Even were I not a Baptist, though, I am not sure I could say ‘happy Reformation day’. Surely if Reformation day is to be marked, it should be only partly, at most, in celebration? The church was split, not reformed, by Luther’s intervention. Of course, the recovery and foregrounding of crucial gospel truths should be remembered (and yes, justification sola fide is at least a, if not the, ‘articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae’…) – but is Reformation Day not as much a time to mourn our divisions, to fast and pray that all who are baptised in the triune Name may together confess one Lord, one faith, and one gospel, and share one Eucharist around one table?
‘Happy Reformation Day’ sounds to me like saying ‘Happy Ash Wednesday’ – it is just the wrong salutation.
I recently experienced an extraordinary week, liturgically speaking. I had not expected ever to see its like again.
On a weekday at a lovely country church in Virginia, I (along with a very large gathering) attended the funeral of one of our old friends, an outstanding churchman and servant of the Lord. Arriving early, I sat down to read the program. I could hardly believe my eyes. There were no “reflections,” no “remembrances,” no “eulogies.” There were hymns, Scripture, prayers, the Creed, the commendation…nothing more. I looked again. At the top of the program it did not say “the celebration of the life of…” It said, “The Burial of the Dead, Rite One, Book of Common Prayer.” At my age (76), with thoughts of the end of life becoming more frequent, it was an almost inexpressible comfort to know that this great service still has a future and that not everyone is afraid of the burial of the dead.
When the actual coffin rolled in, my eyes filled…it has been so long since I have seen that happen. It was preceded by the rector, of course, reading the traditional verses, and the large family followed. The hymns had been chosen by the deceased man himself, and reflected both his love of Jesus and his faith in the resurrection. The Gospel reading was the raising of Lazarus, an unusual and very impressive choice.
After the service, everyone walked out of the door, to the tolling of the bell, directly into the churchyard where, with the traditional graveside prayers, the body was laid to rest. That is almost never possible today, but when it is, there really is nothing more perfect. Soil had been brought from the departed man’s beloved farm to put in the grave, and a shovel provided for any who cared to remain and offer this last token of love and farewell.
Only God means what he says so that what he says can be taken literally. God’s “literalism,” the fact that God’s intentions need no bridge to be actualized, means God’s speech - God’s sentences - need no translation. In contrast, we mortals live at a distance from one another as well as ourselves, and that is why we have to write sentences.
LORD, with what care hast thou begirt us round !
Parents first season us : then schoolmasters
Deliver us to laws ; They send us bound
To rules of reason, holy messengers,
Pulpits and sundayes, sorrow dogging sinne,
Afflictions sorted, anguish of all sizes,
Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in,
Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,
Blessings beforehand, tyes of gratefulnesse,
The sound of glorie ringing in our eares ;
Without, our shame ; within, our consciences ;
Angels and grace, eternall hopes and fears.
Yet all these fences and their whole aray
One cunning bosome-sinne blows quite away.
Life is a rehearsal… the habits of rehearsal are everything we do in life, and I’m very affected by a lot of stories that encourage me in the belief that most of my life is preparation for crucial moments. I’m not saying I’ve reached a defining moment in my life, but I’ve reached some fairly crucial moments where I had to act from memory… .
You’re in a hospital, you’re holding the hand of an 82-year-old woman. All her family are around the intensive care unit, and you know that they’ve just unhooked the machines, so she’s got 45 minutes until she’s going to stop breathing. How do you fill that 45 minutes? That’s what you go to seminary for, to know how to fill that 45 minutes.
I’d say the first thing you do is you sing. You recall something that has been significant in the worshipping life of everybody there, and you sing that, and it puts you in touch with good things about the richness that this woman has brought to everybody’s life. And it’s also a prayer, but it’s a prayer that you know that the woman maybe can still hear, because hearing and touch are really among the last senses to go.
