The Imaginary Slope
Monday, December 28, 2009, 11:10 AM

Last week a friend sent me a link to Denny Burk’s blogsite where Dr. Burk noted that an Evangelical church in Colorado has decided to endorse homosexual monogamy as a valid Christian lifestyle.  In the discussion that follows one finds the usual disclaimers of any real connection between Evangelical egalitarianism of the kind that endorses women’s ordination and the endorsement of homosexuality: no “slippery slope” between the two positions and states of mind.  

Generally missing from discussions like this is a sense of the history of what might be called the Evangelical mind, a frank recognition that the Protestant mainline churches, all now only nominally Christian, were all what one would identify as Evangelical a hundred and fifty years ago.  The authority of the Bible was effectively undermined among their leaders by the adoption of European higher criticism beginning soon after the Civil War, and the coup de grâce, which is ridding them of any vestigial orthodoxy, has been administered by the totalitarianism of the sexual revisionists of our time, who are effectively making acceptance of women's ordination and homosexuality requirements for membership in their ministeria.   

The causes are related in their common attack on Christian teaching through sexual perversion, based on the refusal to recognize the nature of sexual being as created and ordained by God.  That one perversion "leads to" another is difficult to prove, and may be fortuitous, but that they are connected to each other by the same dissolution of mind and the same removal of ancient boundary-stones seems hard to deny.  The "otherwise conservative" Evangelical who is in favor of women's ordination but not homosexuality does not see the larger category relation between one kind of sexual rebellion and another, so would be unable to see a slippery slope even if one existed.  That acceptance of homosexuality as a more radical form of the same thing generally follows egalitarianism makes it reasonable to infer a “slope” for the same reason one would acknowledge that an artillery bombardment to weaken defenses before the full attack is customary and reasonable. 

On one hand we have the assertion of no necessary relationship between egalitarianism and endorsement of homosexuality because they are "two different things," and on the other the observation that they are related in character and one generally follows the other chronologically: i.e., the high likelihood of a "slippery slope."  I'll wager you can guess which theory seems more probable to me, and something about what I think will happen to the egalitarian Evangelicalism that just can’t see the connection.



The Anti-Christmas Card
Friday, December 18, 2009, 4:13 PM

Every year I enjoy receiving Christmas greetings in the mail, but this year an atheist friend sent me something new: an Anti-Christmas card in which he gave us felicitations of the winter solstice, inviting us to join our pre-Christian forebears in celebrating its prospects.  He takes a Nietzschean view of Christianity: it is a myth in which the spiritually and mentally weak take refuge, a platform from which to make cowardly and self-righteous assaults on those who have the courage to deny the truth of these fairy-stories and live in a demystified reality.

I am sympathetic to his charges, since I find them true from a perspective I understand, and do not find unreasonable, but have chosen not to adopt because I do not myself wish to be judged on my worst points.  It is by no means difficult, however, to find representatives of Christianity against whom they are perfectly plausible.  If someone concentrates his sight on these, defining the faith by its worst professors–who loom exceedingly large in the view of many through no fault of their own–then it is indeed every bad thing that so many wounded freethinkers accuse it of being. 

I rarely find these people unlovely–in fact, the contrary has usually been true.  Many of them seem full of love, not only for people, but for God’s other handiwork–and they are lovers of truth so far as they are able to perceive it as unconnected to orthodox religion.  Are they really atheists?  God knows, but I am not willing to affirm it.  What does one say of someone whose encounters with professing Christians and their churches have left him cold or hostile, but who rejoices in justice, truth, goodness, and beauty so far as his prejudices allow him to perceive it?  

St. Augustine said he would never have believed the gospel if the authority of the catholic Church had not influenced him to do so, but for many this authority has been obscured, the power, glory, beauty, and authority of the Church having been eclipsed by the flocks of mendicants, hucksters, and holy shows in its outer courts.  Becoming atheists to their gospels is a necessary step to finding one’s way to God.  While we cannot deny the fool the privilege of saying “No God” in his heart, the atheist as we can know him may not be a fool; indeed, we who profess Christ need to be especially careful that we do not become fools ourselves in our profession to know God, inclined as we are to make him over after our own images and worship what is in fact an idol.

