Just watch.

6 07 2009

I just needed to share this. This is perhaps the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.





Guns and Jesus Christ

6 07 2009

gun

I’ve been involved in quite a few discussions lately about this recent hot topic. Some of that discussion has, indeed been over the conflation of the Church and the [American] State. That’s not what I want to focus on here though, a lot could be said on that, but perhaps another time.

Most recently, as part of one of those discussions on Beliefnet, someone spoke of the need of churches to protect themselves, either of parishoners packing their own protection or having security detail to protect the congregants and minister(s). No doubt, part of this idea may be influenced by another recent major happening.

As a people, we Christians are invited into a dangerous, vulnerable life of living beyond ourselves for the sake of others. That isn’t hubris for the sake of sounding pious. That’s actually what we’re supposed to do. We’re actually supposed to surrender ourselves for the sake of the other, give up our rights to life, and feed, clothe and love our neighbor. Sure, that neighbor might be a gun-wielding psychopath, but that changes nothing. When Jesus gave the parable of the good Samaritan, it was in response to a man who asked, “but Lord, who is my neighbor?”. Our neighbor is not only the one like us, or with whom we happen to get along. Our neighbor is everyone and anyone. The man asked this in response to when Jesus spoke the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God…love your neighbor as yourself.” Who are we to love? Everyone. And if for a moment we try and tiptoe around this, thinking that those who wish or cause us harm are outside of the boundaries of our love, Jesus said quite flatly, “You’ve heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you, love your enemies.” Indeed, it’s the love of our enemy that Jesus says is the witness that we are children of “[our] heavenly Father” who causes it to rain on both “the just and the injust”. In Luke’s version of the Sermon, Jesus says, “…who is merciful to all, even the wicked and the thankless”.

Dangerous love, that’s what we’re supposed to have. Love so dangerous that it could even get us killed.

What is a church if we’re starting to talk about using armed force to “protect” it? How can the Church be the Church in such a situation? Have we, here in the West (and particularly in America) become so complacent, so comfortable, so easy-going that the idea that we might actually have to spill our own blood to live out the commandments of Jesus makes us shrivel up in fear? That is nothing but a parody of discipleship. And I’ll admit that I’m fully saturated in guilt in this respect, I’m no less complacent and no less comfortable than the next–God have mercy on me–but, how can this be?

Is this what our religion has been reduced to here? To nothing more than a parody of faith?





The Theological Declaration of Barmen 1934

5 07 2009

I. An Appeal to the Evangelical Congregations and Christians in Germany

8.01 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church met in Barmen, May 29-31, 1934. Here representatives from all the German Confessional Churches met with one accord in a confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, apostolic Church. In fidelity to their Confession of Faith, members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches sought a common message for the need and temptation of the Church in our day. With gratitude to God they are convinced that they have been given a common word to utter. It was not their intention to found a new Church or to form a union. For nothing was farther from their minds than the abolition of the confessional status of our Churches. Their intention was, rather, to withstand in faith and unanimity the destruction of the Confession of Faith, and thus of the Evangelical Church in Germany. In opposition to attempts to establish the unity of the German Evangelical Church by means of false doctrine, by the use of force and insincere practices, the Confessional Synod insists that the unity of the Evangelical Churches in Germany can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit. Thus alone is the Church renewed.
8.02 Therefore the Confessional Synod calls upon the congregations to range themselves behind it in prayer, and steadfastly to gather around those pastors and teachers who are loyal to the Confessions.
8.03 Be not deceived by loose talk, as if we meant to oppose the unity of the German nation! Do not listen to the seducers who pervert our intentions, as if we wanted to break up the unity of the German Evangelical Church or to forsake the Confessions of the Fathers!
8.04 Try the spirits whether they are of God! Prove also the words of the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church to see whether they agree with Holy Scripture and with the Confessions of the Fathers. If you find that we are speaking contrary to Scripture, then do not listen to us! But if you find that we are taking our stand upon Scripture, then let no fear or temptation keep you from treading with us the path of faith and obedience to the Word of God, in order that God’s people be of one mind upon earth and that we in faith experience what he himself has said: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Therefore, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

II. Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation of the German Evangelical Church

8.05 According to the opening words of its constitution of July 11, 1933, the German Evangelical Church is a federation of Confessional Churches that grew our of the Reformation and that enjoy equal rights. The theological basis for the unification of these Churches is laid down in Article 1 and Article 2(1) of the constitution of the German Evangelical Church that was recognized by the Reich Government on July 14, 1933:

* Article 1. The inviolable foundation of the German Evangelical Church is the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is attested for us in Holy Scripture and brought to light again in the Confessions of the Reformation. The full powers that the Church needs for its mission are hereby determined and limited.
* Article 2 (1). The German Evangelical Church is divided into member Churches Landeskirchen).