So if you’d never learned that hymn – in other words, if you hadn’t rehearsed – how could you ever sing it? So you think, ‘Well, why do we go – as you say to teenagers – why do we go every Sunday and we sing the same boring old hymns?’ Well, there’s an answer for you: because one day you’ll be in hospital with an 82-year-old woman — and it could be me, actually, that woman — and you’ll have 45 minutes until she dies, and you’ll be gathered around with everybody, and everyone will be weeping but wanting something important, and you’ll think, ‘Well, that’s why we sang those hymns, wasn’t it?’
Ethics reflects on the conditions of good moral thinking. Were it to posit an ideal relation of text to action which, in the name of obedience to scriptural authority, effectively abolished thinking, it would abolish morality, and thereby abolish itself. There is a necessary indeterminacy in the obedient action required by the faithful reading of the text. Acts are ordered in a basic repertoire of kinds and types, and of these kinds and types Scripture has a great deal of normative force to tell us; but Scripture does not determine the concrete act itself , the act we must perform now. If Scripture totally determined our actions, there would be no obedience, for there would be no deliberation. Deliberation does not simply repeat what it has heard; it pursues the goal of faithful and obedient action by searching out actions, possible within the material conditions that prevail, which will accord with the content of the testimony of Scripture.
The modern world, when it praises its little Caesars, talks of being strong and brave: but it does not see the eternal paradox involved in the conjunction of these ideas. The strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in times of doubt, to be strong.
Is greed a religion today? It does seem that for many people material things hold a place in their lives that was once occupied by belief in God. The economy has achieved what might be described as a sacred status. Like God, the economy, is capable of supplying our needs without limit. Also, like God, the economy is mysterious, dangerous and intransigent, despite the best managerial efforts of its associated clergy.
If once our most vivid experiences were religious, today they involve money rituals. For example, the modern day equivalent of the city cathedral is the shopping complex. …
As we already noted, the very things Christianity claims God expects of believers, namely love, trust and service, may well characterize our relationship with money. A glance at the palpable glee on the faces of game show contestants confirms our love of money. You can literally buy ‘securities’ and ‘futures.’ Most disturbingly, as the French ethicist Jacques Ellul put it, “We can use money, but it is really money that uses us and makes us servants by bringing us under its law and subordinating us to its aims.”
“It seems to me rather absurd when Christians feel obliged either to celebrate or to lament the conversion of Constantine - to proclaim it either as the victory of the true faith over its persecutors or as the victory of the devil over the purity of the Gospel - rather than simply to accept it and all its historical sequels as part of the mysterious story of grace working upon fallen natures: to love everything good and splendid that it produced, to deplore everything sordid and evil, and then to recognize as well (and this is the most challenging task of all) that the tale of Christendom’s failure and defeat is also enfolded within those same workings of grace.”—David Bentley Hart (via onancientpaths)
A theology of faithful presence first calls Christians to attend to the people and places that they experience directly. It is not that believers should be disconnected from, or avoid responsibility for people and places across the globe. Far from it. Christians are called to go into all the world, after all and to carry the good news in word and deed that God’s kingdom has come. But with that said, the call to faithful presence gives priority to what is right in front of us – the community, the neighbourhood, and the city, and that people of which these are constituted. For most, this will mean a preference for stability, locality and particularity of place and its needs. It is here, through the joys, sufferings, hopes, disappointments, concerns, desires and worries of the people with whom we are in long term and close relation – family neighbours, co-workers, and community – where we find authenticity as a body and as believers. It is here we learn forgiveness and humility, practice kindness, hospitality and charity, grow in patience and wisdom, and become clothed in compassion, gentleness and joy. This is the crucible within which Christian holiness is forged. This is the context within which shalom is enacted.
