Saturday, June 21, 2008
I Am Travelling This Weekend!
Part of what I saw:
We climbed Beacon Rock! That's only about half way up.
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The Mister Miracle mantel has been worn by several individuals through the years, and his story is a bit hard to follow. Nonetheless he has been on of the most compelling and iconic characters to come from Kirby's DC masterwork - The New Gods. But the costume is mostly associated with Scott Free, son of the Highfather, but raised by Darkseid.
I was originally attracted to the character because of his resemblance to the Red Tornado, one of the cooler looking heroes out there. But as a child, I found the stories of the New Gods so complex as to be impenetrable. However, as I grew I came to appreciate the depth of work involved in this creation. Mister Miracle is especially notable because of his desire to be essentially human.
Married to Big Barda, they live on earth, try to act human and have joined the Justice League. He eshues his New God powers in favor of using his escape artist technique to save the day. Houdini as hero. What a concept - what a look!
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Friday, June 20, 2008
The Art of Science
Science Is Not Objective -- Is the fundamental theme of a book I’ve just obtained. I think he’s right. This book, mentioned earlier in the context of John Polkinghorne’s Quantum Physics and Theology is Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post- Critical Philosophy. In it he begins:We are not people that divide up our lives well, and one of the hardest things there is to do is to be a passionate, emotive human being and work in a highly objective fashion in science. Many scientists are very stunted individuals emotionally, and the result is often anything but objective science.This is primarily an enquiry into the nature and justification of scientific knowledge. But my reconsideration of scientific knowledge leads on to a wide range of questions outside science. I start by rejecting the ideal of scientific detachment. In the exact sciences, this false ideal is perhaps harmless, for it is in fact disregarded there by scientists. But we shall see that it exercises a destructive influence in biology, psychology and sociology, and falsifies our whole outlook far beyond the domain of science. I want to establish an alternative ideal of knowledge, quite generally.
Hence the wide scope of this book and hence also the coining of the new term I have used for my title: Personal Knowledge. The two words may seem to contradict each other: for true knowledge is deemed impersonal, universally established, objective. But the seeming contradiction is resolved by modifying the conception of knowing.
Another problem is the adaptation of the scientific method to decidedly non-scientific phenomena and therefore calling those fields of study "science." The study of human behavior, while conducted in a scientific fashion, is not and can never be science, in the real sense of the word. Human behavior is simply not repeatable enough to qualify.
Then of course, there is the advent of computers and the use of computationally heavy, empirical statistical analysis in the place of genuine, "aha-insightful" model building. Just because something is likely to occur does not a repeatable phenomena, or a satisfactory scientific model make. Not to mention the role assumed pre-conditions play in such statistical modeling.
Nope, true scientific objectivity is rare, and only possible in very limited areas of study, much more limited than what is currently referred to as "science."
Science is an art, and I would argue the real art of it lies in knowing its limitations. I am a buffoon at the creative arts. My wife is a different story, and has I have watched her work, I have noted how the tools she is using, "her medium" radically affects the results. Watercolor has limitations, as does the computer, as does photography, as does markers, as does oils. By knowing the limitations, she can create beauty by staying within them.
Science is capable of the same thing, but it needs to know the limits. It is no panacea.
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Thursday, June 19, 2008
How Separete Church/State?
Jesus for President wonders if the reason the American church does not articulate a Christianity distinct from national citizenship is that we have lost our godly imagination. Or perhaps we have become so used to living with power and privilege that we are hesitant to articulate a different way of living. Let’s assume these modern-day monks are on to something. What then? What is the role of the church within the empire?This all came up in the context of a church that was enthusiastically supporting the troops. The author chose to sit during an ovation honoring the troops. I am tempted to launch into a diatribe about how regardless of one's political opinion on the war, or the military in general, people, brothers and sister in Christ, are putting themselves in harm's way and that fact alone is worthy of our appreciation. But that is an old hackneyed argument at this stage.