8.06 We, the representatives of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches, of free synods, Church assemblies, and parish organizations united in the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church, declare that we stand together on the ground of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of German Confessional Churches. We are bound together by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
8.07 We publicly declare before all evangelical Churches in Germany that what they hold in common in this Confession is grievously imperiled, and with it the unity of the German Evangelical Church. It is threatened by the teaching methods and actions of the ruling Church party of the “German Christians” and of the Church administration carried on by them. These have become more and more apparent during the first year of the existence of the German Evangelical Church. This threat consists in the fact that the theological basis, in which the German Evangelical Church is united, has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of the “German Christians” as well as on the part of the Church administration. When these principles are held to be valid, then, according to all the Confessions in force among us, the Church ceases to be the Church and th German Evangelical Church, as a federation of Confessional Churches, becomes intrinsically impossible.
8.08 As members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. Precisely because we want to be and to remain faithful to our various Confessions, we may not keep silent, since we believe that we have been given a common message to utter in a time of common need and temptation. We commend to God what this may mean for the intrrelations of the Confessional Churches.
8.09 In view of the errors of the “German Christians” of the present Reich Church government which are devastating the Church and also therefore breaking up the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths:

8.10 – 1. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)
8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
8.12 We reiect the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.

8.13 – 2. “Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.)
8.14 As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
8.15 We reiect the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

8.16 – 3. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15,16.)
8.17 The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
8.18 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

8.19 – 4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men excercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your srvant.” (Matt. 20:25,26.)
8.20 The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the excercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.
8.21 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.

8.22 – 5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17.)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
8.23 We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commision, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.
8.24 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.

8.25 – 6. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Tim. 2:9.)
8.26 The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of th free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.
8.27 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.
8.28 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of Confessional Churches. It invites all who are able to accept its declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in Church politics. It entreats all whom it concerns to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope.





Obama is President. Jesus Christ is Lord.

5 11 2008

Like many of you who may end up reading this, I’m glad that Barak Obama won this election. I didn’t vote, I chose not to vote, I voted to not vote; nonetheless I liked Obama more than McCain.

With that said, we need to be very careful to remember that the Christian call to radical discipleship and to be members of Christ’s own body puts us into that place where we choose Christ over Caesar. Always. Jesus is always Lord, always King of the Kingdom. We need to remember that America is still America, America is still a State–that temporal entity of imperial power. The Church must always remain not only non-partisan, but trans-national. We cannot recognize the validity of the stately powers, to do so is not only to divide the Body of Christ along international borders, but to cut ourselves off from our neighbors.

We cannot, we must not, we must forbid ourselves the temptation to pledge allegiance to America’s flag–or any flag.

Yahweh Nissi, the Lord is our banner. Christos Kurios, Christ is Lord.

We are but poor beggars. We are only pilgrims. Amen.





Elephant and Ass: A Rant

21 07 2008

Seems to me the more I hear terms like “Conservative Christians” and “Liberal Christians” the more worthless the terms “liberal” and “conservative” come to be in describing what kind of Christian a Christian is. What exactly makes someone liberal or conservative as a Christian?

I understand the use of these terms in political dialogue, but have a harder time understanding them in inter-Christian dialogue.

Is John Spong a liberal Christian because he is both politically and theologically “liberal”? Because he rejects traditional Christian ideas, I think, doesn’t make him liberal, it makes him heterodox.

One reason I’ve found these terms to be essentially useless is that in my own experience, some of the most theologically articulate, devout and firmly orthodox Christians I’ve had the pleasure of knowing have been called “liberal”; whereas I’ve met plenty of so-called “conservative” Christians who wouldn’t know traditional Christian faith if it fell on their head like a ton of bricks.

I’ve met plenty of “conservative” Evangelicals who certainly fit the mold of stereotypical American Evangelicalism who, in my discussions with them over theology, come across as holding to fairly heterodox positions. A classic case-in-point are “conservative” Evangelicals who are either completely ignorant of, or sometimes even actively hostile to the orthodox, traditional Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead.