“In Jesus Christ there is no isolation of man from God or of God from man. Rather, in Him we encounter the history, the dialogue, in which God and man meet together and are together, the reality of the covenant mutually contracted, preserved, and fulfilled by them. Jesus Christ is in His one Person, as true God, man’s loyal partner, and as true man, God’s. He is the Lord humbled for communion with man and likewise the Servant exalted to communion with God. He is the Word spoken from the loftiest, most luminous transcendence and likewise the Word heard in the deepest, darkest immanence. He is both, without their being confused but also without their being divided; He is wholly the one and wholly the other. Thus in this oneness Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler, between God and man.”—
The last word that I have to say as a theologian or politician is not a concept like grace but a name: Jesus Christ. He is grace and he is the ultimate one beyond world and church and even theology. We cannot lay hold of him. In him is the spur to work, warfare, and fellowship. In him is all that I have attempted in my life in weakness and folly.
[The claim] that some think theological claims must be grounded in empirical proofs is based on the assumption that there is an essential tension between faith and reason. Even Christian theologians have sometimes underwritten the assumption that the faith of Christians cannot be rationally defended. However, the very presumption that reason is one thing and faith is another betrays a distorted view of reason. What Christians believe is not a “take it or leave it” choice, but rather an ongoing claim that all that is exists by God’s good grace. The working out of that claim is never finished.
“If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine
writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He
kindly wrote for me. Right at present this does not seem to be His policy.
I can’t write a thing. But I’ll continue to try—that is the point. And at
every dry point I will be reminded Who is doing the work when it is done &
Who is not doing it at that moment. Right now I wonder if God will ever do
any more writing for me. He has promised His grace; I am not so sure about
“Quite simply, there is no formation without repetition. There is no habituation without being immersed in a practice over and over again… So it is precisely our allergy to repetition in worship that has undercut the counterformative power of Christian worship—because all kinds of secular liturgies shamelessly affirm the good of repetition. We’ve let the devil, so to speak, have all the repetition. And we, as liturgical animals, are only too happy to find our rhythms in such repetition. Unless Christian worship eschews the cult of novelty and embraces the good of faithful repetition, we will constantly be ceding habituation to secular liturgies.”—James K.A. Smith, Imagining The Kingdom: How Worship Works (via settledthingsstrange)
“What’s the meaning of life? It’s a big question, maybe the biggest of all. But Isaiah isn’t daunted by it. God’s answer lies in three unambiguous words: ‘For my glory.’ Faced with the unrelenting threat of our own death, pain, guilt, and isolation, we human beings understandably strive to make our own meaning, carve our own memorial, leave our own mark on the world. We create organizations, build edifices, have and raise children, invent products, devise theories, endow institutions, break records—all to stave off the ravages of time and hold back onrushing oblivion. But the truth is, there’s only one thing that’s eternal: God’s glory. Everything else is dust and ashes.”—Samuel Wells, Be Not Afraid: Facing Fear with Faith, p. 31 (via recycledsoul)
We believe a sacrifice has been made that has brought an end to the sacrifice of war.
Augustine and Luther thought Christians might go to war because they assumed a church existed that provided an alternative to the sacrificial system war always threatens to become. When Christians no longer believe that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the salvation of the world, we will find other forms of sacrificial behaviours that are as compelling as they are idolatrous. In the process, Christians confuse the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Christ.
If a people does not exist that continually makes Christ present in the world, war will always threaten to become a sacrificial system. War is a counter church. War is the most determinative moral experience many people have.
That is why Christian realism requires the disavowal of war. Christians do not disavow war because it is often so horrible, but because war, in spite of its horror – or perhaps because it is so horrible – can be so morally compelling. That is why the church does not have an alternative to war. The church is the alternative to war. When Christians lose that reality – that is, the reality of the church as an alternative to the world’s reality – we abandon the world to the unreality of war.
