My friends had all left for assignments in the United States or gotten out as well. As I found myself once more a civilian and back in the United States, I wrestled with what to do. Based off my own inclinations as well some gentle pushing from others I decided to attend seminary.
29 February 2012
But here in America the lessons are not learned. The man on the bench still thinks Islamic Terrorism is the primary threat. He doesn't understand that his actions and those of his son are only making it worse.
Fear and social polarization have entered and overtaken the acculturated American Church. The Church now seems to function as a socio-political force rather than a manifestation of God's Kingdom. It's all jumbled and confused. As I'm often saying, watch the pronoun usage as you talk to people. The use of 'us' and 'we' is rather telling. One moment they're talking about America, the next moment the Church and no distinction is made...it all runs together. For Christo-Americans they represent the 'real' and 'true' America. Everyone else is an imposter or traitor.
28 February 2012
The 'pastor' who is really a 'licentiate' is to be ordained shortly. They made it clear the 'service' is under the auspices of the 'presbytery'....viz., the regional body (of ordained men) is coming in to conduct the worship service. Consequently there will be people from the entire regional presbytery present, Teaching and Ruling elders as well as many regular folks from the other regional congregations. But in this case it's not the local congregation's service...it's the presbytery.
The climax will be at the end of the meeting when the newly ordained 'Teaching Elder' will raise his hands and give the benediction. And of course at this point he will cease to be a member of the mother-congregation and instead will be joined to the regional body. Just like that he will be elevated not just to an office, but to the upper tier in the hierarchy.
27 February 2012
So as I'm learning history and theology I'm also a member of the US military. I'm reading my Bible, I'm learning history, I'm assimilating and developing theology...and I'm increasingly troubled. The America I grew up with...the greatest nation in the history of the world, the greatest force for freedom and goodness...didn't exist anymore, at least for me. It was tumultuous and disturbing as I started down that road.
We're going to have problems. Right now this is just a church plant. They haven't granted it 'formal' congregational status. The leader is a 'licentiate'...another office they've created out of thin air. Since he's not ordained there's no Lord's Supper as of yet.
I have no problem with ordination. Timothy had the hands of the Presbytery (local not regional) laid on him. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 outline the office of Bishop. They have the authority to teach and the people are to submit to him, but Presbyterianism doing something more with this and the whole membership system.
26 February 2012
Ecclesia Part 3: The Need For Church, and my personal frustrations with the state of the Church and Presbyterians in particular
What is a Church?
We're surrounded by buildings with steeples that claim to be Churches or to house them. It always astonishes me how the possession of a building with a sign out front grants legitimacy to a Church. For many this is the mark of the Church. For many the building is the Church.
The question must be wrestled with...what is a Church? Just because a bunch of people get together and call themselves a Church does not make it so. I've talked about this before and will do so again. But for now, I'll simply say a group that does not faithfully preach and adhere to the Bible with some understanding of what the Bible is cannot be called a Church.
The Membership Debacle
Many Churches practice 'membership' wherein they wish for local congregants to bind themselves to the congregation and agree to adhere to certain doctrinal statements and to be under the authority of the leadership. In many Churches a little ceremony or ritual has also been created to go along with this process.
Whether it is admitted or not, everyone and every congregation adheres to some sort of creed. We all believe something and even in loosely affiliated groups there are boundaries. In creedless bodies, the problem is, the boundaries are often not well thought out, and many individuals have given little thought to what they believe.
A quick summary of the Presbyterian landscape
For those unfamiliar with American Presbyterianism, the Presbyterian Church split as most bodies did during the Civil War (1861-65) and even after Appomattox, the bodies remained divided.
These Churches both operated under the revised Westminster Confession (1646) which had been modified after the American Revolution to remove the notion of an Established Church and a magistrate that could call for Church councils to meet. This was incompatible with the American Experiment, and consequently they changed the Confession to reflect not only the new reality but a sentiment many shared. Some Presbyterians continue to reject this modification and want an official established Church.
24 February 2012
From the standpoint of other people across the world, the American Empire has three main arms. It has a military arm (symbolized by the Pentagon), a political arm (symbolized by the Capitol Mall), and an economic and cultural center (symbolized by the Manhattan).
The people that would fight the Empire are like fleas fighting an elephant. The United States cannot be militarily attacked or invaded. Any convoy of ships or aircraft will be annihilated long before it arrives on our shores. The only way America can be attacked is through a crippling strike...like a clandestine nuclear submarine attack...or some kind of guerilla attack which serves as a symbol or contains some kind of propagandistic value. Only the Soviet Union had the capability for a nuclear attack by submarine. Everyone else has to look to some other kind of battle tactic. That means guerilla warfare which when brought to an Empire's domestic shore will be labeled as terrorism.
23 February 2012
I frequently receive emails asking for my credentials. I don't have any formal credentials to speak of. I'm literally a nobody. So what gives me the right or authority to discuss these issues? Why should anyone listen to what I'm saying about history, theology, current events and the rest?
