns to his foundations, but without finally settling down there. The profile he presents should be that of every community and of each individual: the Church must put down roots where she is, yet without coming under the spell of the place. Here again we find that this paradox, which is baffling at an earthly level, reflects the discipleship of Christ, who comes into the world and leaves it (Jn 16:28) and yet stays with it until the end (Mt 28:20); for it is in his exodos (Lk 9:31)—which is his Eucharist—that he is killed and so remains with us. (Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory, Vol. 4: The Action, section IV, C, 3)

So then, the church is given the mission of fulfilling, redeeming, deifying the culture. And so the church must go into the culture, and adapt and fulfill it in Christ.

Balthasar is certainly right in saying that in doing this, the church must ride the line between simply evangelizing “from the outside” only (ie, never entering into the culture, but only being a culture in and of itself) and being “institutionalized” or adapted by the culture.

Rather, the church must go into the culture, appreciate it, and then elevate it in the gospel. In other words, Christianity wants to take culture and take it up into God’s own life so that it can participate in his own glory.

This reminds me of a line by Robert Barron, that God is not “a competitor with his creation”. Rather, God’s intention in the gospel is to elevate, redeem, deify creation — and culture, and art, and music, and family et al — through Christ’s death and resurrection. And in this way, as Barron says so aptly, the gospel makes Christianity “the greatest humanism that has ever appeared”. This is the church’s mission.