What I was struck with was how similar this discussion about separate identities sound to those advanced by conservatives when something very liberal happens - when churches decide to ordain homosexuals for example.
The simple fact of the matter is that while there is church and state separation, that is to say, the institutions are separate and to have minimal influence on each other, we as individuals draw our identity from both institutions. And there comes times when we must identify more with one than with the other.
This is, in part, where the overabundance of religious diversity on our nation comes from. Because we have common religious identities, but may be fractured as to our political identities, the church fractures into pieces along those political lines.
This fact, and this fact alone, has allowed national unity for the United States. And it has provided for religion to flourish in a way unique in the world. In Europe, people simply stay away from church since there seems only to the the national church.
Here, in American, I am free to worship in a church that applauds the troops robustly, and my friend the reviewer is free to worship in sackcloth and ashes for the destructive course our nation has taken.
And that dear reader is the national identity that, in the end, matters, because that national identity enables my religious one.
I disagree with this reviewer profoundly politically, but he is a brother in Christ, and a fellow citizen of this nation. I hope he feels the same way about me.
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Correlation, Causation, Or Horse Manure?
New research compiled by Australian scientist Dr. Tom Chalko shows that global seismic activity on Earth is now five times more energetic than it was just 20 years ago.From the "evidence" presented in the article - clearly a press release reprinted verbatim by CBS, no less - I cannot in any way begin to answer the question I pose in the title.
The research proves that destructive ability of earthquakes on Earth increases alarmingly fast and that this trend is set to continue, unless the problem of "global warming" is comprehensively and urgently addressed.
"Unless the problem of global warming (the problem of persistent thermal imbalance of Earth) is addressed urgently and comprehensively - the rapid increase in global seismic, volcanic and tectonic activity is certain. Consequences of inaction can only be catastrophic. There is no time for half-measures."
Could it be there is, you know, more to destroy?
Chicken Little - Paging Chicken Little...
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008
....But my concern is specifically with the way in which electronic media interact with suburban culture. I'm convinced that there is a reciprocal relationship between the isolating effects of suburban geography, the counter-competent effects of chronic outsourcing, and the demotivating effects of electronic entertainment. Put simply - these three elements of suburban life reduce the ability, desire, and personal connections needed to make meaningful change in ourselves and our communities. An example perhaps will help to clarify what I mean - take sports, basketball for instance, something that I used to play regularly with friends in high school and college. I haven't played basketball in years, and if I thought of starting again, I'd face three hurdles: it's easier to get my basketball "fix" by flipping over to ESPN, lack of play has atrophied my skills (such as they were), and I don't know anyone else in my neighborhood who would like to get together for a few hoops. There it is - isolation, outsourcing, and entertainment all combine to keep me off the courts. And if I wanted to translate this into the area of Christian faith - well, I don't think I'd have much difficulty, would I?...My first comment is, having JUST returned home from the streets of Manhattan, this is hardly a purely suburban phenomena. I cannot tell you how many people I bumped into because they were walking down the street enjoying some form of portable electronic media. Nor does actual physical presence of the other help. I bet we have all seen a group of people, usually kids, walking down the street together, all on their cell phones talking to someone that is not there.
The great analysis buries the lead I think, "reduce the ability, desire, and personal connections needed to make meaningful change in ourselves and our communities." The primary means of the transformation we are promised by the gospel is relationship. This lies at the heart of my disdain for many recent developments within congregations, you know, the kind of development that ENABLE people to come to church, even connect with the institution, but never really connect with the other.
If the church is to be transformative, then the church must be a place of relationship building, or personal connection. Where does that appear in the list of "service offered" by the average church these days?
How do we foster this kind of connection? May I suggest by risking it? Go start connecting. Go make a friend. If the person you first try does not respond, try someone else. Learn a new hobby if that is what it takes to connect with someone, but connect, real live, in the flesh connection.