I can't really give any good reasons. All I can do is attempt to explain my path. I've already talked quite a bit about how my ideas have been shaped and have shifted over time in the 'Why and How' series. So in this series I will try and focus a bit more on education and credentials and how I approach these issues.
Someone emailed me this link and asked for my response.
I responded with the following:
I responded with the following:
(this is an unedited email)
Interesting article. While I can agree with much he says, the approach he takes is a bit different. I’m afraid I didn’t agree at all with his Cain/Abel contrast in terms of the urban/rural comparison. I know of others who might make much of that argument, but usually Two Kingdom people are not into Christian Agrarianism. I realize that wasn’t his point, but his way of framing the issue reminded me of it! That’s usually found among Dominionist minded folks who have embraced a certain narrative with regard to Western Civilization and the root of its social decline.
He seems to hint at what I might call the Pilgrim Identity and ties that in with the ‘rural’ narrative. There may be something to that, but it also might be a case of hyper-typology.
22 February 2012
The Common Citizen An Agent of Empire
Today with technology and globalization the 'frontiers' are often on the other side of the world. It's not the gritty face to face type of confrontation the American pioneer faced when dealing with the indigenous Indians. Though today it looks different, the war for expansion and new conquests has not abated.
Today, it might be a broker hitting the 'enter' key that just caused a chain reaction leading to several families in Indonesia losing their jobs and homes. Two months later they're selling their kids, and a daughter is forced into prostitution in order to buy medicine and keep grandma alive.
Did the broker mean to do it? Hey, he's just trying to make some extra money to pay his $2500 house payment and save up for his 17 year old to go to college. And, he's still paying off the credit card balance on that holiday cruise he and his wife took last December. Is he wicked? Well, no...and yes.
16 February 2012
Iran is the hub of the Shiite world and represents the foundation, center, and caretaker role of Greater Persian culture. Shiite Palestinians, Lebanese and many Azeris look to Iran as a cultural and religious leader. On the eastern side, Hazara, Tajiks and to some extent the Ismaili community are also naturally inclined to Iran. The Iranians are very bitter that what should be their great regional role has been taken from them, or at the very least reduced by numerous powers throughout history and up to today. The French have at times shared a similar bitterness with regard to their role in Europe, a shadow of what it once was, and their former Empire.
13 February 2012
Innocent Motives and Unintended Consequences.
For the Church this tendency toward willful blindness in the name of Patriotism is most dangerous of all. While I argue it isn't good for the nation and its citizens, ultimately the nation doesn't matter much does it? They come and go. None are good, not really. And certainly none are Holy...things that are holy will survive the Eschaton because they belong to the Kingdom of God. There's no nation on earth that can make that claim.
I've written pretty extensively about the Babel Impulse and the danger of bringing the Church into the power game. Tying in theological concepts regarding the Kingdom with culture and power is an attempt to sanctify the Beast, to sanctify the tower of Babel.
12 February 2012
I don’t mean to dive into the whole Health Care debacle quite yet, but when I look at the political theatre taking place at the moment over the issue of contraception, I am struck by the fact that no one will entertain the solution.
We can talk about contraception and whether or not it should be used. We can talk about whether as Christians we should use it, and if we don’t, whether it matters that those outside the faith use it. We can talk about our posture on this issue as Exiles in Babylon. The Christian community has politicized this issue as they have with almost the whole of Christianity, so even discussing it grants political capital to the other side. Whatever the other side does must be opposed. It’s pretty pathetic and frankly it’s starting to make a significant contribution to the breaking of our society.
The 19th and 20th century proved pretty humiliating for much of the world. The West climbed to the top and has, up to now dominated the planet. The 20th century in particular has been a time of grief for the Islamic world. They have been brought low and are most humiliated by their own inter-cultural betrayals...nouveau oil elites selling out the Islamic world for Western treasure, and dictatorial leaders often acting as Western ‘strongmen’. Both camps due to Western acquiescence have capitulated to Israel's existence and even 'right' to exist. And the fact that these regimes terrorize their own people, engage in inter-Islamic war, and all the while using Western purchased armaments also adds insult to the injury.
11 February 2012
So is Iran the threat they're being made out to be? Does Ahmadinejad want to see a mushroom cloud over Tel-Aviv? Santorum would say absolutely, but most geo-political analysts would say it's quite unlikely.
09 February 2012
Contrary to Santorum Obama seems to subscribe to the idea that future American power in the Middle East needs to be soft power. Proxies, mercantilism and cultural influences will probably have more success than a military presence.
The United States isn't going to evacuate the region by any means. The military is switching to a policy based on stand-by troops, drones, and Special Forces. Obama wants to increase the American footprint in East Asia in terms of naval power and the Air Force. At this point South Korea and Japan are the only American satellites in the region. Australia has been salivating for some time wanting desperately to be a player, to become a more active and assertive member of the Anglo-American alliance.
