Tuesday, October 30, 2007
As part of my discernment over the claims of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, exploring history has been one of my two major tasks (the other being authority). I'm no historian, but I've read enough to know how much this version of history is tailored to meet its own ends. It's a self-licking ice cream cone.
Of course, historical and theological scholars have composed incredibly lengthy volumes on church history, and discerning ecclesial historical "truth" is no easy task. Rev. Brouwer gives a crisp summary of the Reformed "party line" of church history. The church healthfully grew until Rome's (the Empire, that is) collapse. For the next millennium it slid into increasing error. In this time east and west did not agree on authority and theology. The pope's importance grew in this period, and the perception arose that he was a primate. The East nicely allowed children to commune (I've observed a growing admiration for this Orthodox practice in CRC literature and PCA practice and teaching), while the West developed sacraments for discipline, as tools of power. The East experienced the Spirit, while the West limited Him. Eventually, power and corruption of the sacraments led to the Reformation, where the new church in the West came to look like the church in its original pure form.
I believe that much of these observations are debatable at best. The Real History, I venture to say, was not nearly so clean, and not nearly so supportive of the Reformation's claims. We do not look like the early church. We never have. Do you think your church would be brave enough to try to so look?
Monday, October 29, 2007
Chapters 22 and 23 of the Commonitorium comment upon 1 Tim 6:20, "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid profane babbling and the absurdities of so-called knowledge. (NAB)" St. Vincent articulates that Timothy is to keep the deposit of faith, to "preserve the talent [i.e., the gift] of Catholic Faith inviolate, unadulterate." The warning against altering this deposit is clear, "You have received gold; give gold in turn. Do not substitute one thing for another... teach precisely what you have learned..." I began to think I had stumbled against some good anti-Catholic literature (oh boy!)... St. Vincent's exposition was clear -- Paul warned Timothy, 'Don't change the deposit! Don't add anything! Teach just what you have been given!'
My surprise at this early testimony lasted only a few sentences. St. Vincent draws a wonderful analogy: the deposit of faith is like a human body, "which in the course of years develops and unfolds, yet remains the same as it was." As much as a grown man looks like the infant he was, so too does developed doctrine resemble the original deposit. But it is still the same body, the same being.
He writes of the process of doctrinal growth beautifully, "For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes on, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but not that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated."
And then he hit my jugular with shocking prophecy of how I've come to view Protestantism: "For if once this license of impious fraud be admitted, I dread to say in how great danger religion will be of being utterly destroyed and annihilated. For if any one part of Catholic truth be given up, another, and another, and another will thenceforward be given up as a matter of course, and the several individual portions having been rejected, what will follow in the end but the rejection of the whole?"
Do read on (in the Catholic Encyclopedia link above) to St. Vincent's Chapter 25, in which he gives some biting views apropos to Protestantism, such as "hardly ever do they [here he is refering to heretics] bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavour to shelter under words of Scripture" and "hardly a single page [of heretical writings] does not bristle with plausible quotations from the New Testament or the Old." Read further still, and you will learn his rule for the right interpretation of Scripture, and his views on the Pope of the Roman See.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
So here are two, one I have not visited in many years (but have been to many times), and one I just discovered (but plan to visit often).
1) Isle of Iona, Scotland. Don't be too put off by the experimental, ecumenical Iona Community (and they mean something different by "ecumenical" than I did when I named this blog "Ecumenicity"); this place is thin. It was on this isle that St. Columba landed to bring Christianity from Ireland to the Scots. Columba's Bay, where he landed, makes for a beautiful and meaningful pilgramage, but the thinnest place for me is the wee golf course on the western beach, by the ancient caves. Of course, don't miss the famous Iona Abbey.
2) Crypt Chapel of the Baltimore Basilica, Maryland. I just discovered this thin place last week, taking a productive lunch break from my studies. The entire Basilica was closed for some time while it underwent extensive renovation and refurbishment, including the creation of a crypt chapel (pictured). I overheard the tour guide explain that B.H. Latrobe (Jefferson's architect) originally intended for this crypt to be included, but it was not completed until the recent renovation (note: the tour guides, while interesting, make prayer in the crypt a little less thin). Not only is this Crypt a place to draw close to Jesus, but it happens to also be the only truly beautiful spot in Baltimore (that I have seen).
