The Noble Purpose

“And what if it was true that the Sisterhood no longer heard the music of life?” (342)
“Without noble purpose we are nothing.” (344)
Quotes from “Heretics of Dune,” part of the Dune series by Frank Herbert.
What is the Church? What is the noble purpose presented to the Church? Has the Church lost its ability to pursue the noble purpose? Does it no longer understand what resonates within the hearts and desires and pain of the world? Does the Church no longer hear the music of life?
Again and again, when we so entangle ourselves within the systems of the world, mistakenly thinking that they are the conveyors of the noble purpose, the justifications for the noble purpose, or the reasons to continue in the noble purpose, we have already lost, already failed.
It is first the discovery of the One behind the noble purpose, and in so discovering firstly we will understand true and not contrived justifications of, reasons for, and ways for conveying the noble purpose that prove that we have not lost the ability to hear the music of life.
There is no real solace in thinking that our purpose rests in purely temporal form or purpose. The Cure of Souls is the first priority. All else, while vitally important to the noble path, are secondary. The second cannot occur without the first, and the first cannot be fully realized without the second. We try and try and try to reorder the process differently according to our own design born of limited understanding, but in the end we get no where. The noble purpose is clouded and diminished, stripped of its power, and we are left deaf.

It’s Bible!!! That settles it!

The way we engage and use Scripture is consequential to the way we deal with one another and experience this thing called the Christian life. If one believes that the Bible is divinely inspired (in whatever form) or that it simply has profound impact on a lot of people within the Christian faith (and to an extent Christian-influenced culture), then the way the Bible is interpreted and applied is important, perhaps of the utmost importance. When dealing with the deep differences of belief concerning the interpretation and application of Scripture, there are rarely stolid arguments or debates. As a matter of fact, as we witness in our own society in these times, the debates are more often than not full of vitupertive accusation and condemnation. (Usin’ new words soes I don’t forget ’em)
The machinations that we witness between this Christian group and that one, this Diocese and the rest of them, that Province and the other bunch over any number of theological and social issues imbibe deeply from the worst of human proclivities. We act as if we know little about or understand little of the meaning of God’s directives to us in Scripture – how are we to treat other people? How are we to be a different example of a different way to the rest of the world that revels in negativism and destruction?
So, I was wondering how Christians during the 1800’s dealt with the divisive and destructive issue of Slavery. How did Christians deal with Scripture? How did they deal with one another in their different interpretations and applications of Scripture? How did all of this work through society? If we remember the Civil War, we will know. There are lessons to be learned from the history of this period that play out in our own controversies in these days, particularly dealing this the gay issue that is tearing apart families, communities, denominations, and whole Communions.
This rather lengthy quote from Mark Noll’s book, “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis,” published in 2006 by The University of North Carolina Press. Noll is a professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College (a bastion of American-Evangelical higher education, a good school!) currently the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.

“This mode of argument became more elaborate and more definite when other Bible believers took up Scripture to attack slavery. Crucially, as Larry Tise and others have pointed out, biblical defenses of slavery were once widespread throughout the Western world; they were put forward by both Catholics and Protestants, both Europeans and North Americans. Nonetheless, by the mid-nineteenth century, the force of the biblical proslavery argument had weakened everywhere except the United States. There, however, it remained strong among Bible believers in the North as well as among Bible believers in the South.
“It was no coincidence that the biblical defense of slavery remained strongest in the United States, a place where democratic, antitraditional and individualistic religion was also strongest. By the nineteenth century, it was an axiom of American public thought that free people should read, think, and reason for themselves. When such a populace, committed to republican and democratic principles, was also a Bible-reading populace, the proslavery biblical case never lacked for persuasive resources. Precedents provided by the books of Leviticus and Philemon were only part of the picture. [Earlier, Noll detailed Thompson’s defense of slavery using passages in the above two books that detail the relationship between Hebrews/Christians and their slaves.] Protestants well schooled in reading the Scriptures for themselves also know of many other relevant texts, among which the following were most important:

  • Genesis 9:25-27: “And he said…” (For the sin of Ham, who exposed his father Noah’s nakedness, Ham’s descendants through his son Canaan were to be owned as slaves by descendants of Noah’s two other sons.)
  • Genesis 17:22: “And he that is eight days old…” (God sanctioned and regulated the slaveholding of the patriarch Abraham, father of all believers)
  • Deuteronomy 20:10-11: “When thou goest forth…” (God sanctioned the enslavement of Israel’s enemies.)
  • While Jesus abrogated many of the regulations of the Old Testament – for example, those allowing for polygamy and easy divorce – he never said a word against slaveholding.
  • I Corinthians 7:21: “Art thou called…” (While a Christian slave may welcome emancipation, that slave should net chafe if emancipation is not given.)
  • Romans 13:1,7: “Let every soul be subject…” (The Apostle Paul urged Christian believers to conform to the Roman imperial system, which practiced a harsh form of slaveholding.)
  • Colossians 3:22, 4:1: “Servants, obey…” (The apostle regulated the master-slave relationship, but did not question it.)
  • I Timothy 6:1-2: “Let as many servants…” (The apostle explicitly taught that the conversion of slaves did not provide cause for even Christian masters to emancipate those Christian slaves.)”