For me the authority of the catholic Church has only been discoverable behind the churches.  What has made it discoverable is my love of, and strong desire to play a part in, the Great Story from which all stories worth hearing come, of which I have written elsewhere.  The Church is the Beautiful Princess whom the Handsome Prince went through death and fire to win.  This story is not told only by the Bible–although that is the authoritative version which gives the central detail–but in variation (and sometimes only in part) by all the storytellers whose stories simple people such as I want to hear.  The Prince returns to Ithaca, or Minas Tirith, or Hogwarts, or heaven, ruining his enemies and claiming his bride.  This is the only story I want, and, like a little child on Mother’s knee, insist absolutely it be told right–with no “creative” work on the part of the storyteller, whose sole task is to pass it down accurately and uncorrupted.  

Now, there are certain requirements involved in being a Christian which are obnoxious to us worldly people naturally inclined to sin.  But I hardly see how one could desire to do what is necessary to know Christ without loving him first (even when his name is not known), as the object of what Lewis called Sweet Desire–a mysterious and overwhelming longing, rooted in the Self by Grace, that goes far beyond and is far deeper than fear or respect or religious devotion or even much that is regarded as love.  It is much more like strong sexual desire, its loss what is felt, and meant to be felt, at the end of every carnal exultation.  It is what is found when a special gift of God allows us to consider, even for a brief moment, what our hearts desire–of what the place will be like where we want our pilgrimage to end.  We cannot summon this of our own will; it comes as when a chime awakens the vision of “a far green country under a swift sunrise,” which then quickly recedes–and so it should, for it is not of this world, but a visitation from another.  

There are “church” formulations of this understanding which are absolutely and formally correct: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” is one of the best.  These generally leave me as cold as they do my atheist (or angry heretic) friends.  But I have no problem whatever seeing the Lord Jesus Christ as the handsome Prince, the Church as his Bride, and wishing myself to be among his friends.  For me, as well as perhaps for them, he needs translating out of church language before he can be translated back in, but once the translation has been made, then one can see it was the ancient voice of Mother Kirk in all her hidden glory that was speaking to us all along–yes, even in Homer.



J. Gresham Machen on Public Schooling (1923)
Thursday, December 17, 2009, 11:51 AM

"A

public-school system, in itself, is indeed of enormous benefit to the

race.  But it is of benefit only if it is kept healthy at every moment

by the absolutely free possibility of competition of private schools. 

A public-school system, if it means the providing of free education

for those who desire it, is a noteworthy and beneficent achievement of

modern times; but when once it becomes monopolistic it is the most

perfect instrument of tyranny which has yet been devised.

"Freedom of thought in the middle ages was combated by the Inquisition, but the modern method is far more effective.  Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult to see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist.  Such a tyrrany, supported as it is by a perverse technique used as the instrument in destroying human souls, is certainly far more dangerous than the crude tyrannies of the past . . . ."

From Christianity and Liberalism, p. 14.



Gospel Trooth
Monday, November 16, 2009, 9:51 AM

Women

who really want to preach at men don’t seek ordination, since they know

that men who are disinclined to be admonished by women any more than duty

and necessity require can always find places other than church (like

the golf course or work shop) to commune with their Maker. 

No, the really serious reformers-of-males become Dental Hygienists, for having one’s teeth worked on is something approaching a universal necessity, and nowadays the pilgrim to the dental cathedral can hardly avoid dealing at portals with a smiling gospeler whose job is ostensibly to clean your teeth, but whose actual mission is to turn you into a fanatic whose life is henceforth to be lived in service to them.

Here is a completely truthful account of my dialogue with one of them at my last visit to the dentist:     

Dental Hygienist:  “Good morning!  May I call you “Bad Little Stevie?  I’ve got some tools on that tray that say I can.”

Me: “Oh yes, please do.”

DH: “Have a seat here.  Some new safety protocols: Just three little straps: one at the ankles, one below the sternum, and one at the neck.  Comfy?  Now open up.”

M: “Ahhhggh.”