I suppose some of you that are of a Catholic persuasion could insist that the building didn't make it thin so much as a certain Presence? I'm not sure about that, but may the empirical studies continue! Please feel free to recommend your own favorite Thin Place.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
"And be not much disquieted for a thing so great [i.e., salvation], because of the largeness of the price. Its price is no more than what you have. Now to procure any great and precious thing, you would get ready gold, or silver, or money, or any increase of cattle, or fruits, which might be produced in your possessions, to buy this I know not what great and excellent thing, whereby to live in this earth happily. Buy this too, if you will. Do not look for what you have, but for what you are. The price of this thing is yourself. Its price is what you are yourself. Give your own self, and you shall have it. Why are you troubled? why disquieted? What? Are you going to seek for your own self, or to buy yourself? Lo, give your own self as you are, such as you are to that thing, and you shall have it. But you will say, "I am wicked, and perhaps it will not accept me." By giving yourself to it, you will be good. The giving yourself to this faith and promise, this is to be good. (emphasis mine)"
While it is true that God's gift of grace is freely given (Mat. 10:8), it is also right to note that we have to give something up of ourselves as part of our Christian faith. The freedom of grace aside, Augustine tickled my American sentimentalities -- nothing can be "free"'. The economist's mantra that "There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" affects my view of the economy of salvation.
I am reminded of the deeply indebted servant whose king forgave his tremendous debt (Mat. 18:23-35). Because of the king's pity, the servant got a "free lunch", freely given. Sadly, he then turned around and, failing to extend the favor, had his fellow servant thrown in debtor's prison (a notion also foreign to the American mentality).
What has bothered me as a law student (and here is a clear indication of how polluted my mind has become) is that the king had him incarcerated after the debt was cancelled. If there was no debt, how was the king acting justly by having him incarcerated? Could it be that the king incarcerated him for a new debt, and not for the cancelled debt? While the old debt of millions truly was cancelled, perhaps that freely received grace placed the servant under a new law, the law of grace. He was to forgive others as he had been forgiven. And if he violated this law, he would be under a burden equal to (or greater!) than that which was cancelled by the king.
Just a thought, that's all. But this view helps me embrace Augustine's sermon, to see that the "price" of my "freely" received salvation is a giving up of myself. The price here, the price of compliance with this new law of grace, is complete self-sacrifice (which is not to say that God's grace is not sufficient to make up for my deficiencies in conforming to this new law). As my father-in-law always says, "What a deal."
Monday, October 22, 2007
A tradition of disbelief in baptismal regeneration kept my wife and me from looking too far into the conservative branches of Anglicanism many years ago, before I could ever entertain Roman Catholic claims.
The Reformed view teaches that baptism is a type of entrance rite into the Visible Church, and that it is a real means of some grace, but that it does not effect a forgiveness of original sin nor guarantee membership in the church invisible on the part of the infant. Therefore, if a child dies before the age of determination (of faith), their state of salvation is known only to God in his divine and sovereign decree of election. Here, for me, is the rub. At the loss of a child in utero, I was starkly faced with this idea that the salvation or damnation of a child of the kingdom was a horrifying mystery, seemingly random to my pathetic perceptions.
No one in our church or family would tell us that the eternal disposition of our stillborn son was completely indeterminable by man. Stranger still, they would not have been willing to tell us that this child, had he died shortly after baptism, was any more assured of salvation than by his death in the womb. Double election/predestination does not work that way. To posit otherwise is to effectively embrace Baptismal Regeneration (or some effective baptismal regeneration by parental desire, in the case of our stillbirth).
Friday, October 19, 2007
"But to portray Roe as the statesmanlike "settlement" of a divisive issue, a jurisprudential Peace of Westphalia that is worth preserving, is nothing less than Orwellian. (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992))"
For these and other brilliant and inflammatory comments by Justice Antonin G. Scalia about the Supreme Court's foisting inividuals' abortion "rights" against the states, see his dissent at the bottom of the page here.
Here are some more for good measure: (this one said mockingly paraphrasing the plurality's prevailing opinon) "We are offended by these marchers who descend upon us, every year on the anniversary of Roe, to protest our saying that the Constitution requires what our society has never thought the Constitution requires. These people who refuse to be "tested by following" [our decision] must be taught a lesson. We have no Cossacks, but at least we can stubbornly refuse to abandon an erroneous opinion that we might otherwise change - to show how little they intimidate us."
