Saturday, September 27, 2008
Unknown Old School
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Friday, September 26, 2008
Part of the problem, as we have already suggested, is that we have too often accepted the romantic view that real vitality is to be found in practices and friendships, and institutions are at best necessary evils...We carry with us a mistaken myth that institutions are at best the necessary chaff that we must winnow in order to find the pure wheat of the gospel. But that is not faithful to Scripture (it ignores Israel and its institutions, among other things), and it is not faithful to the empirical realities of our life together. We need to reclaim an understanding of what is involved in the creation and renovation, sustenance and extension of institutions that do need criticism from time to time. But the romantic notion that we are somehow going to find a purer community apart from the reality of institutions is fallacious.And then he quotes Joe Carter quoting Eugene Peterson:
Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There's no life in the bark. It's dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it's prone to disease dehydration, death.David seems to think these comments "dovetail," but I disagree. The Lucas quotation leaves open the possibility that the institution is redeemable - that while we seem to pretty consistently do it wrong, it is SUPPOSED to be done right. The Peterson quote, on the other hand, implies that the dead bark of the institution is in a fact a dead necessity. So which is it?
So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn't last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it's prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.
I have a friend, an employee of the federal government, who is fond of pointing out that bureaucracy is not a de facto bad thing. He likes to point out that things like the pyramids of Egypt or the Hoover Dam of Nevada/Arizona would be impossible without large, seemingly brain dead institutions, exercising enormous bureaucratic cogs. I think my friend is right, as both Lucas and Peterson seem to agree - institution is necessary.
Where I have a problem is when we defer to the "dead bark" theory. I refuse to believe that God would create for His redeemed people institutions that would lack the capability to reflect His glory. It is the attitude concerning the church that refuses to try to be better - that just throws up its hands and shrugs that I have a problem with.
The transformational power of God extends not just to ourselves, but to our institutions, and as institutions, WE NEED TO CLAIM IT! The implications of this are extraordinary, and I will discuss just one.
The leaders of God's institutions must, if what I have just said is true, be the most exceptional, most talented, most extraordinary leaders in the world. They must have, operate from and towards, a vision of a transformed institution.
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Friday Humor - Political Humor Division
Thursday, September 25, 2008
From my personal perspective, there are two essential questions. The first is what to do personally as a member of and leader in the church and secondly, as a leader where to work to take my congregation. The two are, in my mind, deeply related - I cannot answer them separately. What I do personally will, in the end, depend on what my local congregation decides to do.
Without getting into the details of the issues, in essence what has happened is that the PC(USA) has abandoned standards. By creating the mechanism of "scrupling," individuals, individual congregation, and individual presbyteries can do pretty much whatever they want. For this reason, to my way of thinking, discussions about changes to the Book of Order are pretty irrelevant because the BoO is without force. There is impact to be gained by altering the Book or Order, but no real force.
Like the two I linked above, I am sort of in the stay, fight, see what happens camp, but my concerns are different. Conservative congregations are even now making all sorts of plans, as are conservative presbyteries. The majority discussion centers on leaving PC(USA) for more conservative Presbyterian denominations like EPC either as a congregation, or in some cases as a presbytery. Some congregation are discussing a move to independence - the community evangelical church model.
So, my congregation is confronted with 3 choices - stay - leave for another Presbyterian denomination - go independent. I love my local congregation and will stay with it for either of the first two choices, but should it make the third choice - I will leave. I truly believe that has a Christian, the how's matter more than the what's.
The Presbyterian church, PC(USA), EPC, PCA or otherwise is built on a model that theoretically, I freely admit its function is severely flawed, leaves the ministry and power in the hands of the whole congregation. Within the confines of a Presbyterian church, I have the capability to work to exercise that congregational power, authority - and most importantly - wisdom.
That is the thing that makes me chose to be a Presbyterian. Should my local congregation elect independence, then that thing will die, hence I will move on. As I say, that thing I love most functions so poorly that it is in practice dead already, but there yet remains a glimmer of hope. Outside the Presbyterian church, such hope, minuscule though it may be, ceases to exist.
In essence, and sounding grossly selfish - it is MY ministry as I am called by God. I am not called to serve the clergy I admire. I am called to a church where the clergy works with me and every other member to grow as a Christian and exercise the ministry to which I am called. I am called to a church where clergy does not minister, clergy makes ministers. The Presbyterian system is the best suited to do that.
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Churches Of Our Travels
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Even WaPo Is Getting In On This Act
Critics scornfully call such trips "religious tourism" undertaken by "vacationaries." Some blunders include a wall built on the children's soccer field at an orphanage in Brazil that had to be torn down after the visitors left. In Mexico, a church was painted six times during one summer by six different groups. In Ecuador, a church was built but never used because the community said it was not needed.The "blunders" are extraordinary, but frankly, they are also the least of my concerns.