DH: “My, what beautiful teeth!  At fifty-seven you only have two cavities?  If you don’t floss them seven times a day, they’ll all fall out, probably before your next birthday.  People who are serious about keeping their teeth brush them after every meal (twice to be sure, because the toughest brush we’ll let you use has the stiffness of baby hair) and floss them twelve or more times a day.  At your age you probably have prostate problems that get you up two or three times a night.  Remember this little poem: 'Up to pee? Floss those teeth.' ”

M: “Can’t I try betel nuts?”

DH: “Now, now, it’s no joking matter.  As you get older, your gums get gummier (just like your tum gets tummier–you could stand to lose a few pounds, couldn’t you?), more susceptible to those nasty little bugs called bacteria, who poop out slicks of tooth-eating acid.  They make your mouth into a slimy, stinking pit of tooth death.  And remember, the teeth are where the rest of the body begins: Dens sanus, corpore sano, my son.”

M: “There’s no other way?”

DH: “No.  You must repent, believe, and live a new life.  I can see by looking at those teeth that you have been a very bad man.  Popcorn last night, eh?”

M:  “EEEEE!”

DH: “Tender spots like that are caused by sin, Stevie–mortal sins, I suspect, like chocolate before retiring, or years of brushing only once a day” [here she shudders and makes the signum dentis].”
 
M: “Invincible ignorance, Lady–okay, okay, I believe!  Have mercy!”

DH: “We’ll find out about your sincerity at your next visit.  Say three Hail Fairies and five I’ll Bothers.  There’s no hiding place down here.  Take ‘im, Doc.” 



Covenant, Michigan, Dateline October 12, 2021
Thursday, October 29, 2009, 9:03 PM

Officials at LaVinc College today reported that its faculty is reeling from a memorandum issued by college trustees that no faculty member may advocate cannibalism as an acceptable Christian lifestyle choice.  Dr. Kyrie Fly, head of the faculty senate, claimed in a prepared statement that “this restriction curtails academic freedom, due process, and LaVinc’s tradition of Christian inquiry.”  In an unprepared statement she declared, “Who do these bozos think they are, anyway?  They’re mostly ministers, I guess.  That means, Jack, that they get their marching orders from us, not the other way around.”

“It’s not as though we’ve turned into a bunch of naked savages,” said Harold Gollum, a senior and president of the Lecter Society, a student organization advocating Christian Cannibalism.  “We remain fully clothed, victims are carefully chosen from among those for whom quality of life and a certain succulent plumpness are real issues, and the killings are quick and humane.  We always pray before the meals, use clean silverware, and make sure the leftovers are distributed to the needy in Detroit, made up into very tasty meat pies (with or without fava beans).  It is sad that there are still people around who regard what we’re doing as sinful.  There’s nothing in the Bible against it–on the contrary, in fact.  As Professor Carney said in his church history class, the early Christians weren’t accused of cannibalism for nothing.”

“There is a growing lack of consensus on this issue,” said Dr. Stanley Schwach, Vice President for Deceiving Contributors.  Some view this as a question of whether you’re a true Evangelical.  On the other side it’s viewed as a matter of whether you have something more than the brains of a turnip, since the scholarly consensus, long ago reported in the journal Soylent, is that only fundamentalists, Catholics of the medieval variety, people with I.Q.s of less than 70, and twisted, hate-filled bigots, oppose cannibalism on principle.” 

“It is getting more and more difficult to claim,” continued Schwach, “in a country that has now elected a cannibal President, that a way of life increasingly accepted among Evangelicals cannot even be the subject of rational discussion in a college that has been identified by Advocate magazine for more than ten years as “one of the best fifty places to send us your children.”  It should be clear from Christianity Now’s recent symposium that there is room in the house for more than one opinion here–that a person can be a cannibal and a good Evangelical.”   

“Still,” Schwach said, “we deeply honor and respect the opposing opinions of parents, certain freshmen, and old ministers out there, and will do everything we can to represent the state of affairs at LaVinc so they won’t withdraw their support.  When they come to visit, we will make sure they hear from our three remaining anti-cannibal faculty members–and believe me, our wonderful President, the Rev. Dr. Oleum VanMendax, has won over many, many doubters, who now count him as a valued personal friend."
  