In the last three years I have lost, to death, the two closest male relationships in my life, my father, and my friend Ken. Fortunately, I have other close male friends, but I have also worked very hard to try and build more, and it is work. And all this has happened at a time when my professional life has burgeoned and been greatly complicated by business considerations related to my father's death, not to mention most of my close male relationships pre-date my marriage, which changes the friend making dynamic considerably.
The impact these men had on my life, on shaping who I am, is inestimable. At over 50 years of age, we tend to think of ourselves as pretty well shaped, and yet, I most severely feel the absence of these men when I run into the places where I am weakest, where I need them to help me be a better man.
So many today live life without that shaping force. That is not a good thing.
Prov 27:17 - Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.Technorati Tags:relationship. technology, connection, proverbs
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008
“I’ll tell the Bishop but let me warn you, this guy really believes that Easter is true. To tell him a pastor or a church is dead means nothing to him. He just sees death as an opportunity to see what Jesus can do.”What fascinates me is the idea that the response to a "dying" church is not to run away but to believe in the resurrection.
Consider how that calls into question the entire model of how churches are happening today, all the alternatives, all the break-aways, the emergings, all of it that seeks to build anew that which should be remade. Suddenly being a stodgy old, dead and dying PC(USA)er doesn't look so bad.
Why do we run to start anew when we could redeem? Mostly because it is easy I think, but also because we have a cheap gospel. We too easily divide the world into "saved" and "not saved." But God only has one category, really - "On the road."
Think about it, God WILL judge, but He withholds judgment until He decides it is the time. The day will come when we will be judged, but until that time we are all on the road to salvation, and that includes our churches.
We need the patience to wait on our judgments, and while we are waiting we need to be hopeful. Love demands that we hope.
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That a marketer would hop on buzz words with minimal meaning to differentiate his product from the next guy in an effort to sell a few more is unsurprising. That someone would pay a premium to buy what amounts to the same vehicle with a label saying "we're trying" proves that: 1) Many of us in this country have way more money than we know what to do with; 2) WE are not at all smart when it comes to spending that too much money; and 3) Environmental matters are a matter more of faith than substance for where else does one put out cash for no genuinely visible return?
Geez we are sheep.
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Monday, June 16, 2008
God at College
From the Ivy League to the brainiac liberal arts colleges to the major public universities, God has been silenced — or so conventional wisdom tells us.They then go on to describe the faith that is evident, and from my perspective it appears to be a faith quite different from traditional, and certainly unmoored from the traditional church structures.
The conventional wisdom, as it turns out, is not quite right.
From the pollsters come recent data showing that religion and spirituality are alive and well at colleges and universities. A recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA finds that more than half of college juniors say "integrating spirituality" into their lives is very important. Today's juniors also tend to pray (67%, according to the UCLA study) and 41% believe it's important, even essential, to "follow religious teachings" in everyday life.
For some older, more traditional believers, it could be jarring to see their treasured faith finding its expression in shaggy students toting courier bags, wearing ragged jeans and invoking Jesus as a friend to the marginalized. Perhaps they will feel some relief if they consider the alternative. If faith weren't changing on college campuses, it might well be dying.Now, that sounds familiar to me. Some of the same things were said about my generation. But there are two key differences that I think should be brought out.
For one, the college ministries of my genernation, and high school for that matter, were intended to bring students back into the church. These efforts seem to be an end unto themselves. The church is largely to blame for this "stand-alone" phenomena amongst the para-church. When I was doing para-church I wanted nothing more than to form alliances with local congregations, but was repeatedly rebuffed.
There is much discussion about business models in the church. I don't necessarily think it is a good thing. But there is one thing I do know. New enterprises innovate much better than established ones. Smart established business allow smaller companies to flourish, because they know it is the source of their innovation. Later , when the innovation has become mature, they buy those smaller companies. Bad big business kills the goose that laid the golden egg. But smart big business takes the mature innovation and makes it its own. The church should have done that with my generation of para-church a decade or more ago. Instead those operations are now institutions and the new para-church is really para-para-church. Is it any wonder the church is dying?