To make missionary work more meaningful, some churches are taking a different approach. In response to the criticism, a growing number of churches and agencies that put together short-term trips are revamping their programs and establishing new standards.
It seems that we live and practice our faith at one of two extremes. We have those that profess faith, have an intellectual understanding of their faith, might even pursue some spiritual practice, but never quite get the whole "fruits" thing. Then there are those, as illustrated here, that have a vacant, empty, but very "productive" faith. To use the language of James we seems to have faith without works, or works without faith.
Why is works WITH faith so hard to encounter?
I would like to suggest that the reason is because a true walk with Christ does not so much make us different as it makes us better. Now, of course, Christians should be easily detectable as "different" than everyone else, that is not what I am talking about.
What I am talking about is that if you are a physicist, becoming a Christian does not make you an artist, it makes you a better physicist. If you are a business man, becoming a Christian does not make you a football player, it makes you a better business man.
The mark of a Christian is not in WHAT we do, but in HOW we do it.
Of course, STMs are going to have weird results if we do not do them well. At heart what truly bothers me about them is that instead of helping people to be better people right where they are, we feel like we have to take them off to the third world. High school kids need desperately to learn how to be good high school kids. When they grow up, if they are so inclined, then they can be missionaries.
But then for us to lead people to be better people would mean that we first have to become better people, and I think that is where the ultimate rub lies. We try all sorts of things short of that mark, not because with think those to whom we minister cannot handle it, but because we cannot handle it.
So, the question becomes, is "retooling" STM's really the answer? I don't think so - I think praying -- kneeling, confessing, humbling, tearful prayer, with another to whom we can be accountable is the right response. A prayer that says "God we'll worry about the STM later, make ME better - show ME where I was wrong - teach ME to be your person."
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Tuesday, September 23, 2008
"We Are All Going To Die"
PSYCHIATRISTS have detected the first case of "climate change delusion" - and they haven't even yet got to Kevin Rudd and his global warming guru.I saw this one on the BBC web site and all I could do was sigh.
Writing in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Joshua Wolf and Robert Salo of our Royal Children's Hospital say this delusion was a "previously unreported phenomenon".
"A 17-year-old man was referred to the inpatient psychiatric unit at Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne with an eight-month history of depressed mood . . . He also . . . had visions of apocalyptic events."
(So have Alarmist of the Year Tim Flannery, Profit of Doom Al Gore and Sir Richard Brazen, but I digress.)
"The patient had also developed the belief that, due to climate change, his own water consumption could lead within days to the deaths of millions of people through exhaustion of water supplies."
Over the last decade, you have surely heard many views as to why you should worry about carbon and climate change.I will not even go into the silly science involved in this story, I think the credentials of the man who wrote it say most of what needs to be said about the piece:
But the chances are you're not worrying about nitrogen.
In fact, there is a global nitrogen threat out there, yet the world seems not to notice!
Mark Sutton is based at the Edinburgh Research Station of the Centre for Ecology & HydrologyCan you say, "axe to grind...money to raise."
He is co-chair of the UN's Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen (TFRN), director of the European Centre of the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) and co-ordinator of the NitroEurope Integrated Project
But I am not writing this to argue with the science or make fun of the protagonists. There is a more fundamental question at play here. Why are we so susceptible to a doomsday scenario? Mankind has been foreseeing the end of our existence since the beginning of history. In medieval times Haley's comet was going to bring about the end of the earth. In the 50's and 60's it was nuclear war. Now it is climate change, and who knows, tomorrow it may be "the nitrocycle." We fall for this crap like rubes at a carnival every time.
Why do we lack hope so? Well, that one is easy - Because we lack a true understanding of our God! You know, the one that promises that all things work for the good and instructs not to worry about tomorrow.
What truly saddens me is that the church responds with programs to become environmentally aware. Not that operating a church plant in a sane fashion is a bad thing, that is not what I am saying, what I am saying is the church's first response should not be agreement to the fear, but rather the portion of the gospel message that reminds us that God is in control, and that leaning on our own understanding is the road to folly.
You know, in the end, we are all going to die. But the apostle Paul said:
Phil 1:21 - For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.Jesus Christ is the hope that we need - not carbon credits.
1 Cor 15:54-55 - But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory. "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"
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Monday, September 22, 2008
Something To Think About
It’s interesting for this Mormon to compare the Catholic/Mormon relationship with the Mormon/evangelical relationship. Catholics seem secure in their faith and do not find it necessary to criticize or marginalize the faith of othersr. (sic) They seem to welcome the opportunity to make common cause with fellow travelers.The key phrase in that is "secure in their faith." "Insecurity" is a good description of much that I see in the behavior of many Evangelicals. It is, I think, because of two very related reasons.
Many evangelicals, on the other, are unable to see the commonalities they share with Mormons. Evangelical churches in my community refuse to join in community projects with Satan-inspired cultists.