The debate over cannibalism at LaVinc began in earnest several years ago when Yummy, a traveling cannibalism advocacy group, visited the campus and gave the prestigious college a minus-one out of ten rating for cannibal-friendliness.  “They were very gracious,” said one faculty member, “but insisted on calling us fundamentalists, and kept asking us questions like, ‘where did you purchase your diploma, Doctor Smith?’–laying special emphasis on 'Doctor.'  The day after they left, the Lecter Society was founded, with an unprecedented fifty-six volunteer faculty advisors.”

“It’s simply ridiculous to regard a legitimate academic interest in discussing Christian cannibalism as the thin end of the wedge,” said President VanMendax.  “The essentials are all perfectly intact and will remain so, since we believe in Jesus, predestination, and really clean sidewalks.  We are sadly finding, however, that the churches are not doing their job in evangelizing their youth, since the vast majority of them who come here need to learn about Jesus all over again, and have what one might call a second conversion experience.  But hell, that’s what college is all about, isn’t it?”



Advice from a Hollywood Fairy Who Should Have Stuck to Getting Wooden Boys Out of Scrapes and Stayed Out of Moral Philosophy
Thursday, October 29, 2009, 12:41 PM

In Disney's Pinocchio Jiminy Cricket, following the Blue Fairy, sings a song that includes, "Always let your conscience be your guide."  Even as a child I found that line disquieting, but didn't know why.  It became clearer when I learned enough Latin to know that conscience is "con-scio," which means essentially "another voice in your head." 

The problem with this voice is its ambiguity.   It is our property–like a dream, it is made from the stuff of memory–but is as susceptible to external influence and control as the transcendental Self.  To those with strong moral sensitivity (like Martin Luther, William Cowper, St. Augustine, and, I think, a number of notable saints and anti-saints), it can become a vulnerable place where a person who may have strong resistance in other areas is likely to be attacked, either by the Contrary Self, or malign external spiritual influences. 

That is why the conscience, especially in the morally sensitive, cannot simply be relied upon to be one's guide.  Rather, it is a battleground, good and reliable when occupied by the forces of Charity, but quite the opposite when under enemy control.  There is nothing, for example, evil loves to do more than to make the conscience slip from the bonds of faith and into its theatre of guilt-torture.  Once that happens the entertainment begins: either of listening to the sobs and screams of the good, or, even better, of tempting the soul to buy its way out by surrendering conscience and joining the scoffers. 

One finds many of these among illuminati who have renounced their religion and can present a large and predictable catalog of reasons it's all nonsense.  I would venture a guess that most of these are people who can no longer bear the guilt they have become convinced was given them by the moralism of a Christian upbringing, but which in fact is the product of attacks on conscience that pervert a faith which does indeed call them guilty, but then offers abundant forgiveness and exaltation of life in its place–of moral heresy in which one truth is elevated to the destruction of another.   The diseased conscience is crippled by guilt, but has renounced its ability to receive mercy.

Guilt is by nature intolerable; it is prescribed at most to be temporary.  There are, however, two ways that one may attempt to be rid of it.  One is by accepting forgiveness on the terms offered by divine authority, the other is to deny it, and with it all the teachings that undergird its reality.  For the former Christian this means rejection of the whole Christian faith, for what of it is not concerned with the removal of sin and guilt? 

The false cure, however, bears the same quality as the guilt from which it flees–it also can also be no more than temporary–a palliative.  Man is an inescapably moral creature, and with morality comes guilt.  No one can help breaking whatever rules he has set up in defiance of the ones he has fled, and at the end of what falsely promised to be a new day, the offense is found to be against a Power very much like the God that has been denied and abandoned: 

The former believer, now devoutly and cosmically Green, uses the products of the industry he rejects to live his life and advance his doctrine, daily offending against his new god.  The sexual libertine denounces the Church for theft of his freedom, but must live in fear of the many forms of bondage to which he is subjected by his new master–which cannot be overthrown because they cannot be admitted as such.  Here are religions of law in which there is no forgiveness, so guilt is only suppressed, and the world must bear the resulting anger, hypocrisy, and incessant transferals of fault to others.  (See the evening news for the litanies of guilt-transference.)   

