Here’s a completely unrelated comic, from the incomparable Radio Free Babylon:
Here’s a completely unrelated comic, from the incomparable Radio Free Babylon:
One of the effects of the current political landscape in the USA has been to highlight the diverse attitudes and stances that exist within the various churches in the country.
Depending on your news sources, you may not fully appreciate that there is a vast range of positions within Christendom on issues of politics, social justice, ethics, and the relationship between a believer’s duties as a citizen of the state and as a follower of Jesus. Even with agreement on certain beliefs, there may still be a diversity of opinion on how exactly those beliefs should play out in the world and in our daily lives.
Here’s a perspective that hasn’t had much play in the media, courtesy of Trinity’s Portico. Enjoy!
I received the following piece via email from the Jesuit Institute of South Africa.
I didn’t write it, but I think that it is a useful discussion of what the Catholic concept of “papal infallibility” actually entails.
Infallible? by Raymond Perrier
Infallible must be one of the most misunderstood terms in Catholic vocabulary. Reflecting on the Papacy of Benedict XVI we can remind ourselves what Papal infallibility is and most importantly what it is not.
In 1 Corinthians 1-6, Paul admonishes the church in Corinth because church members have been suing each other. In this age of incessant litigation, it’s a passage with a great deal of application.
Here’s how it reads in the NIV:
“If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court — and this in front of unbelievers!”
Just a quick update – I recently published an article on the journal Christian Perspectives on Science and Technology, entitled “Children of God: The awkward teenage years“. The abstract below will give you something of the flavour:
In this essay I explore some of the manifestations of ‘teenage rebellion’ in matters of faith and society: how disillusionment with God can manifest and impact our lives. As we grow from infancy to adulthood, an early childish optimism towards our idealised vision of life often gives way to dissatisfaction, cynicism and disillusionment in our teenage years. This is a natural by-product of a youthful idealism based on unrealistic notions, and hopefully as we continue to mature to adulthood we understand life more deeply and regain our satisfaction, enthusiasm and sense of wonder with all that this life and universe have to offer. In general, I believe that this disillusionment is rooted in our early failure of understanding. The core of the Christian faith is a personal relationship with God through the person of Jesus. A person who believes in God but does not have a relationship with him may find that this level of faith is insufficient to withstand the additional pressures, responsibilities and difficulties that adulthood requires. On a broader perspective, I also look briefly at disillusionment with science from the Enlightenment to the present day.
Get the whole article here:
Today marks the 374th birthday of Nicolas Steno, a pioneer in geology and anatomy in the 17th century. Steno (Neils Stensen in the original Danish) was born in 1638 in Copenhagen, and after completing his university education in Denmark he spent the rest of his life travelling throughout Europe and collaborating with prominent physicians and scientists.
While the common approach of scientists at the time was to appeal to the ideas of Aristotle and Pliny, Steno was determined to examine evidence for himself and draw his own conclusions. He was guided in this by his religious convictions about God as Creator of the natural order.
At my church we’re currently hosting a cricket tournament.
Basically, a few friends were bored in the wet and cold winter months, and decided to convert the church hall (which was already carpeted) into an indoor cricket facility. One thing led to another, and suddenly we were hosting a tournament with 10 teams from all over the city and had sparked a community of over 100 people (and probably a dozen nationalities) who get together up to three times a week to hang out and play some friendly (but very competitive) cricket.
Which got me thinking about denominations.
Sex and science: we need to talk about both. And not just on this blog – we need to talk about them in church and at home, too.
Both sex and science are hugely powerful and important. Both have the potential to be wonderful, or to be terribly destructive. Responsibility and maturity are needed before we can safely handle either.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t teach our kids about sex, or science for that matter. Interest and curiosity (in both areas) are aroused from a young age, so let’s rather start the discussions early. Parents and pastors need to be willing to engage openly with both subjects.
But we need to be honest about both. Eventually, kids are going to grow up and engage with the wider world, and the wider world is drenched in both science and sex.
“My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than … [C]hristianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”
In short, it seems that Rice is frustrated to breaking point with hypocrisy in the Church.