Observe here that the High Court does indeed take note of the annual March For Life, held on January 22nd!
Lastly, "The people know that their value judgments are quite as good as those taught in any law school - maybe better." True, that. The only view I've been able to discern as being taught in law school is that relativity is virtuous, and absolutes are inherently evil.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
"...the plurality ignores the kind of society in which our Constitution exists. We are not an assimilative, homogeneous society, but a facilitative, pluralistic one, in which we must be willing to abide someone else's unfamiliar or even repellent practice because the same tolerant impulse protects our own idiosyncrasies..."
This case is set up in my Constitutional Law class in the sequence of discussions over contraceptive rights, abortion rights, marriage rights (for prisoners, the indigent, etc.), and homosexual sodomy rights. Brennan's angst that his judgment of another's lifestyle is indistinguishable from another's judgment of his is patent. In all these cases, the unspoken rule seems to be this: if no one individual is fit (i.e., has moral authority) to pass judgment over another, a "liberty" is granted. This, I believe, is the direction we have been in, and will continue to be in until the end.
Can anyone think of an example where a democratic populous has enjoyed an individual "liberty" and then forsaken it for the good of the whole? Certainly slave owners had the individual "liberty" to possess other human beings as chattel, but that was a loggerhead conflict set in motion from before our nationhood, ultimately resolved only after the spilling of tremendous blood (and not by the democratic process). It is hard for me to imagine that this populous, now that it has enjoyed easy divorce for so long, could willingly revert to the more disciplined and principled approach of days gone by. Likewise, it is hard to imagine a wholesale sacrifice (i.e., giving up) of the personal "liberty" enjoyed in getting to abort an unwanted fetus-child (though I can imagine a scenario where certain artificial limitations are put in place to quell a guilty conscience, as was done by the Partial-Birth Abortion Act).
We hunger to do as we please, and to have our actions legitimized by the populous.
Same with denominationalism. Once a group of like-minded Christians decide they are going to enjoy a liberty of conscience over a particular matter, why would they sacrifice this individual liberty to the will of the whole? It is hard for me to imagine the PCA, for example, deciding that, since strict Sabbath observance is the plain meaning of our confession, and since Sabbatarianism has a fine pedigree within the Reformed faith, the exception granted to elders on this teaching should be withdrawn. This will not happen. Likewise, denominations that have embraced the ordination of women as normative will not revoke that hard-fought personal "liberty".
It is this singular direction in which liberty marches that has caused so much schism within Protestantism. One cannot reign in democratic liberty, so one's only option is to start a new democracy. Liberty, individual liberty, is like an inflating balloon with a one-way valve. It will never give it's air back to the democratic collective, and it will eventually burst.
Monday, October 15, 2007
By reducing the meaning of "potentiality" to my absurd statement, I find a deep and shameful flaw in the Roe opinion. The judges know they are not the appropriate body to make the value judgment of when life begins (Justice Blackmun said as much), so they had to discuss a fetus as mere potential. "Potentiality" is implausibly open-ended and implicitly its own value judgment.
Sadly, I think the profundity of my point was lost in the humor. The professor's own point, that there is a "potentiality of life" when a man masturbates, was also lost on a classroom of apparently bright people enamored with a court claiming to be able to distinguish life from not-yet-life in spite of the particular democratic wills of particular democratic states.
I get the palpable sense from my professor and generally pro-choice classmates that Roe, as legal reasoning, is categorically disliked. At best, the advocates of abortion rights seem as fond of Roe as perhaps an average peaceable Iraqi is of a U.S. soldier patrolling his neighborhood these days -- they don't like the form of the protector, but they wouldn't give up the protection. The pro-choice affinity for Roe as law reminds me of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: "You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall... I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way..." 'Never mind that the court is making an impermissible moral judgment contrary to the popular will of the people. We need to ensure unwanted children do not enter into this world.'
