Friday, December 19, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Chesterton

There is in that alone the touch of a revolution, as of the world turned upside down. It would be vain to attempt to say anything adequate, or anything new, about the change which this conception of a deity born like an outcast or even an outlaw had upon the whole conception of law and its duties to the poor and outcast.

G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, The Everlasting Man, The God in the Cave (Dover Publications Inc., 2007, p. 168)

What are the Christian's obligations to the poor? How should we carry them out? 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Which Christmas?

C. S. Lewis speaks of three different holidays involved in Christmas. One is a commemoration of the birth of Christ. Despite much speculation, we are not sure when Christ was born. But December 25 is traditional and is as good a day as any to remember Christ's birth. There is a question whether it is a replacement for a pagan holiday. I am not sure it is. I am less sure that it matters. I have a great deal of sympathy with Gregory the Great's policy of replacing pagan holidays with Christian holidays. People like to celebrate. You can cancel all the holidays and be a killjoy. You can try to force people to celebrate some different time, which becomes a war. Or you can try to give new meanings to the old celebrations, which has its drawbacks but is not necessarily the worst choice.

Then there is the idea of a general time for celebration. I agree with Lewis in being very much in favor of celebrating. Nor do I see any problem with celebration in connection with the coming of Christ. It is a cause for celebration. Now there is a delicate balance here between Christian celebration and the celebration of the world. The Christian has better reason to celebrate, but must do it with a degree of restraint. There has historically been a danger of falling into the world's excesses on Christmas. But that should not be a basis for avoiding celebrating, though it may be a reason to make the celebration more Christian.

But the third holiday is what Lewis calls the commercial racket. This can easily become a celebration of greed. Now store owners have to live, like everybody else. And there is a legitimate joy, particularly for children, in receiving presents. But when the commercial aspect overtakes the idea of commemoration and celebration, there is a problem. It is hard to know where to draw the line, but when the whole thing becomes a burden rather than a joy, it needs to be reconsidered. And when we make the chief thing concern about what other people think, rather than what is enjoyable, there is a problem. People speak of the war on Christmas, and sometimes I wish the secular side would win. Then they could take the commercial holiday and celebrate it without too close a connection with anything Christian. And Christmas could become a holiday largely celebrated by Christians. But I doubt anything so practical is going to happen. However, I would recommend for Christians to emphasize the Christian and celebration parts of the holiday. And to minimize the commercial. Perhaps it would help to think of them as three holidays. And to ask which Christmas we are celebrating.    


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Retiring the Lone Ranger

We all desire community. And we all fear it. We fear rejection. And we fear losing ourselves and vanishing into some featureless conformity ("You will be assimilated"). Even worse, we fear trying our best to lose ourselves in such a conformity and being rejected because we fail the test. God calls us to a unity in diversity (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16). This pictures the Christian church as different people coming together in one body, while retaining their identity. There is a real unity here: we all need each other and are not simply people who come together in a building once a week. But we are not the same, but each has their individual function. And we gain by being different. We complement each other.

But how do we get there? We need to trust God (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6), and we must be willing to put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3,4; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14). The first is really required for the second. For it is not till we trust God that we will be willing to reach out to others. For the simple fact is, if we reach out to others we will be hurt. It is always a gamble. It is safer to hide in our own little shell and never come out. This is also true for leaders. It is safer to try to press everyone into the same mold than to encourage them to give up their individualism while keeping their individuality. Even more difficult is knowing where to draw the lines. If we tolerate everything, it can become destructive. It is so much easier to draw the lines in close, where it is comfortable. But God requires us to take that risk. For it is only by taking that risk that we can become the church of God He designed us to be. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Conflict Over the Symbols

Jesus said that God wants those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23,24). What does this mean? In the Old Testament God very carefully outlined in great detail how He should be worshiped. He also punished those who deviated from this (Leviticus 10:1). But Jesus was saying that the old order in which every detail was prescribed was passing away (John 4:21,22; Colossians 2:16,17; Galatians 4:1-7). This fits with the New Testament, where broad principles are given, but there is no new list of requirements. But we still want to lay down absolute rules as to what can be done in terms of worship. We want to ignore the gift and fight over the nature of the wrappings.

We are to worship in spirit. One thing that is firmly condemned both in the Old and New Testaments is going through the outer motions of worship without the inward reality (Matthew 6:1-18; Malachi 1:10; Isaiah 58:3-12). Now the issue here is not the precise form of worship, but what is in the heart. It is easy to flatter ourselves that if we follow a particular mode of worship, this is proof against doing it by rote. The truth is, the basic issue is whether we mean it. And it is possible to go though the motions of any form of worship in order to please people or call attention to ourselves. We can also go through a wide range of outward forms and mean it. But we need to beware of beating up ourselves and others because we do not have some theoretical perfect attitude of worship (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; Romans 14:4; James 4:11,12). All of us are sinners who fall short of perfection (Philippians 3:12-16; Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:17). But there is a call here for basic sincerity.

We are to worship in truth. There is a requirement of basic conformity to Biblical teaching (Jude 3; Romans 16:17; John 17:17). There are certain truths that need to be upheld (Deuteronomy 13:1-3; 1 John 4:1-4; Galatians 1:8,9). But we can too easily sit in judgment and forget we do not have all the answers (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; 13:9-12).  However, the basic issue is content, not form. For example, there is a continual argument over the various types of music used in worship. But the real issue is what is said, not the form of music, which is nowhere mentioned in Scripture.

I would maintain that within these broad boundaries there is plenty of room for people to choose the forms that are meaningful to them. And to allow others to chose what is meaningful for them. I suggest that much of this is a matter of personality and background rather than principle. I have worshiped in the liturgical, charismatic, and baptistic modes and see valuable things in each. I think it is good to learn to appreciate other approaches to worship. And if we cannot really enter in, at least to respect them.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Touch of Humor - St Nicholas

How should Christians look at the relation of St. Nicholas to Christmas? Should it be confined to children and ignored by adults?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Locked Away

God's power is not locked away in a safe, only available to those who know the combination, but is freely given to all His people.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Lewis

One has the picture of great centripetal roads coming from all directions, with well-disposed people, all meaning the same thing, and getting closer and closer together. How shockingly opposite to that is the Christian story! One people picked out of the whole earth; that people purged and proved again and again. Some are lost in the desert before they reach Palestine; some stay in Babylon; some becoming indifferent. The whole thing narrows and narrows until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear - a Jewish girl at her prayers. That is what the whole of human nature has narrowed down to before the Incarnation takes place.

C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, God in the Dock, The Grand Miracle, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1970, p. 84)

Is God selective? Is that a good thing? How should we look at it?