Second comment. In my day, though students were often outside of religion, they were steeped in religious tradition from the home. Now, many students come to high school and college without religious experience. This does make them much more susceptible to rantings of the undeniably secularly liberal on the faculty and staff of the educational institution. I had a lot of secular liberal professors, even in the '70's, but I also knew the limits of their authority because of my upbringing.
Ministry to this generation is unique in the lack of religious understanding that we can call upon in them. We are truly starting from scratch (no news here to any one paying attention).
To me, this says college is way too late for this kind of outreach ministry. If parents are not doing the job we have to find a way to reach kids at younger ages. College ministries need to be more about preserving faith in the midst of the onslaught - a special concern for kids of faith without family support in that faith.
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Sunday, June 15, 2008
Sermons and Lessons
William Theophilus Davison, Principal of Richmond College, England, 1909; born at Bath, England, 1846; educated at Kingswood School; graduated (M.A.) at the London University in 1871; has held various pastorates in the Wesleyan Methodist Church from 1868-81; was for ten years professor of Biblical literature in Richmond College and for thirteen years professor of theology in Handsworth; in 1905, he returned as theological professor to Richmond College; was a member of faculty of theology of London University, and in 1901 was president of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference; author of “The Christian Conscience,” “The Praises of Israel,” “Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament,” “The Lord ‘s Supper,” “Strength for the Way,” “Psalms” in “Century Bible.”
“And he said unto them, Therefore every scribe who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom of heaven is like a man that is a householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.” - Matt. 13:52.
We can not be sure of the exact scope of the figure employed in our text. Is this householder providing food for the multitude, various provision for various needs, “all manner of precious fruits, new and old” (Song 7 : 13), new confections and old wine - that is far better than the crude must of yesterday? Or is he, as is common in the East, unfolding the resources of a rich wardrobe, so many changes of raiment, brand-new fabrics of latest style, old laces and gold-embroidered garments possessing dignity and historic interest? Or rather, jewels and furniture of diverse history and value, heirlooms from a distant past, bright new ornaments, carved chests from the stores of ancient kings? It matters not. We spoil the illustration by narrowing it down to detail; let it stand in its original breadth and generality - he bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old. The application to our own time, a period in which so much is said of the old faith and the new knowledge, may well prove to be fruitful and instructive.
Every teacher must be first a learner, every real learner ought to become in his own meas¬ure a teacher. This is true in all departments of life; we can not teach what we do not know, we can not know without learning by the methods proper to the subject. The learned man is called a scholar because he is content to acknowledge ignorance, to open his mind and sit at the feet of those who are wiser than he. In science we must observe, collect instances, experiment, verify. In metaphysics we analyze, discriminate, reason, confirm. In art students open their eyes and heart to receive lessons of beauty, patiently toil over technical processes, submitting to laws which it is painful to obey in order to communicate delight which it is a joy to impart. The successful manufacturer and the skilled artisan, the craftsman and the laborer of all types, are not exempt from laws which apply to all human acquisitions and achievements.
Not least is this the case in the sphere of religion. Those who carried God’s message of old time were men who had been taught of God. The prophet who would speak a word in season to him who is weary must be one who has learned divine lessons, who has been awakened morning by morning to be taught the highest love. The ready tongue can only be inspired by the willing and waiting heart. The priest who was to help in the work of revealing God to man and bringing man near to God needed long and careful training. The “wise man,” who taught in proverbs might be supposed to be educated in society, the possessor of a shrewd eye and a ready wit, but he, more, perhaps, than other teachers, had learned the lesson that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and that the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.