The first reason is that many people come to an evangelical faith brand out of personal insecurity and the other is that much of Evangelicalism offers, at best, "faith-lite," certainly not a faith with enough to it to answer those personal insecurities. Brief comments on each.
Faith in Jesus Christ is a base upon which solution to emotional and psychological problems can be addressed, without it there is no hope for these problems, but it is not, of itself the answer. "Accepting Jesus as my Savior: will not rid me of my feelings of inadequacy any more than it will cure me of cancer. What it will do is give me tools, such as the fellowship and power of prayer, that can be used on the road to finding solutions. I do not here rule out the miraculous, but we may not depend upon; such is a formula for disaster.
But the typical Evangelistic presentation of the gospel falls well short of offering even that necessary base. If being a Christian is nothing more than praying the sinner's prayer and receiving God's forgiveness, we stand not on a base, but on a point, a point where balance becomes very difficult to maintain. Standing on a point is more likely to increase insecurity, not decrease it.
We offer such a cheap gospel - salvation and a worldview - but Christ died and was resurrected for so much more - He offers us RE-CREATION - He wants to make us anew, into the beings we were originally created to be.
I think my commenter was dead nuts on in their diagnosis of Evangelical ills and it casts a dark shadow over all that is Evangelicalism.
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Sunday, September 21, 2008
Sermons and Lessons
Frank Wakely Gunsaulus was born at Chesterville, Ohio, in 1856. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1875. For some years he was pastor of Plymouth Church, Chicago, and then became pastor of Central Church, Chicago. He was president of the Armour Institute of Technology. He was a fascinating speaker, having a clear, resonant voice, and a dignified presence. His mind was a storehouse of the best literature, and his English style was noted for its purity and richness. He is the author of several books and was in popular demand as a lecturer.
There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. - I Cor. 14:10.
Ours is a voiceful era. Perhaps, as the ages come and go and man’s life grows richer, its questions more restless for answer, its moral supports called upon to bear heavier interests of faith, its enterprises more often and searchingly compelled to defend themselves, the voices of time will be increasingly potent and worthy of his attention. A singularly suggestive collection of messages fills the air today, and all of these voices speak of one theme - the Bible.
Anarchy, which is always atheistic, holds its converse in the places of evil which this book ‘s message would close forever; the foes of that civilization builded on its laws and stimulated by its hopes asks us to condemn it as worthy only of caricature, vituperation, and hate. Let us find a path of duty today, not refusing to listen to any of these voices, but asking that other voices also may help us to the truth.
The preacher’s message is a book called the Bible. That is only the literary form of his message - telling its history. Even that form, which is much less divine as paper and ink are less lofty in the scale than humanity, has worked wonders. Today, the Bible offers the nineteenth-century infidel as testimony of the influence it has. It has force enough to make infidelity preach tearfully and well about man, woman, and child. Skepticism did not do so well until the Bible came. The Bible has furnished the eloquence of infidelity with such a man as Shakespeare, to talk about; no student of literature could imagine Shakespeare without the Bible and the Bible’s influence upon him as be created his dreams. It furnished an Abraham Lincoln for an orator to compare favorably with incomplete ideas of Almighty God; but it seems to have been unable to show the critic that Christian ideas of Almighty God made Lincoln so love the Lord’s Prayer that he wanted a church builded with this as its creed. It would seem that any general denunciation or humorous caricature of a book which has worked such an amazing effect in literature as has the Bible would be tempered by some recognition of the fact that these other minds - poets, orators, sages, and scientists - have found illumination and help in its pages. Liberal Christianity will be intellectually broad. Certainly the greatest of modern pagans, Goethe, will not be accused of favoritism toward the Bible, yet he said: “I esteem the gospels to be thoroughly genuine, for there shines forth from them the reflected splendor of a sublimity, proceeding from the person of Jesus Christ, of so divine a kind as only the divine could ever have manifested upon earth.” The Earl of Rochester saw that the only liberalism which objects to the Bible, in its true uses, is the liberalism of licentiousness; and he left this saying: “A bad heart is the great argument against this holy book.” And Faraday, weeping, said: “Why will people go astray when they have this blest book to guide them?”
If we turn to literature we, encounter many such liberal thinkers as Theodore Parker, who calmly informs us: “This collection of books has taken such a hold upon the world as has no other. The literature of Greece, which goes up like incense from that land of temples and heroic deeds, has not half the influence of this book. It goes equally to the cottage of the plain man and the palace of the king. It is woven into the literature of the scholar and colors the talk of the street.” That is the voice of the liberalism which includes rather than excludes.