08 February 2012
Americans view Iran as the aggressor but imagine if you will...China conquering Canada and Mexico and sailing warships along our coast, tailing our ships etc... and then in the Chinese media the United States is denounced as dangerous and an aggressor, a threat to China. Asserting the United States was in a position of aggression would of course be laughable, and the United States would be taking drastic action I assure you. The Iranians are in just such a situation.
In 2002 George Bush identified Iran as a member of the Axis of Evil...coined by an Evangelical speech writer of course. Iraq fell shortly thereafter; North Korea went nuclear and even though they've been far more aggressive toward South Korea than Iran has toward any other country....and guess what? They're left alone.
07 February 2012
I will not make the same mistake the mainstream media often does by calling Rick Santorum an Evangelical. He's a Roman Catholic, however Evangelical has doctrinally become an all but meaningless term, and the media is in part correct in basically viewing it as a socio-political movement. In that sense, it is appropriate to speak of someone like Santorum when talking about American Evangelicalism, even if he cannot actually be placed under that label. His recent endorsement by famed Evangelical leader James Dobson only validates this framework.
For most Americans the present situation with Iran dates to the Carter administration, the fall of the Shah, the arrival of Khomeini, and the Hostage Crisis. Some Americans will remember the glamorous Shah and his queen visiting the United States during every administration going back to Truman, but the real focus today in the American mind is 1979.
06 February 2012
Lutherans by and large have always retained this heavy focus on Justification by Grace Alone…the key word being Sola or Alone. Luther even added the word to the Romans 3 text, arguing the Greek implies it. This came to dominate much of Lutheran theology. Lutheranism became associated with what we call the Law-Gospel hermeneutic, categorizing Scripture into imperatives (law) vs. Gospel (grace).
This focus led Luther to struggle with the book of James, calling it an ‘epistle of straw’ and questioning its canonicity. The Reformed wing has certainly not gone to this extent, but some have revived the Lutheran Law-Gospel hermeneutic in an effort to explain the many (and what must be troubling) warnings and commands found in Scripture. Repeatedly the New Testament exhorts Christians to ‘do’, to change, to transform, to work out, to make, to put to death and so forth.
A few thoughts…
Years ago before I was married I lived for a brief time in the American South. In 1998, I shared an apartment with a roommate who was a Theonomist, and needless to say we didn’t always see eye to eye.
I was sitting at the kitchen table with another friend and we had been working on issues related to Justification for quite some time. If I recall we spent a good number of hours in coffee shops and pulling late nights talking about it. My roommate was in awe that we could spend so much time on a topic which to him apparently was pretty simple. He never said the words, but it was almost like he was saying… “Justification? You haven’t got that figured out yet? Hey, it’s by faith.”
I remember us being amused with his frustration that we could so endlessly pursue such a blatant and simple topic. Obviously he hadn’t really spent any time looking into the issue.
05 February 2012
The Price of Syncretism...Patriotic Blood Idols and Molech Worship
In the past, pagans have sacrificed for different reasons. Sometimes to merely pacify the wrath and anger of a deity and sometimes to atone for sin...which obviously is a concept we can resonate with. Whatever the theological particulars it was understood that the sacrificial victim whether man or beast was giving up life so that the collective group might be permitted to continue on.
This became particularly horrifying when pagans sacrificed their own children to Molech, Chemosh, Melqart, and other false gods. And as grieved as those parents would have been, to them it was an act of piety, a sad but necessary sacrifice for the continuation of Edom, Moab, or Carthage.
04 February 2012
I came across this post the other day and I felt it provided a good opportunity for some interaction. The author means well, I don’t think that can be disputed. His guiding principles on the surface seem sound and to his mind quite obvious.
However, the author holds certain theological assumptions which drive his whole understanding of not only how to look at these issues, but what questions to ask.Consequently, we end up with some serious problems in how these issues are approached, the dilemmas created and the solutions suggested or provided. I talk about this quite often and this article provides yet another good demonstration of what this looks like.
For longtime readers this will be nothing new, but as there’s a constant stream of people coming and going, I want to make sure I revisit these points. Sometimes a change in context or just putting it all in a different way will help someone to see things in a new light. What wasn’t clear before might suddenly jump off the page.
The McIntire Faction refers to the fact that the author is a pastor in the Bible Presbyterian Church started by Carl McIntire among others. He played a large role in shaping the theology and ideology of modern American political Evangelicalism.
02 February 2012
The Terrible Price of Sacralism...Ignorance by Design
Historically the Sacralist impulse has led to the confusion of common nation with the Kingdom of God. The nation's agenda and policy are cast in theological and redemptive terms. Conflicts with other nations are not understood as two fallen nations in a fallen world fighting over control of the City of Man, they're not understood as rival evils, competing Beast-powers. Instead it's good vs. evil, one side is white and pure while the other side is corrupted, black, and thus evil.
One side, in this case the United States becomes a manifestation of Christ's Kingdom, or at least its proxy, and thus by extension the soldiers in its army become something akin to Holy Crusaders.