In later times another type of teacher had come to the front, and in the time of Christ he was known as the “scribe.” He spent his time in mastering the details of an ecclesiastical code, becoming familiar with traditional precedents and decisions, that he might hand them on and add to their numbers - a doctor, a lawyer, a rabbi, a teacher of the schools. He is not lovely in our eyes. But it must be remembered that he had conscientiously taken much trouble to master what was esteemed the highest knowledge attain¬able: he had studied, arranged, codified and made the subject his own; he built a hedge round the law and a hedge round that hedge, his whole object being to keep God’s commandments inviolate and the name of Him who had given them sacred, as in a very holy of holies.
Then had come One who taught “not as the scribes.” His words carried their own weight, were stamped with their own credentials, proclaimed their own authority. None could hear them unmoved and their main teaching was concerning God. The Father was made known by the Son as never before; the truth revealed concerning Him lived, palpitated and glowed in the very utterance; it was brought home with immediate directness to men’s business and bosoms; the kingdom of which others had had much to say took on new meaning and character, it was not to come with “observation” - the craning of the neck into the distance to watch for an un¬imaginable portent - it was in their very midst.
Christ proclaimed a new spiritual order, to attain which there was no need to climb the heaven or cross the sea; men had but to look within and search around them. No new God was declared, yet the new light shed on the nature of Him whom the fathers had known and worshiped gave an altogether new idea of His mind and will, and altogether new conceptions of what was meant by His tabernacling among men and the establishment of His dominion upon earth. The message came, Repent, change both mind and habit from the old hard, selfish, conventional ways; be born again, become as little children with simple, wondering, trustful and obedient hearts; be baptized, not only with water to cleanse from the evil of the past, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire to purify from within and inform with new celestial energy. Above all, love; love God with heart and mind and soul and strength, love man as man, whether friendly or hostile, generous or ungrateful; so shall new relations between God and men usher in a new heaven and a new earth, a new social organism of renovated spirits, a kingdom whose full coming shall mean that the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven.
Hence arose a new world, of which Christ Himself is the center. “My disciple” is a more frequent phrase with Him than “disciple of the kingdom,” but the two mean the same thing. A new sort of scribism, this. You shall learn, He says, not necessarily from books and manuscripts. Not that there is any need to despise a good book, “the precious life-blood of a master-spirit embalmed and treasured up to a life beyond life.” You shall learn, not necessarily dogmas of the schools. Not that men should decry healthy doctrine, the best thoughts on the most sacred subjects framed in the best words attainable. You shall learn, not necessarily from carefully compiled ethical codes. Not that any wise man will slight or disregard these precepts of highest sanction and most sacred obligation, the behests of a duty which may be the “stern daughter of the voice of God,” but which also means “the Godhead’s most benignant grace.”
Doctrines, traditions, laws, principles are inculcated - but alive, not dead; no fossils, but instinct with vital energy. The school of this kingdom is one of spiritual experience; its training is not one of poring over musty tomes, or repeating parrot-like phrases which are only half-understood and wholly uncared for. A man can not enter the kingdom, can not even see it, without a new nature; wise men may miss it, while babes enjoy it. Learn of me, says the Teacher, in simplicity and meekness, throwing aside prejudice, selfishness and hardness of heart, opening wide the doors of affection and trustfulness, gaining fuller insight into the will of God by unfailing obedience to His voice when heard – “if any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine.” For all is embodied in Him who is the way, the truth and the life. Whoever seeks to embody living truths in abstract propositions - and no true teacher ever does - Jesus Christ does not make disciples thus. He came to be the truth, not simply to declare it. Only the Son can reveal the Father, the nature of the kingdom can only be seen in its King. His are words which are spirit and life, indeed, and in Him is a fountain of redeeming energy enabling men to realize their meaning in action. Learn of me, says the lowliest of all masters; drink not from the pool, not from the cistern, not from the reservoir, but from the fountain of life indeed.