These were men not of the band of evangelical Christian preachers, who are roughly classed as a set of persons unable to tell the truth about the Bible, for fear they may lose their means of subsistence; these are men who know the true mission of the Bible. It is not to furnish a picture of life in the time of Moses such as life ought to be, a portrait of a David for the imitation of men, a statue of a warrior in a time of barbarism who shall command my obedience to his commands now, an idea of God wrought out in ignorance and darkness, which has no self-development with¬in it. The mission of the Bible is to furnish a humanly written account of a people, just as human as we, in whom, by divine inspiration, the soul of truth so lived and worked as to develop, in gradual course, by laws, by hopes, by loves, by life, a living, and, at last, perfectly authoritative ideal of righteousness, but more than all a gradual growth of such moral power as would be commanding in the redeeming self-sacrifice and love of Jesus Christ. Every page of the Old Testament was only preparatory, as the thorny bush is preparatory for the rose. Christ is the end of the long, weary human history that leads to Him. If the laws of Sinai had been enough, there never would have been a Calvary. No one for a moment dreams that the God of nature could have brought forth such a fruit as the life and ideas of Jesus without a tree of such a history a tree rooted in the ground, storm-twisted, gnarled, and valuable only for its fruit. We are not asked to eat the roots and bark and branches; only the fruit has an appeal to us. Its appeal is to our hunger, its authority lies in the fact that it satisfies our hunger.
It has satisfied the hunger of men whose liberalism came from their being made liberally. Large and capacious souls of mighty yearnings are they. They stand in contrast with the puny critics who assert that the Bible fails to feed them, because they have never tasted its nourishment.
Liberal Christianity, separating itself from the dogmatism which would make Christianity a book religion, worshiping a literary idol rather than loving a human revelation of the divine, knows it is not an ignorant lot of men and women who have received most from the Bible and spoken most gratefully of its message. When we think of sending the Bible to barbarism, with the hope of creating in its stead civilization, we can look into the face of John Selden, one of the most illustrious of English lawyers, when he says: “I have surveyed most of the learning that is among the sons of men, yet at this moment I can recall nothing in them on which to rest my soul, save one from the sacred Scriptures, which rises much on my mind. It is this: ‘The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, bath appeared unto all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for that blest hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus .Christ, who gave himself for us that he might redeem us unto himself, a peculiar people zealous of good works.’ “Liberal religion must include Selden. We will not be deterred from giving the Bible to heathenism of any kind when we remember that Sir William Jones has left these words: “The Scriptures contain more true sublimity, more exquisite beauty, and finer strains of poetry and eloquence than could be collected from all other books that were ever composed in any age or in any idiom.” Liberal religion must be as broad as Sir William Jones.
This is a very needy world, and many are the institutions of evil that need to be changed for institutions of goodness. If we are to believe the eloquence of hopeless unbelief, we ourselves will only be the slaves of a fatalism which says that man is but a result of forces; that what we call crime is but a part of the necessary course of things, and that there is no such thing as moral responsibility. This makes all reform or efforts at staying the tide of evil useless. Oftentimes the heart of the man who has ceased to read his Bible gets the victory over this dreadful philosophy, and it is not remarkable that the skeptic becomes the exponent of freedom, charging like a host of war upon all institutions of slavery. Liberal theology puts its one hand on the dogmatist who tells him to accept literal infallibility, and its other on the sincere lover of men who has lost his Bible entirely. And liberalism says: It is in just such moments that we trust our Bible the most, and we remember that William Wilberforce, who lifted the chains from the bondmen, has said: “I never knew happiness until I found Christ as a Savior. Read the Bible! Read the Bible! Through all my perplexities and distresses I never read any other book, I never knew the want of any other.” We are certainly not despising the science which is worthy of a name, nor are we forgetting any proposition which has found a place in the world’s thought, if we look into the face of Sir John Herschel, who tells us that “all human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more and more strongly the truths contained in the holy Scriptures.” It is truly no part of wisdom for us to conclude that for scientific reasons we ought to forsake our Bible when Professor Dana avers: “The grand old book of God still stands; and this old earth, the more its leaves are turned and pondered, the more will it sustain and illustrate the sacred Word.”
Surely it is not the hour dogmatically to withdraw this book, which has proved the basis of civilization. Professor Lyell, the great English geologist, tells us: “In the year 1806 the French Institute enumerated no less than eighty geological theories which were hostile to the Scriptures, but not one of these theories is held today. ”Bacon’s remark is still true: “There never was found in any age of the world either religion or law that did so highly exalt the public good as the Bible.” And John Marshall and Prince Bismarck agree with Daniel Webster when he says: “If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.” There is not an anarchist in America who does not clap his hands when he hears a Bible with the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount denounced. Indeed, the civilization in which we stand, as compared with the barbarism out of which we have been led by the Bible, would make William Henry Seward’s assertion only a mild statement of the truth when he says:
“The whole hope of human progress is suspended on the ever-growing influence of the Bible.” I prefer lawyers like these to lead American public opinion. Part of the service of these men has been that they have shown theology that the Bible is not a set of texts on a dead level of authority and equal value, but the revealing, slow and sure, of an inspiration obeyed by a certain people in the realm of morals like that inspiration obeyed by another people in the realm of art, and its test is: Does the Bible’s ultimate message, its crowning commandment of Christ’s life and love, produce goodness in morals? just as the test of the long revelation of beauty in his ancestors and the Greek is, does its ulti¬mate commandment produce goodness in art.