I have read somewhere that Pope Sixtus I said "mala mens chorus daemonium"–which I take to mean, "a bad conscience is a troop of devils."  Until real forgiveness is accepted and one lives in faith of that forgiveness, that is what we must deal with both in ourselves and in our society: real guilt falsely dealt with–an incessant chorus of demons, coming at us from every side.  The original Pinocchio's Cricket lived in a world where conscience, in a wooden head, was not a very good guide at all.  That hasn't changed.



Growing Churches
Friday, October 23, 2009, 11:17 PM

Two thousand nine marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of my ordination as a Congregationalist minister in the apocalyptic year of nineteen eighty-four.  It is not something I or anyone else will celebrate, for my tenure in that office was short, brutal, and ugly, holding so few good memories they’re not worth the candle of finding among the miseries–except for the birth of our wonderful daughter, Laura.  The congregation I served had “problems,” and told me I would be its last pastor if I didn’t solve them.  I had three, perhaps four, years to do it.  Naturally, my main task was to “grow the church,” for that would bring in money so it could keep in contented operation as a local auxiliary of the DAR.  To abbreviate a long and painful story, I joined the line of unsuccessful pastors, both liberal and conservative, who were not able to grow the church on the terms its traditions laid down–and at the end of the road it faced dissolution.            

I was reminded of this by a letter from someone sorrowfully anticipating the dissolution of her own congregation–a more “natural” death than mine died, for hers is not mortally diseased as mine was.  I think it’s just exhausted.  As a former pastor of a dying church, I feel quite strongly that such congregations should be allowed to die–that they, just like human beings, when they see the signs of impending death, need to take reasonable steps to dissolve in an orderly and peaceful way.  None should be assumed to last forever, and it may also be assumed that if God wanted them to keep going, he could easily and quickly supply the necessary resources, just as he could give any of us, if he chose, a greatly extended life span.  But as a rule he does not–in fact, he endorses happenings that lead us to death.  He expects us, when we are able, to make our preparations, and die well. 

I wonder, however, how often this happens.  The congregational "denial" phases I have heard of are usually extended and painful.  Every other member seems to have an idea for a silly nostrum that will help keep the church going, and will be angry at their fellows for pointing out its obvious flaws.    There will be charges and counter-charges about whose fault it is, and discussions, often acrimonious, of what might have been done in the past so this state of affairs would not have been reached.  

There are always those who see the setbacks that have led to this point as tests of "faith"–specifically, the faith that this church, if everybody just believes, and pulls together, will survive, because God really wants it to–how, indeed, could he not, since we like it?  Clearly we must rise to the occasion!  But this is foolish, immature talk, and heeding it will only make the suffering longer and more painful.  It's like asking why Mother Teresa had to die, or Fr. Zosima's body decomposed in the ordinary way.

During the crisis a very decent and sincere member of my church gave me C. Peter Wagner’s Your Church Can Grow, and was terribly disappointed in me when I told him, "Dave, this is NOT the answer, since it assumes (1) the pastor can exercise influence and authority that this church has, from its beginnings, religiously denied him on “Congregationalist” grounds, and (2) the pastor is willing to function according to principles I regard as sub-Christian." Here I had been talking about faith all these years, and when I finally needed to exercise some by doing what Wagner taught, I fell flat on my face.  It is very demoralizing to a congregation when it becomes known that the pastor does not really want the church to grow.  Sigh.

If there is anything I learned in my few years as a pastor, though, it’s profound respect for those who manage to do the job, and that’s a very good thing, since I had very little before I tried to do it myself.  If you have a good pastor, thank God for him frequently, and do what you can to help him, so that at the end of twenty-five, or thirty, or forty years of ministry, he’ll have reason to celebrate.