So the first disciples found it and generations of Christ’s followers since. Those who have learned of Him have’ had placed in their hands a talisman, with its secret watchword, opening up mountain-caves close by their side, rich in treasure, a key to the knowledge of nature, man and God. Jesus said nothing about nature in the modern sense of the word, but the whole world was His; as all our science can not make it ours. He knew man perfectly, the best as well as the worst of human nature: none exposed more sternly than lie the evil of hardness and hypocrisy, none more tenderly pitied man’s weakness and waywardness, yearning after the lost and giving Himself to the uttermost in order to reclaim them. Christ understood man and nature because He knew God. Others guess and wonder and dream, He knows. Where other religious teachers scatter a few clouds from the lower firmament of the spiritual sky He shoots up a straight shaft of access into the farthest azure, and a vision. of glory appears, indeed, such as can never be forgotten or lost. When a “scribe” is made a disciple of this kingdom and knows God and man and nature as Christ makes him, he has found a new world such as eye sees not, ear hears not, and which can not otherwise enter into the heart of man.
Read the seven parables of this chapter or other chapters. Read the Beatitudes, learn the Lord’s Prayer, sit. at Jesus’ feet to hear His words. Draw still nearer, that you may understand Himself and that kingdom which, because it is His, it must be our first aim to seek and to make our own in his way. Look to Him as Savior, as well as Revealer. Trust Him as He offers on the cross one sacrifice for sins forever, and as lie is declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead. Receive His holy Spirit into the heart and let Him do His work of cleansing, renewing and purifying to the uttermost. Jesus says still to His disciples, “Abide in me and I in you; and then, Ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you. If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; ‘and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.
“Have ye understood all these things?” It is a searching question. Religiously educated, professing and calling ourselves Christians, taught the catechism as children, having known the Bible all our lives, accepting an orthodox creed and perhaps attending the holy communion - it may still be that in the inner springs of our nature we have not yet been made disciples to the kingdom of heaven. The promise of the parable is only to such. But all may become disciples if they will; the way is open and the grace is free. The blind from birth may have eyesight given him; the half-cured who see men as trees walking, by an added touch may be enabled clearly to scan the horizon far and near. Those whose eyes have thus been opened will easily follow on to explore.
The abundance of the householder’s store is exprest by a notable phrase, ‘‘things, new and old.” Why is it used? Why does not Jesus say things great and small, things useful and beautiful, things suitable for rich and poor, old and young, wise and simple? The form may be proverbial, or it may be considered generally suitable in describing a storehouse. But it probably contains a deeper significance. Jesus as a teacher had often to face this question of old and new in the realm of truth and to declare what was his attitude to both in a time of transition. The Jews were particularly tenacious of tradition, and in all ages religious people have been naturally conservative. They are usually disturbed, if not alarmed, by the cry, “Thou bringest certain strange things to our ears.” It is, therefore, the relation between past and future that is in the mind of the Master when He uses this phrase; the relative claims of venerable, mature experience, on the one hand, and the fresh, vigorous, earnest thought of the moment; on the other tile relation of successive generations to one another, the perennial contest between the laudator termporis acti, the tenacious upholder of the customary ideas of the past and tile eager young life full of hope and clamorous for the satisfaction of the pressing needs of today. Hence our Lord describes the resources of a true disciple of the kingdom as sufficient for all emergencies. The supply in his treasure-house is adequate and abundant, both of things new and old.
How does the doctrine of the kingdom preserve the unity of these two? The arguments of those who plead the claims of either old or new taken separately arc well known. Apart from that shallowest and laziest of pleas which obstructs all progress because “what was good enough for our fathers is good enough for us,” the better part of human nature is rightly enlisted in defense of truth already assimilated and positions already attained. In religion especially the value of existing grounds of trust causes men rightly to cling to revelations already made and to contend earnestly for the forms in which they have been delivered. Further protection for the sacred truth is afforded by ethical precepts or religious ceremonies; these in turn become sacrosanct, and further doctrine is formulated to secure them in their place. Thus the process of overlaying the original deposit of truth is continued till the very significance of the original is lost and the Jewish scribes, who most honor the law, make it void through their tradition.