I am coming to believe that I have been wrong to place my hope in the very institution that gave us abortion rights to protect unborn children. The cartoon above is obtuse. Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 sustained and reinforced Roe in 1992 on these lines: O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Stevens and Blackmun joining or concurring, and Rehnquist, White, Scalia, and Thomas dissenting. While Alito's vote will most likely be the opposite of O'Connor's, Ginsburg's appointment to replace White has been perhaps the most significant seat shift on this issue since 1973. Without Justice Kennedy experiencing a change of heart, today's Casey decision would still be 5-4 at best. As long as our elected officials only stop sitting on their hands for the length of time necessary to point their shameful fingers at the Supreme Court, we are culpable as a society for failing to protect the most innocent of victims with our laws.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Here's some food for thought on the NIV translation of a confusing verse (and here the NIV seems in common with most other modern translations) (and -duh- all emphasis mine):
Jonah 3:10: "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil [rah] ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction [rah] he had threatened. (NIV)"
And in the RSV: "When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it." The KJV is identical in relevant parts.
My thoughts are simple and predictable.
1) I am puzzled beyond words at this notion that God would repent of an evil that He had intended to perform. Now, this doesn't concern me, as I take "evil" here to mean something like calamity, injury, misery or distress (all part of Strong's definition). What's puzzling is that God repented of an act He had willed to perform. What of God's being without passions and "immutable" (WCOF, Ch. 2, I)? Of course, if we white-wash God's intentions down to a mere threatening, we have cured any conflict between Scripture and a certain confessional tradition.
2) What gives an editorial board or "translation" committee the power or authority to decide that the same word should be translated two different ways in the same verse? This, as a license, makes me tremendously uncomfortable, especially under the rubric of an all-sufficient and entirely perspicuous view of Bible. Let evil be evil, and let God repent away, if that is what the Spirit-breathed words tell us.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
"One scene depicts a doctor sifting through a surgical tray after performing a late-term abortion, where the grisly residue of an arm, a foot and part of a face can be clearly made out."
A New York Times review goes further about this scene, "The doctor then holds up the severed fetal head. One eerily bulging eye looks as if it's staring into the camera and somehow at us."
I don't want to see this film. I'd rather watch actual video of violent rape or drug-related murder (which is not to say that I'd watch those things either, but to say that I would be even more deeply scarred seeing video of fetal abortions).
Nor can I imagine that many advocates of a woman's right to choose to terminate her fetus's life want to see this either. Why face the music? After all, I don't know a single person of the pro-choice persuasion who thinks abortions are good things; rather, the consensus seems to be that abortions are the better of two unpleasant choices.
So my prediction is that this brave documentary filmmaker will have a small audience, and we will continue to rely on that audience to tell us what the film actually depicts.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Anyone preparing for OCS wants to know the secret of what to do to make it bearable. Success at OCS requires managing your anxiety and performing tangible acts in a timely fashion. I'll give my advice on preparation here:
1) Run. In reality, there is really very little you can do to prepare for waking up early, staying up late, getting screamed at by scary Marine Corps Drill Instructors, holding a glass of water straight in front of you for extended periods of time, etc. But one thing you can do, and that will pay huge dividends both in terms of tangible success and in terms of lowering your overall anxiety load: run a lot.
2) Don't worry. I know that this is impossible advice. But you will do your anxiety load a great disservice by worrying excessively before you start. While you will get yelled and forced to do push-ups, you will not get punched in the face, you will not get shot, and you will not be forced to quit. There is nothing to worry about other than the fact that you will be uncomfortable and made to do things contrary to your lazy will for a brief period of weeks. Get over it -- life is full of discomfort and doing things contrary to your will, so you might as well start now. And just imagine the bragging rights you'll have...
3) Run. Really, you need to get in running shape well before showing up. The bad runner carries several extra degrees of anxiety: a) he worries that his shins won't hold up and that he'll have to "roll" out of his class for medical reasons [putting him in limbo for up to months while he heals - a hellish state], b) he worries that he'll drop from every morning run, have to get in the van of humiliation, and get yelled at for being a bad runner, c) he worries that he will fail the weekly fitness tests which are required to continue on to the next week of the program with his class, and d) he worries that his poor running skills will oterwise call unwanted attention to himself.
4) Don't do anything stupid. People really don't fail out of OCS under normal circumstances. Despite what you might hear about scary statistics (like, that only about 50% of my class graduated on time), people on whom the Navy has spent the money to accede will get a commission. If you fail two tests, you just roll back a week and take it again. If you can't pass your runs, you just roll back until you're in shape. But what will get you sent home without the right to wear a gold bar on your collar is to do something stupid. What is stupid? Lying to a drill instructor about whether or not you purchased sodas from a vending machine (thou shalt not lie to thy D.I.). Getting a DUI near the end of your training (thou shalt not drink and drive, even where thou art a stellar candidate).