There is no end to how we manipulate and contrive meaning from Scripture as we force it to support our already conceived beliefs and convictions. How are we to treat others, again? How will they know we are Christians, again? How do we “rightly divide the Word of God,” again? And Americans, here we go again (or rather, why don’t we learn our lessons the first time rather than God having to put us through the same situations again and again until we do?).

Another viewpoint

In response to the Internet-spread article “The Collapse of Evangelical Christianity” by Michael Spencer (read his response to the controversy he started) that I blogged about yesterday, comes this piece by Mark Galli, the senior managing editor of Christianity Today, and a professed Anglican (although I don’t think he remains in The Episcopal Church).
The piece is entitled, “On the Lasting Evangelical Survival
There is plenty of statistical work that shows that the post-Baby-Boomer Evangelicals are departing from what has become American-Evangelicalism – the politicized Religious Right advanced socio-political agenda and perspective or feel-good mega-churchism. See Barna’s research in the book “unChristian.” (There is a lot more evidence, but I just don’t have reference on me.)
I agree with Galli, however, that there doesn’t seem to be significant evidence that these disaffected Evangelicals are migrating en mass to Orthodoxy, The Church of Rome, or even as Galli would like to see, Anglicanism. A slow counter-movement of a good number, yes (I’m one of them), but not mass movement. Some are delving into Emergent stuff and House Churches, etc. Regrettably, what generally happens is that young people leave to no other church, but simply drop out.

The Collapse of Evangelical Christianity

I’ve been saying for some time now that American Evangelicalism will enter a significant decline, if not collapse, in the near future. I say this primarily because American Evangelicalism has aligned itself with political conservatism – a wedding of conservative theology with conservative socio-politics. (Equally so, conservative politics via the Republican Party has been absorbed into the politicized Religious Right. To be a Christian one must be a far-right Republican. To be a “real” Republican, one must adhere to the Culture War social agenda.)
This kind of thing has already happened in the past with Mainline Protestantism – a merging of liberal theology (Social Gospel) and liberal politics (more currently manifest through identify-politics and political-correctness). Mainline Protestantism collapsed because the social and political overwhelmed or actually replaced the theological – social action became more important than relationship with God and the worship of God.
Interestingly, the Democratic Party did not fall pray to liberal theology in the same way that the Republican Party has been overrun by the Religious Right. It was a different time.
American-Evangelicals have not learned the lessons of history, and now they are condemned to repeat it.
There is an interesting article in The Christian Science Monitor – once and perhaps still a Gold Standard for the international social and political reporting – entitled The coming evangelical collapse
The article begins:

We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

I want to comment on a couple points brought up by the author:

• The emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision.

I don’t think this will happen! For one thing, those involved in the Emergent Conversation are Evangelicals, even if of the next generation of post-modern different-kind-of-Evangelical than that which is reflected in the Cultural War prone Religious Right. Mainline Protestant liberals are entering into a “Post-Christ” existence that looks far more like Unitarian Universalism than a traditionally understood Christ-centered Christianity and that won’t stop (even as their ever dwindling numbers drive them further into obscurity) – the Emergent folks aren’t going there.

• Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions.

I think this is where Anglicanism can play an increasingly vital role, if we are able to maintain our Christian distinctiveness and not fall prey to the dividing and reactionary forces – if we resist the compulsion to become like American-Evangelicals or Liberal Protestants! Frankly, were not doing a very good job resisting the temptation. (Much of our current Episcopal Church leaders certainly fall in line with Liberal Protestantism and are unrelenting in their push to remake the Church in their own image, but many of these people are entering retirement age! The next generations of Episcopalians are not like them, thank goodness, as the post-Baby Boomer Evangelicals are not like their parents in their religious experience and expression.)
Faith in American will certainly look different in the next 20 years (and I think 20 more than 10). The triumphalism of Baby-Boomer American Evangelicalism will certainly take a beating. Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy will maintain, if not grow, but I doubt they will have a significant impact on the unChurched and increasingly secular people – they will not be viewed as a place to explore faith due to their dogmatism.
Again, by the nature of Traditional Anglicanism where a historic Gospel is proclaimed and seeking and questioning are truly engaged and dealt with and were a comprehensiveness is welcomed in our common life, this seems to fit well with the sensibilities of up and coming generations. Will we be able to take advantage of this for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the reconciliation of us all to God, or will we continue down the road we are currently on to our own division and destruction?

Six things, no seven

Proverbs 6:16-19 (English Standard Version)
There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.