On the other hand, the intellectually restless and eager are represented by the vivacious and versatile Athenians, who “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” Novelty may become in itself an excellence, and accepted truth be discarded merely because it is familiar. The paradoxical is considered in itself admirable because it stimulates the intellectually jaded palate. The world of ideas changes for some thinkers like the book of fashions in dress; last season’s garb is considered ugly simply because it is no longer worn. For them the stigma of dullness attaches to all that is based on precedent and authority; prejudice is raised against the old, since by its very definition it has had its day, and is fit only to make way for something else.
In true religion each of these tendencies is wrong if it be taken alone. There must be a reasoned relation between the abiding and the transient; no religion can meet the needs of man which does not on the one hand preserve unchanged the eternal principles of right and wrong, both human and divine, and on the other take full account of new conditions, new knowledge, and new requirements, as the generations succeed one another in unending procession. In Christianity the unity between these conflicting elements may always be preserved by men who are made disciples to the kingdom that can not be moved. There may be a removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made; but the things which can not be shaken will remain. These householders bring forth from their treasure things new and old, both equally valuable and easily and harmoniously blended.
Christ Himself furnishes the supreme example of this. We know how, early in His ministry, the objection was raised: “What is this - a new teaching?” How, in the Sermon on the Mount, lie said that He came not to destroy but to fulfill; that no jot or tittle of the law should fail till it had been fulfilled. In the brief parable of Luke 5: 39, Christ laid stress on the value of the old, as such, and more than once He upheld the judgments of those who spoke from Moses’ seat because of the place from which the words were spoken. Yet He protested against pouring new wine into old wine-skins. He superseded that which had been said “to them of old time” by His authoritative word, “I say unto you,” for a greater than Jonah, a greater than Solomon, a greater than Moses, is here. Without breaking with the past, He vindicated the rights and the duties of the present; without proclaiming a revolution, He accomplished one; while upholding the law and the prophets, He showed how the gospel realized and surpassed both. If ever there was a teacher who brought forth for His treasure things new and old, it was He who spoke this parable.
The servant was to be even as his lord. Christ declares here that those who followed Him would be like Him in their blending of old faith and new knowledge. The best-known example is that of the apostle Paul. Who, more completely than he, realized this combination? Brought up as a Pharisee, he never lost his zeal for righteousness. When he preached Christ crucified, it was only that that end should be attained for which the law had striven but had not been strong enough to secure. He pleads continually, “It is written,” yet is so convinced of the paramount importance of the message entrusted to him that if an angel from heaven should preach any other gospel than this, he must be anathema. So with the other apostles; from Pentecost onward, they followed their Lord faithfully and closely, but not slavishly. They did not put forth a replica of the Sermon on the Mount, though echoes of it are found in the epistles of Peter and James. But they were enlightened by the promised Spirit to understand the supreme importance of the person and the work of Christ on earth and its consummation in heaven; and they rightly put this in the forefront of their message. There were various types of apostolic teaching. The writers of the New Testament do not mechanically copy or imitate one another. The early sermons in the Acts are, in some respects, unlike the teaching that went be¬fore and that which followed afterward. Peter, James, John, Stephen, Paul, the writer of Hebrews and of the Apocalypse - how various are these, yet how true, every one of them, to the great central principles of Christ and His kingdom! We need not go beyond the New Testament to find striking illustration of how possible it is for the Christian householder to bring out of the same rich gospel treasure-house things new and old.
The history of Christendom is a running commentary on the same text. What a manifold and complex development has been that of the Christian religion; how difficult it is at this moment to define its essential character, so as to include its almost infinitely various forms and manifestations! There have been periods in its history when a clinging to old and stereotyped forms has endangered the very life of its spirit, as well as periods during which a readiness to change the form of faith has well-nigh caused the substance to disappear. But, on the whole, it has preserved its continuity while spreading into all regions of the world and translating its message into alien climes and other tongues.