In recent years I’ve increasingly been told that I’m among these “liberal” Christians, though I’m not sure how. My faith has always–and no doubt will continue to be–a work in progress. My aim, however continues to be consistent, to follow Christ, to challenge my preconceived ideas, and be willing to study, read, pray and seek the guiding of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of the Christian Church. I’m not content assuming I have everything figured out, but I am ardent about seeking to be faithful.

I don’t consider myself “liberal”, but I have over the years lost interest in identifying myself as “conservative”. Any allegiance I once had to the Theo-Political machine of the American Religious Right has thoroughly vanished, though I hold no ill will toward those who are part of this organism, I do see the ideology and policies of the Religious Right as viral and infectious, and not to mention fatal to the spiritual health of the Christian Church in America.

So exactly what function or purpose do terms like “liberal” or “conservative” have in inter-Christian discussion? What does it even matter? Is faithfulness to Christ circumscribed by fidelity to conservative American politics? When so much about conservative American politics seems to be deeply antagonistic against the ethos and ministry of Jesus, how can this be so? This is not to say that liberal American politics are any better, seems like both sides of the political divide are pretty problematic insofar as what Jesus has to say. Wouldn’t a better, and far more Christian, politic be to take what Jesus has to say, even if Jesus forces us to repent of our most strongly cherished ideas, and work from there?

I’m not advocating Christian politics in the typical sense, but rather a Christian alternative to American politics that is still quite political. Christianity is political. Not because it’s liberal or conservative, but because it’s Christian. Shouldn’t a Christian response to those things happening in our culture be, in fact, Christian? Neither conservative nor liberal, but Christian. Following the Way of Christ, even if that means forsaking the idols of Elephant and Ass.





Am I a Rebel?

15 11 2007

This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve talked on this subject, or something similar to it. Yet, here I go again.

In some ways I sometimes wonder if I’m a bit of a religious rebel, and yet rather than eschewing tradition, orthodoxy, I always seem to be drawn ever closer to them. Though I never seem to be so ambitious as to simply say, “I am this thing, and I’ll play by all the rules.” On the contrary, I always seem to be in some odd place, existing in the wilderness between urban sprawls.

When someone discovers I’m a Christian one of the first things they usually ask (if they as me anything at all pertaining to it), is what kind of a Christian I am. It’s an honest enough question, one I’ve asked others myself. Presumably the question is asking what sort of church I go to, in which denomination do I kick off my shoes and hang my hat. It’s a fair question, but it’s one I’ve been unable to answer for nearly seven years.

Depending on whether I think a simple response or an accurate (though more complex) response is required, I’ll give some short-hand answer such as “Well, I’m kind of like a Lutheran, only I’m not, nor ever been a Lutheran.” or I’ll offer this response, “I’m a Christian with one foot in the broad Evangelical tradition and the other foot in the broad Catholic tradition.” In either case I’m sure you can tell that both responses may leave a person befuddled.

I’ll use plenty of descriptor-terms to describe what species of Christianus I approximate: Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran-esque, Reformational, Traditional, Creedal, Sacramental, to name a few.

To the casual observer this list may seem fairly odd. But I assure you that I take each with the utmost meaning in my self-designation.

I remember I once had a person tell me something like, “You can’t be both Protestant and Catholic, it doesn’t work that way?” Well certainly you can! Lutherans, Anglicans and other “High-Church” Protestants have been doing it for nearly five hundred years.

I think the problem comes in when you begin to take these terms and make them titles of particular church clubs, you have “The Protestants” over here and “The Catholics” over there, which is certainly true in most senses. I’m just not sure those are the only senses by which we have to use them.

I’m most certainly Protestant in that sense, I’m neither Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and last I checked I was never a member of a Coptic or Ethiopian church. My theological persuasion is still pretty Protestant, but enter my rebellious side. Unable to simply sit comfy I put on my leather jacket and kick start my Harley and I’m off on some journey on the highway.

But where am I going? That’s an excellent question.

I’ve long been what I consider “ecumenical”, meaning that in some way I believe that Christians should spend more time talking to one another instead of anathemizing one another. What I mean by that term has evolved over the years.

The lines which divide various Christian “bodies” have become fairly fuzzier over the years, so much so that I’ve begun to question the very idea of having some “denominational title”, I know of other Christians who out of their own dislike for denominational disputes and titles have joined the “non-denominational” bandwagon. But, really, for all the talk of “non-denominational” these come across as virtually carbon copies of one another. I have no interest in the “non-denominational” movement because it seems like a bad alternative to the “denominational” system. It’s not really non-denominational, it’s simply quasi-denominational.