The “Bad Habit of Schism”
Wednesday, October 14, 2009, 6:58 PM

I thank Dr. William Tighe for sending a link to an essay by the English Orthodox scholar, David J. Melling, who died in 2004.  This paragraph seemed particularly worth taking to heart:

Progress in extricating ourselves from the bad habit of schism involves

a reappraisal of what is central to our Christian heritage and what is

transitory and peripheral, what is essential and what is merely a

matter of cultural tradition. When we return to the heart and centre of

our faith, we find ourselves together in Christ. If we lose the living

awareness of our oneness in Christ and identify ourselves simply in

terms of a particular community’s history and interests, we find a

chasm yawning at our feet.

It is gratifying to hear these words from a highly-regarded Orthodox authority.  While Orthodoxy rightly emphasizes the unity of all things that pertain to the faith, Melling did not believe that every "connectable" is a vital part of the living Whole, and thought that at least some of what is regarded as such is (shall we say merely?) part of "a particular community's history and interests." 

The temptation to elevate "what is merely a matter of cultural tradition" to canonical status bedevils every Christian community.  This is why a positive conception of something like "mere Christianity" is not only logically necessary for tempering our senses of proportion, but more fundamentally, intuited by all those whose minds are disciplined by the love and knowledge of Christ.  Please God to raise up leaders for the churches that are as zealous for the center of our faith as they are competent and willing to recognize what is transitory and peripheral. 

I recommend the entire essay.




Casus Belli
Sunday, October 11, 2009, 6:23 PM

Today in the library I assisted a young teacher (who seemed quite bright and pleasant), working on a Master's–a Master's–degree at a local university.  For one of his classes he had to compile a bibliography of fiction and non-fiction sources for high school students on the causes and pursuit of war.  After I showed him where to browse for non-fiction titles and introduced him to our periodical databases, we started on fiction.  The Red Badge of Courage?  Unfamiliar to him.  All Quiet on the Western Front and Catch-22 likewise.  What about the Iliad?  He'd never heard of it, but it sounded interesting.  Homer who?  I swear this is true.  It happened today.

This experience, perhaps more than any other similar ones in recent years, brought home to me how the bottom is falling out of our culture.   Let us not go gentle into that good night.



Brief Note on Mutual Submission
Monday, October 5, 2009, 10:58 AM

St. Paul’s dictum in Ephesians 5: 21, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” is commonly used by egalitarians as a nullification of what follows, rather than a summary introduction: the command for wives to be subject to their husbands as to the Lord and for husbands to love their wives as Christ, the church’s Lord, loved it and gave himself for it.  This is Paul's application to married couples of a common theme of his writing, as in Philippians 2: 3f:  “In humility count others better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others.”  In Eph. 5, he is applying this attitude, which in Philippians he identifies as “the mind of Christ” to the specific relation of husband and wife.  The Lord gave his own illustration of this principle when he washed his disciples’ feet, emphasizing that this one who was their servant was also their Lord and Master, indicating that they (who would soon enough be lords and masters in their own courses) were to do and teach the same.  

We should be careful of two mishandlings of scripture here, first of denying that the concept of “submission” applies to the relation of each Christian to every other, including husbands and wives, and second, that the character of this submission doesn’t vary with personal situation.  The submission of the husband to the wife is principally that of sacrificing his prerogative of independent self-actualization (as Christ did for the church) for her good, that of the wife to the husband a submission of her will–her own prerogative of self-actualization– to his.  The resulting unity in diversity are acts of faith and a great mystery, but cannot be consummated unless they are effected by two distinctly different personal kinds in the character of greater and a lesser, each of which receives the other into itself, thus partaking of and exhibiting the being of the other.  Those who characterize this mutual self-giving as “mutual submission” in the sense of a something that looks exactly the same in each partner would destroy not only Christian marriage, but the bond of love in which the church is founded by the Spirit of God. 

The conceptual problem they have arises from refusal, hence inability, to understand the nature of God as Trinity in which there is both perfect equality of deity and perfect hierarchy of Persons, a God whose creation, and redemption of that creation, bears the stamp of his eternal being in the ordered equality of Father, Son, and Spirit.  Indeed, the same people who have been struggling so valiantly to give us egalitarian churches and marriages, that is, the nullification of marriage and church, are the ones who are now attempting to give us an egalitarian Trinity, and thus the nullification of God.  Many of them call themselves Evangelicals, but their gospel isn’t Christian.


« Newer PostsOlder Posts »