5) Run. Really, do get in running shape. It was the best thing I did, and something I was thankful for every single day there. Don't worry so much about being awesome at lifting weights or even being an incredible swimmer (though you do need to be able to do the crawl with your face in the water, but that's about it). Just run. If you can run five times a week with at least one 5-6 mile run in there (and none less than 2 miles), you will be fine. This is more important than being fast, because it will mean your legs are strong enough to avoid injury when they push you to go fast. One important rule of thumb that runner's use: DO NOT increase your running distance by more than 10% per week. This will allow you to avoid injury while you train. Have discipline!
I went through Pensacola a number of years ago, but from what the new junior officers tell me, it hasn't changed much since that time. Let me know if you have any questions about OCS.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
I should set the table by noting how the PCA's Confession treats the taking of vows. Chapter XXII of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCOF) states that oaths and vows are a swearing to solemnly call God to witness an assertion "to witness what he asserts, or promises, and to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he swears." Oaths are to be taken, it later says, in the plain and literal sense of the words.
In his article, Taylor says, "One of the major reasons for the formation of the PCA was to revert to a democratic Presbyterianism [from what is now the PCUSA]."
I admit that this has nothing to do with the Fifth Vow, the subject of this post. But I wanted to include this assertion that the PCA is democratic (as in, follows the will of the people). I've had people in PCA churches bitterly object to my making this assertion.
Taylor continues, "In recent court cases involving employment law, the PCA successfully argued that as a non-hierarchal denomination, local church pastors and local church staff members are not employees of a Presbytery or the General Assembly."
This gets closer to a point I'll get to -- for now, note that the particular 'church' at which I make vows is not, strictly speaking, the same being (i.e., entity) as the PCA.
"The PCA argued that the relationship of a PCA minister to a Presbytery is analogous to that of a lawyer with a bar association. The bar association examines the lawyer regarding expertise and character, but a law firm, not the bar, is the attorney’s employer."
Even further. The particular church at which I make vows is my representative (to follow the language of this analogy). I have no direct relationship to the PCA denomination, but only indirectly benefit from the order and structure it provides to my particular church.
"When a person joins a congregation he voluntarily takes a vow to submit himself to the government and discipline of the church (BCO 57-5.5)." And, "When members, ruling elders, deacons and ministers take such vows they voluntarily place themselves under the spiritual authority of the Church."
Now we're here: I voluntarily submitted myself to the government and discipline of the "church", that is, under the spiritual authority (there can be no higher kind of authority, by the way) of the "Church." My question is this: was this submission to the particular church, to the Presbyterian Church in America, or to Christ's Church with an unapologetic capital "C"? If Taylor's bar association analogy bears any weight, the middle option seems to be easily ruled out. But then, I am under the same authority as ministers (commonly called teaching elders in the PCA), and ministers are not members of particular churches, but of the Presbytery itself. So that seems to eliminate the particular church as the intended meaning of the vow. Finally, it doesn't seem that the vow can refer to the Capital "C" church, because we would disregard expressions of discipline from other sectors of Christianity out of hand (indeed, I think I know of one or more anathemas directed our way). I'm confused, but Taylor is good enough to flesh the meaning of the BCO's vows a little further.
"By taking the vows of membership or ordination one agrees to abide by the authority of the court of original jurisdiction and higher courts as well because of the spiritual connectionalism of the Church (BCO 11-3, 11-4). Once the higher court has handled the matter finally, there is, because of the vows they have taken and theological beliefs they have espoused, a moral responsibility (though not a legal obligation) to abide by the final disposition of the matter as long as they are members of the PCA. A person may think that he cannot in good conscience accept the final disposition of the matter after the complaint or appellate process is complete, in which case he may leave the PCA without coercion."
So it was the PCA to which I submitted? The client is bound by the dealings of the of bar association (to use his analogy) after all. Or is he bound at all? Taylor allows for (and his strikes me as a common view) departure from the denomination when the jurisdiction of the court, to which he vowed submission before God, renders a decision that conflicts with his own good conscience.
Perhaps we'd be better off to not vow at all than to scorn the submission we pledged when we believe a court acted out of line with Scripture?