Christianity does not ask: “What think ye of the Bible?” It asks: “What think ye of Christ?” There the throne is set, and so majestic is His glory that the moment we come into His presence we are judged. The Judge of the earth has taken His place in thought, history and hope. He is not on trial, and He asks no question as to what man thinks of the book which has enthroned him in litera¬ture. The test is placed in my conduct and yours; each may say with Michael Bruce, who left these words on the fly-leaf of his Bible:
How small a price this Bible cost;
The day of judgment will make clear ‘Twas very cheap or very dear.
Shall we go forward with our Bible or back¬ward without it? Infidelity has always forgotten that, so far as it has an eye for liberty and humanity, the Christianity not of sects but of the Bible has furnished it and trained it. The liberalism which puts its Bible aside will acknowledge that a Christless humanity culminated in Rome. Skepticism is often elo¬quent when it tries to show how much “fragments of Roman art” had to do with the making of modern civilization. Now, as Rome marks the height to which humanity without a Bible ascended, it would seem that this would be just the point where free and untrammeled thought and the fullest intellectual liberty would be found. Right there, where a Christless race was supreme, ought to be the place where the liberty abounded which the religion of Christ is said to destroy.
Whose program for the production of intellectual and spiritual liberty can liberals accept? Hoarse is the cry: The Bible is to be cast out. We look and behold men who have these opinions sitting on the throne of the Caesars. Now, one would suppose the intellect of that whole realm would have fair play. There was no Bible there to fetter or to annoy. This ought to be the halcyon age for “the liberty of man, woman and child.” These rulers have the same dignified abhorrence for all kinds of religion. The skeptic Lucretius says: “The fear of the lower world must be sent headlong forth. It poisons life to its lowest depths; it spreads over all things the blackness of death; it leaves no pleasure unalloyed.” I match the Roman with the phrase of a recent orator of this school who spoke of the soldiers dead, as now “sleeping beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sunshine or of storm, each in the windowless palace of rest.” There was no window in the grave when more illustrious and original skeptics talked about it. Modern infidelity has many expressions on the future after death which sound like the old Roman distich, “I was not, and became; I was, and am no more.”
Its orator, bending over the body of his dear brother, said nothing more touching than did Tacitus over the grave of Agricola, as he wrote: “If there is a place for the spirits of the pious; if, as the wise suppose, great souls do not become extinct with their bodies; if’ ‘ - oh, that age of “if” ought to have been an age when every brain was free and no thought or sentiment were a chain. The Bible of Christianity was not powerful enough to throttle anybody. Its pages were not all written; its authors were hunted and outcast. Morals, too, ought to have been all right, for we are told that they are independent of God and Christ.
But what is the fact? Strangely enough, in that age, when nearly every monarch, or poet, or philosopher was a humorous skeptic and they had no Christian religion to “bind their hands,” in an age when nothing but this sort of infidelity was supreme, Seneca, to whom connoisseurs in ethics blandly turn when they grow weary of the strenuous Paul or the pensive John, Seneca, while he wrote a book on poverty, has a fortune of $15,000,000, with a house full of citrus tables made of veined wood brought from Mount Atlas. While he framed moral precepts which we are besought to substitute for the Sermon on the Mount, he was openly accused of constant and shame¬less iniquity, and was leading his distinguished and tender pupil, Nero, into those practices and preparing him for those atrocities which Seneca himself had upon his own soul while he wrote his book on clemency. At that hour the Bible Christianity offered to the world’s heart and aspiration, not a book, not a theorist of morals, but a man for the leadership of humanity, and, of that Man the literary and calm French skeptic says: “Jesus will never be surpassed.” In the age of Rome, when people were not burdened by churches or Bibles, Lucian says: “If any one loves wealth and is dazed by gold; if any one measures happiness by purple and power; if any one brought up among flatterers and slaves has never had a conception of liberty, frankness and truth; if any one has wholly surrendered himself to pleasure, full tables, carousals, lewdness, sorcery, and deceit, let him go to Rome.”