Here’s the thing, though:
Jesus also hates the hypocrisy of Christians.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry he had a great deal to say to the scribes and the Pharisees, the “church leaders” of the day. Here’s Jesus as reported in the Gospel of Matthew:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. (Mt 23:1-3, NIV)
Jesus’ strongest condemnation was reserved for those who teach the truth but fail to live it out.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Mt 23:27-28, NIV)
Let there be no mistake: Jesus has no time for hypocrisy within the Church.
At the same time, Jesus instructs us to live a life delineated by firm principles. There are concrete instructions about correct behaviour as well as about correct motives and attitudes. And yet, the Bible teaches us that we are all flawed and will fail to meet theses standards. Jesus is compassionate towards those who struggle to live according to God’s will for their lives. But the vital step is accepting that we ourselves are flawed.
I suspect that anyone who has been involved with Christianity has had experience of hypocrisy. But I suspect that anyone who has been involved in any human affairs has had experience of hypocrisy. If we set ourselves any sort of moral standards at all, we will fail to meet them. Perhaps George Thorogood had the answer to hypocrisy: start off by claiming to be “Bad to the Bone”, and you’ll never fall short of your standards.
But these are not the standards that Jesus asks us to aim for.
I’ve been involved in the Church for a couple of decades, including several denominations and several countries. I’ve seen people failing to live up to their own teaching. More to the point, I’ve seen people failing to live up to Jesus’ teaching. (Shocking revelation: I am one of those people!)
But I’ve also seen a great number of people trying to live up to Jesus teaching. Sometimes they do a pretty good job, sometimes they do a terrible job. They’re never perfect, but they keep trying. They also keep admitting that they have failed and ask God’s help to keep trying.
This attitude of humility is perhaps the key to avoiding hypocrisy. Jesus didn’t rebuke the scribes and the Pharisees for failing to live up to God’s law: he rebuked them for pretending to do so.
Perhaps the most succinct expression of humility and acknowledgment of our own fallen nature came from the inimitable G. K. Chesterton. When invited by The Times newspaper, along with several other prominent authors, to write an essay on the topic “What’s Wrong with the World?”, Chesterton replied with a letter:
G. K. Chesterton
This is the essence of humility. It is an open admission of our failings, with no excuses or self-justifications. (Incidentally, Chesterton did later write a full-length essay on the subject, which I highly recommend).
As the apostle John writes:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:8-10, NIV)
I understand Anne Rice’s frustration with hypocrisy in the Church, but I choose to respond differently. I remain within the Church, and if I feel that it has strayed, I will attempt to correct and support it from within.
More importantly, I recognise that I can also be hypocritical and corrupt, and I rely on my brothers and sisters in Christ to correct and support me in my walk.
“The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”
The line above is oft-quoted and, I believe, captures elegantly a fundamental truth of Christianity. Rather than a mechanism for personal improvement, the Christian doctrine of Grace states that we are fundamentally unable to meet God’s standards through exemplary living. Oh sure, there will be improvements in our characters as our relationship with Christ deepens. But such improvement must be measured from the baseline of our personal starting point, not an arbitrary societal average.
As Timothy Keller writes in The Reason for God:
“The mistaken belief that a person must “clean up” his or her own life in order to merit God’s presence is not Christianity. This means, though, that the church will be filled with immature and broken people who still have a long way to go emotionally, morally and spiritually.”
Keller later makes a related point:
“It is often the case that people whose lives have been harder and who are “lower on the character scale” are more likely to recognise their need for God and turn to Christianity. So we would expect that many Christian’s lives would not compare well to those of the non-religious.”
This got me thinking about models of behaviour. (Hey, simulation modelling is what I do – it’s not always easy to separate work from the rest of life!)
If we assume that:
1. Christianity is true
2. Relationship with Jesus improves our character and behaviour
…but also that:
3. Spiritually and emotionally broken people may be more willing to recognise and accept their need for God’s grace.
…then I believe that we can arrive at a theoretical model which accounts for much of the observed behaviour in the Church. I see Christians who are broken and unethical, but I also observe Christians who are magnificently good, generous and loving. All of these are consistent with this framework.
Of course, I don’t for one second imply that this proves anything, and my belief that Christianity is true is totally unrelated to this line of reasoning. But I do think that it has a certain amount of explanatory power for the observed state of the Church – and for my own status as both a flawed human and a follower of Christ…