“Through the Spirit, Jesus Christ the exalted one generates a new mode of common human life, the Church. To participate in that common human life, hearing the gospel in fellowship under the word of God and living together under the signs of baptism and the Lord’s supper, is to exist in a sphere in which God’s limitless power is unleashed and extends into the entirety of human life: moral, political, cultural, affective, intellectual.”—John Webster
“We have, alas, belittled the cross, imagining it merely as a mechanism for getting us off the hook of our own petty naughtiness or as an example of some general benevolent truth. It is much, much more. It is the moment when the story of Israel reaches its climax; the moment when, at last, the watchmen on Jerusalem’s walls see their God coming in his kingdom; the moment when the people of God are renewed so as to be, at last, the royal priesthood who will take over the world not with the love of power but with the power of love; the moment when the kingdom of God overcomes the kingdoms of the world.”—N.T. Wright (via blakebaggott)
“It is tempting to reduce the communicative act to its propositional content alone. Yet such an identification of divine discourse with the propositional content is too hasty and reductionist, for it omits two other important aspects of the communicative action, namely, the illocutionary (what is done) and the perlocutionary (what is effected). To repeat: what is authoritative about the Bible is what God says and does with its words. To equate God’s word with the content it conveys is to work with the abbreviated Scripture principle that reduces revelation to the propositional residue of its locations. Such an abbreviated Scripture principle, in overlooking the illocutionary and perlocutionary dimensions, is both christologically and pneumatologically deficient. It fails to see what Scripture is doing in witnessing to and hence mediating Christ, and fails to do justice to the role of the Holy Spirit in making sure that this witness is effective.”—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: a Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology
“A general and indiscriminate egalitarianism is free-market culture, which, like free-market economies, tends toward a general and destructive uniformity. And tolerance, in association with such egalitarianism, is a way of ignoring the reality of significant differences. If I merely tolerate my neighbors on the assumption that all of us are equal, that means I can take no interest in the question of which ones of us are right and which ones are wrong; it means that I am denying the community the use of my intelligence and judgment; it means that I am not prepared to defer to those whose abilities are superior to mine, or to help those whose condition is worse; it means that I can be as self-centered as I please.”—Wendell Berry. Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community. (via postsnark)
“Justification is not just about ‘how I get my sins forgiven.’ It is about how God creates, in the Messiah Jesus and in the power of his spirit, a single family, celebrating their once-for-all forgiveness and their assured ‘no condemnation’ in Christ, through whom his purposes can now be extended to the wider world.”—N. T. Wright
“The essential point is that the Word of God and the reality of the Sacrament really occupy center stage; that we don’t bury God underneath our words and our ideas and that the liturgy doesn’t turn into an occasion to display ourselves. […]
[The liturgy] is not about our doing something, about our demonstrating our creativity, in other words, about displaying everything we can do. Liturgy is precisely not a shower, a piece of theater, a spectacle. Rather, it gets its life from the Other. That has to become evident, too. This is why the fact that the ecclesial form has been given in advance is so important. It can be reformed in matters of detail, but it cannot be reinvented every time by the community.
[…] In this sense, it’s not just the expression of this form that it’s important, but also its communality. This form can exist in different rites, but it must always contain that element which precedes us, that comes from the whole of the Church’s faith, from the whole of her tradition, from the whole of her life, and does not just spring from the fashion of the moment.”—Pope Benedict XVI in Light of the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald
“In an increasinly complex world, the church needs members who are able to draw on cruciform wisdom to make the right judgments as to how to continue the way of Jesus Christ. Viewed against this backdrop, the church is less the cradle of Christian theology than its crucible: the place where the community’s understanding of faith is lived, tested, and reformed.”—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: a Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology, p. 25. (via scottxstephens)
The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in US life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue.
These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they were even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naïve, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.”
David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction”
“I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.”—Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (via invisibleforeigner)
“From all over the Western world, where Christians enjoy liberty and prosperity, I receive letters requesting seminars on eliminating stress. The letters trouble me. They stand in contrast to letters from some Third-World countries where Christians are persecuted and this under tremendous stress. From these countries come letters requesting instruction in faithfulness and on the cost of discipleship.”—White, John. ‘Greater than Riches’, pg.77, Inter Varsity Press, 1992. (via thinkingchristianity)
It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word. Whosoever through his private judgement, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.