There was no Bible either to preach against it or to interfere with it. These things were the product then, as they are now, of infidelity. Whenever the world wishes a civilization so barbarous as that, the reviler of the Bible must create it, for they have the applause of evil and the good-will of crime. In the age of Rome, when this skepticism was the creed of the State, Nero got tired of the goddess Astarte, and murdered his own brother, his wife, and his mother, and the senate was so affected with the same opinion that they heard his justification and proceeded to heap new honors upon him. He threw the preacher Paul into jail, but there Paul wrought out the impulse of Europe. In the age when the great Livy said that “neglect of gods” had come, Caligula let loose his imperial frenzy, and every stream of blood that could be sent toward the sea carried its red tide. In that age when, like later eloquent critics, Ennius said that he did not believe that the gods thought of human beings, “for if the gods concerned themselves about the human race the good would prosper and the bad suffer,” the courtesan was kept for pleasure and the wife for domestic slavery. In that happy age of unbelief, when Menander sung “the gods do not care for men,” “the homes were,” according to Juvenal, “broken up before the nuptial garland faded”; and according to Tertullian, “they married only to be divorced.” Friends exchanged wives; infanticide and other hellish crimes were common. This is what that spirit, in its purity, did for the home, when there was no bible to read at its hearthstone and no New Testament to put into the hands of young lovers departing to make a new roof tree.
Labor will some day be too liberal to give up its Bible. In that age, when “God was dead”; in that age, when “the gods had abdicated”; they said, “the mechanic‘s occupation is degrading. A workshop is in¬compatible with anything noble.” The curse of slavery had blotted the name of labor, and they agreed that “a purchased laborer is better than a hired one,” and thousands of prison-like dwellings rose to conceal the myriads of slaves. In that age Nero, who had the same opinion about God which the vaunting spirit which calls itself liberal has today, had a “golden house” as large as a city, with colonnades a mile long, and within it a statue of Nero 120 feet high. That is what the theory of infidelity did for labor and the working man when it was on the throne. Do you wonder that from that day to this the “carpenter‘s son” of the Bible has been scoffed at by this infidelity?
In that age, when the theories of infidelity ruled, the gladiators made wet with their blood the great enclosure of the arena. The women and timid girls of Rome gave lightly the sign of death. The crowd shook the building with applause as the palpitating body was dragged by a hook into the death chamber, and slaves turned up the bloody soil and covered the blood-dabbled earth with sand that the awful amusement might go on. All this was allowed by infidelity in its purity, before it had been influenced by the Christian‘s Bible into believing that such things are atrocious.
Oh. when I hear infidelity prate of the horrors of slavery and defend a Godless theory of the State, I remember that those who had it in its purity did not regard the slave as a man. When I read the story of slavery and hear an exponent of free thought say, “The doctrine that woman is a slave or serf of man - whether it comes from hell or heaven, from God or demon, from the golden streets of the New Jerusalem, or the very Sodom of perdition - is savagery pure and simple,” I say, “That is so, but just that was the ruling idea when infidelity was on the throne of Rome.” And only where the Bible has gone and triumphed has woman the privileges which are thus praised.
When I hear it said: “Slavery includes all other crimes. It is the joint product of the kidnapper, pirate, thief, murderer, and hypocrite. It degrades labor and corrupts leisure. To lacerate the naked back, to sell wives, to steal babes, to debauch your soul - this is slavery,” I answer: “That is so,” and I add that all these and a thousand other damnable features of slavery were seen in Rome when the whole Roman people felt and spoke about the message of the Bible just as your type of liberalism does to-day.
To all this wretched state of man what offers came from Seneca, whom skepticism quotes as a moralist? Why, he said: “Admire only thyself”; and when he saw that a man must get out of himself, he said: “Give thyself to philosophy.” Not philosophy, but the power of the Bible’s Christ has lifted man upward to his highest life.
If ever anti-Christianity had a chance to show its beauty, it was when it was at its supreme strength, and when Christianity was a babe in the manger; and these arc only suggestions of the hell it dug for man at Rome. You say that it was not what skepticism is at the present day, and I acknowledge that it is so. Why? Because nineteen centuries have rolled like waves of light between, and Christ has improved it in spite of itself. Never had the world so good a chance to see what almost absolute skepticism and unbelief could and would do for the liberty of the human soul as then. But when the thrones of Rome were occupied with men who held the same opinion of the Bible as he does to-day, what was the freedom of the race?
The scene all comes back. Here is a little, obscure set of poor people who follow the words and life of the son of a carpenter. They are powerful in nothing that Rome calls power. But Rome says that they shall not think that way. Celsus, from whom our less scholarly skepticism is ready to borrow arguments, was not enough for the new thought in the arena of debate, and they cried for another arena. Let us remember that un¬belief, in its purity at that date, was so offended at nothing as at the fact that the Church said: “Christian justice makes all equal who bear the name of man,” ard that Paul said: “There is neither bond nor free, but ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Nothing so offended the representative of free thought in that period as the fact that a rich Roman, in the time of Trajan, having become a Christian, presented freedom to his 1,250 slaves on an Easter day. And, in all that time, when poor Christians with the funds of the Church were privately buying the freedom of slaves, I do not find that a base liberalism believed in liberty. Neither did it believe in freedom of thought. It is the blossom of egotism; it has nothing to which it bows; it beholds no majesty to which it can look up. It is sublime self-conceit, and it has no hesitancy in telling the whole human race that at its grandest moments it has been wrong. This egotism dared to become active in Rome, and it asked the Christians, in the person of the Emperor, to worship him, and to strew incense about him. “I will honor the Emperor,” said Theophilus, “not by worshiping him, but by praying for him.” Such men as that infidelity kindly put to death. Around their quivering limbs the infidelity of that day made the fagots to flame, and it taught the red tongues of cruel death to creep about their smoking bodies.