So that’s not the route I want to take, that much I know for certain. And yet, as said, all these boundaries seem to be a bit blurry.

The more I’m on “the road” so to speak, the more I kind of just think I want to be part of it all. Now certainly I’m more comfortable in the Lutheran theological arena than the Baptist one, but I don’t really want to say “I’m Lutheran, not Baptist.” Not because it’s approximating a semblence of truth, but because somewhere deep inside me I honestly believe in an idea. I certainly believe that there are Christians whose theology is closer in approximity to mainstream Christian orthodoxy than others, and often in different ways. I think the Lutheran conviction about the Gospel is more faithful than the Catholic one; I think the way Catholics “do” church is more faithful than the way Baptists do it; yet in all three cases we are still talking about Christians. I am theirs and they are mine. This is that idea I was getting at. That while our mileage may vary, all of us Christians are still Christian, and thus we are all part of the same fundamental thing.

I sometimes honestly do feel that there are Christains out there who are practicing a completely different religion than the one I am. These off-beat folk who go around pounding Bibles over everyone else’s head certainly seems absurdly foreign to me; but this is the exception rather than the rule.

So what am I? I have no idea, I just know I’m a Christian. I guess I’m just slowly learning what that means exactly. So maybe I am a rebel, then again maybe I’m just a pilgrim.

Where am I headed? I’m not entirely sure, though I pray to keep my eyes on the Son just over the horizon. I’ll just continue to enjoy the ride.

-Jon





What is the Via Crucis?

17 07 2007

Centuries ago Christians made pilgrimages to the Holy Land, to visit the sacred sites. Inevitably every pilgrim would trace the final steps of Jesus life, leading up to the crucifixion, by walking a traditional road–the one believed to have been used by Jesus–from Pilate’s courtyard to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, where the condemned were crucified.

In Latin this road became known as the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering; and alternatively known as the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross. Over time a tradition developed, where regular spots, or stations, came to exist, where pilgrims would stop, recite prayers and meditate upon each moment of Christ’s Passion.

Walking the Via Crucis became a part of Christian spirituality, a way of enjoining oneself to the sufferings of Christ, a way to abide by the call of Christ,

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” – Mark 8:34

The Crusades and following wars began to separate Western Christians from visiting the holy sites, and a system of walking the Via Crucis without physically being in Jerusalem developed during the Middle Ages. The spiritual discipline of the Stations of the Cross were developed to this end.

The Via Crucis, however, is not merely some medieval tradition, but a more deeply rooted spirituality. It springs from a fervent desire to, as the Apostle Paul writes,

To know Him and the power of His resurrection, participating in His sufferings by being conformed to His death,” – Philippians 3:10

The Way of the Cross is not simply a spiritual exercise, but, in my estimation, the chief form of life in the here and now.

The Way of the Cross is the most resonantly human form of being. Suffering echoes through our humanity, as we sojourn through life, seeing life come and go before our eyes. The majority of the world’s citizens do not live in luxury, but in utter poverty–our American condition is the abnormality of the broader human condition. Where children starve, and mothers see their children collapse in death, where wars tear apart families, where disease infests entire nations.

The Way of Suffering is normative to human life.

God, in condescending down into that human experience, in the Person of Jesus, comes into the full depth of penultimate human existence. By bearing the Cross, he bears the fullness of human wretchedness, and the call of Jesus to, “pick up your cross” is no trifle. Rather it is His demand, that if anyone would seek to follow Him, they must do as He does, and bear cross and suffering, and enjoin upon themselves the suffering of humanity.

While Christ alone overcomes death, He calls all to enter into His death–for His death is the ultimate death, the death of Death. Coming to participate in His death is both the annihilation of our former life, and the beginning of the new.

Since in Christ we are a “new creation” (writes Paul), it can only come in being ripped away from what we once were, and being born anew into something totally other.

And in the midst of all that, is the Cross.

The Way of the Cross is the path we must all walk if we truly seek a genuine death, a death that ends all death–the death of Death itself. The scandalous mystery of the Cross, however, is that when death is, itself, crucified, all that is left is life.

The Way of the Cross, is the path toward life.

But Eternal Life is found in the Way of Suffering, Christ Himself the One True Victim, who joins Himself to all the victims of suffering, calling them into a community of resurrection and transfiguration. A Community of Grace.

So we hope for the resurrection from the dead, and life in the World to Come. And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, the old has passed, behold, He makes all things new.

-Jon