The curve described by the development of Christianity may be determined by two foci: belief in Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of man, and the historical revelation given in Him; the gift of the Holy Spirit whose work it is to glorify Christ, to take of the things that are His, bring them to remembrance, and so to teach them to the Church that it may assimilate, adapt and apply to new needs the truth, “as truth is in Jesus.” The process has not been without its dangers. Serious mistakes have been made, as all must acknowledge except those who consider the Church, as such, to be infallible. But, taking a broad view of Christianity through the centuries, it is remarkable how the two extremes have been avoided. On the one hand, the danger of restricting its development as Islam is fossilized by the dead hand of the Koran; on the other, the snapping of those sacred links of continuity which bind together all who call themselves Christians in loyal allegiance to Him whose name they bear.
Doctrines have changed their form while preserving their substance. It took three centuries to frame the creed of Nicea, and some important articles of faith, on sin and grace, atonement and justification, were still more gradually wrought out. Some of these, perhaps, need reminting if they are to be made current coin for the circulation of today. The ethical principles laid down in the New Testament are continually receiving new illustration and new applications which may sometimes seem to make the old obsolete. But as Jesus drew from the old law the two great commandments on which He sought to base the conduct of His followers, so the great moral principles of the New Testament, tenaciously held by the Church as beyond change and repeal, are brought freshly to bear upon a perpetually changing civilization. New problems affecting the family, slavery, the position of woman, or international wars, are continually arising, and fresh appeal is continually being made to the disciples of the kingdom for their solution. These do not profess to be able to answer all questions, to remove all difficulties; but it is part of their work in the world to show how those who have learned in Christ’s school, can bring the old truth which they assuredly believe, to bear upon hitherto unanticipated problems and practically revolutionized conditions of society.
It is in this way that the kingdom itself is to come among men. For the kingdom is coming, not come; the Church is making, not made. Christendom is, in a sense, a word of the past; its history may be traced out and written down. In a sense, it is a word of the present, representing a mighty living force today. Still more is it a word of the future, for as yet we have not been able to see what “Christianity” fully means. He was right who, in answer to the question, Is the Christian religion “played out”? replied, It has not yet been tried. The disciples of the kingdom are, as yet, far from having exhausted the resources of the treasure-house entrusted to their care.
Ours is an age of transition. Every age forms a bridge between that which precedes and that which follows it, but to our own seems to be entrusted a specially difficult task of assimilating new knowledge, meeting new conditions, abandoning old forms and revivifying old truths. Those on whom such work is specially incumbent need not be discouraged; those who see the process going on around them need not despair. The Christ of the New Testament is for us the Way, the Truth and the Life; not the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount, still less the shadowy personage who is all that remains when certain critics of the Gospels have eliminated from the text whatever does not please them. The Christ of the New Testament, as the Redeemer of men, is the treasure-house, and the Holy Spirit whom He promised enables us to make its contents our own. He is the way-guide into all the truth, new and old, that we need for the journey of life. Forms of dogma which have commended themselves to the Church in past centuries may change, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day and forever. The gospel of salvation in Him is sufficient for the individual, the nation and the race; it need not be changed, and it can not be given up without darkening the hope of the world. But the task of bringing it to bear with new power upon new generations and new intellectual and social conditions is continually laid upon Christ’s Church; it is one of which she must not complain and must not grow weary. In accomplishing it, Christ’s disciples fulfill the design of their Master and work out at the same time their own salvation and that of the world whom He came to save.
Thou leadest onward: we pursue
The heavenly march sublime.
‘Neath thy renewing fire we glow,
And still from strength to strength we go,
From height to height we climb.
To thee we rise, in thee we rest;
We stay at home, we go in quest,
Still thou art our abode.
The rapture swells, the wonder grows,
As full on us new life still flows
From our unchanging God.
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