Men who believed that the Bible’s influence was what infidelity says it is, made the funeral pyre for Polycarp, the populace bringing fuel for the fire, and while the flames made a glory of their lambent glare, he cried out: “Six and eighty years have I served him and he has done me nothing but good, and how could I curse him, my Lord and Savior. If you would know what I am, I tell you frankly, I am a Christian.” He did his own thinking, and was brave enough to twow his opinion, for which hate of Christianity duly burned him. This was the way infidelity treated free speech. In that way it unchained the soul of Polycarp. Infidelity’s idea of Christianity sent the martyrs of Numidia and Paulus out of the world while they were praying for their murderers. Who believed in freedom then? Infidelity’s idea of the message of the Bible followed the Christian like a wild beast, and in the catacomb of Calixtus drew from the pursued soul the pathetic exclamation: “Oh, sorrowful times, when we can not even in eaves escape our foes!” And all this was true, because they said, “Recompense to no man evil for evil”; “Pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.”
This spirit of hate has had at least one holiday at the expense of Christian faith. On the night of the 18th of July, 64, Rome was swept with fire. Six days and nights it raged. Ruined was the world‘s metropolis and excited were the woe-stricken people. Nero, whose opinions of Christianity, by the way, were wonderfully like the orator’s, was king, and the people suspected that this royal monster did it. Men told of how he exulted over the sea of flame as he watched it from the tower of Maecenas; and whatever the truth of this may be, it is certain that for the rage of the people Nero must have a victim, and Tacitus tells us that he charged the Christians with the crime. Then opened in Rome the awful carnival of bloodshed that the orator never mentions, in which horrible modes of torture and excruciating methods of producing pain vied with each other in satisfying the demands of death. Women bound to raging bulls and dragged to death were not without the companionship of others who, in the evening, in Nero ‘s garden, were coated with pitch, covered with tar, bound to stakes of pine, lighted with fire, and sent to run aflame with the hatred of Christianity. Through the crowd of sufferers a gentleman, who was ultraliberal as the orator, drove about, fantastically attired as a charioteer, and the people were wild with delight. Domitian had the same ideas, and severe were his persecutions of the new heresy. This was the day on which infidelity was so full of the love of freedom that it cried: “The Christians to the lions!”
And so I might recount to you how for hundreds of years the Church found out how early and unchristianized infidelity loved freedom of thought. To a type of liberals, it has for years seemed a joy to go to the places in the old world and note how intolerant the Church has been. Now I suggest to any one that he go and visit some of the places where men who thought of Christianity as negativism thinks showed their faith and its fruits. Let him go to the Colosseum and ask the winds that moan over its ruins what they know of the history of infidelity. The winds will hush in that wreck of stupendous magnificence, and with an eloquence gathered from seventeen centuries they will tell him a story that will cause a flow of tears, for much of infidelity is of noble heart. They will tell him how the marble seats were crowded with thousands; again will sweep upward the shout of the excited throng; before him there will lie a half-dead Christian martyr, and near that pool of blood will stand a lion who has satiated his horrid thirst.
They will tell him how infidelity made that splendid place a temple of the furies, how it laughed and yelled and applauded, as it amused itself with that spectacle of horror. They will tell him how the underground passages served to keep and cage wild beasts, and how those who then hated Christianity starved the fierce lion until his eyes rolled in hot hunger and his teeth were sharpened with its agony. They will tell him how the infidelity of that day put balls of fire on the backs of the lions, and how the madness of their passion was increased by scattering hated colors about, tearing the beasts with iron hooks and beating them with cruel whips. They will tell how the Christian was made to fight these infuriated beasts without weapons, while infidelity was frantic with applause. It said “no” to the torn body yonder, that was mangled and supplicating in blood for life. I would have him stand there until, in after years, in a nobler strain than that of Byron, he could say:
All this, and cast a wide and tender light,
Which softened down the hoar austerity
Of rugged desolation.
Till the place
Became religion, and the heart ran o’er
With silent worship of the great of old!
The dead but sceptered sovereigns who still rule
Our spirits from their urns.
So long as I know what this book has been and done, so long as man‘s history will not allow me to risk the interests of society with the infidelity which has so often demoralized it, so long will I yearn to get the Bible and its message to all men. It has been our world’s best book. With this book as inspiration and resource, William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale were so to continue and complete the task of The Venerable Bede and John Wycliff as to make an epoch in the history of that language to be used by Shakespeare and Burke - an era as distinct as that which Luther‘s Bible so soon should mark in the history of a language to be such a potent instrument in the hands of Goethe and Hegel. For this very act of heresy, Tyndale was to be called “a full-grown Wycliff,” and Luther “the redeemer of his mother-tongue.” With the Bible, Calvin was to conceive republics at Geneva, and Holbein to paint, in spite of the iconoclasm of the Reformation, the faces of Holy Mother and Saint, and in spite of the cruelty of the Church, scripturally conceived satires illustrating the sale of indulgences. With that book Gustavus Vasa was to protect and nurture the freedom of the land of flowing splendors, while Angelo was transcribing sacred scenes upon the Sis¬tine vault or fixing them in stone. Reading this book, More was to die with a smile; Latimer, Cranmer, and Ridley to perish while illuminating with living torches, and the Ana¬baptist to arouse the sympathies of Christendom by his agonies. With this book in hand, Shakespeare was to write his plays; Raleigh was to die, knight, discoverer, thinker, statesman, martyr; Bacon to lay the foundation of modern scientific research - three stars in the majestic constellation about Henry ‘s daughter. With this Bible open before them the English nation would behold the Spanish Armada dashed to pieces upon the rocks, while Edmund Spenser mingled his delicious notes with the tumult of that awful wreck.
This book was to produce the edict of Nantes, while John of Barneveld would give new life to the command of William the Silent - “Level the dikes; give Holland back to the ocean, if need be,” thus making preparation for the visit of the Mayflower pilgrims to Leyden or Delfthaven. Their eyes resting upon its pages, Selden and Pym were to go to prison, while Grotius dreamed of the rights of man in peace and war, and Guido and Rubens were painting the joys of the manger or the sorrows of Calvary. His hand resting upon this book, Oliver Cromwell would consolidate the hopes and convictions of Puritanism into a sword which should conquer at Nasby, Marston Moor and Dunbar, leave to the throne of Charles I. a headless corpse, and create, if only for an hour’s prophecy, a commonwealth of unbending righteousness. With that volume in their homes, the Swede and the Huguenot, the Scotch-Irishman and the Quaker, the Dutchman and the freedom-loving cavalier, were to plan pilgrimages to the West, and establish new homes in America. With that book in the cabin of the May/lower, venerated and obeyed by sea-tossed exiles, was to be born a compact from which should spring a constitution and a government for the life of which all these nationalities should willingly bleed and struggle, under a conqueror who should rise from the soil of the cavaliers, and unsheath his sword in the colony of the Puritans.
Out of that Bible were to come the “Petition of Right,” the national anthem of 1628, the “Grand Remonstrance,” and “Paradise Lost.” With it, Blake and Pascal should voyage heroically in diverse seas. In its influence Jeremy Taylor should write his “Liberty of Prophesying,” Sir Matthew Hale his fearless replies, while Rembrandt was placing on canvas little Dutch children, with wooden shoes, crowding to the feet of a Jewish Messiah.
Its lines, breathing life, order, and freedom, would inspire John Bunyan’s dream, Alger-non Sidney’s fatal republicanism, and Puffendorf’s judicature. With them, William Penn would meet the Indian of the forest, and Fénelon, the philosopher, in his meditative solitude. Locke and Newton and Leibnitz would carry it with them in pathless fields of speculation, while Peter the Great was smiting an arrogant priest in Russia, and William was ascending the English throne. From its poetry Cowper, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning would catch the divine afflatus; from its statesmanship Burke, Romilly, and Bright would learn how to create and redeem institutions; from its melodies Handel, Bach, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven would write oratorios, masses, and symphonies; from its declaration of divine sympathy Wilberforce, Howard, and Florence Nightingale were to emancipate slaves, reform prisons, and mitigate the cruelties of war; from its prophecies Dante’s hope of a united Italy was to be realized by Cavour, Garibaldi, and Victor Emmanuel. Looking upon the family Bible as he was dying, Andrew Jackson said: “That book, sir, is the rock on which the Republic rests”; and with her hand upon that book, Victoria, England’s queen, was to sum up her history as a power amid the nations of the earth, when, replying to the question of an ambassador: “What is the secret of England’s superiority among the nations?” she would say: “Go tell your prince that this is the secret of England’s political greatness.”
Beloved friends, when spurious liberalism, with all her literature, produces such a roll call as this; “When out of her pages I may see coming a nobler set of forces for the making of manhood, then, and only then, will I give up my Bible; then, and only then, will I cease to pray and labor that it may be given to all the world.
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