Friday, April 28, 2006

A Christian Paleontologist -- Is Such a Thing Possible?

Remember the announcement that soft tissue had been discovered from a Tyrannosaurus rex bone? And how young-earth creationists claimed that this was proof that dinosaur fossils were not ancient?

We just got our issue of the Smithsonian Magazine, and it is fascinating to discover here that the scientist who made the discovery of the soft tissue is herself a Christian:

Of course, it’s not unusual for a paleontologist to differ with creationists. But when creationists misrepresent [Paleontologist Mary] Schweitzer’s data, she takes it personally: she describes herself as “a complete and total Christian.” On a shelf in her office is a plaque bearing an Old Testament verse: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

and here:

Further discoveries in the past year have shown that the discovery of soft tissue in B. rex wasn’t just a fluke. Schweitzer and Wittmeyer have now found probable blood vessels, bone-building cells and connective tissue in another T. rex, in a theropod from Argentina and in a 300,000-year-old woolly mammoth fossil. Schweitzer’s work is “showing us we really don’t understand decay,” Holtz says. “There’s a lot of really basic stuff in nature that people just make assumptions about.”

Young-earth creationists also see Schweitzer’s work as revolutionary, but in an entirely different way. They first seized upon Schweitzer’s work after she wrote an article for the popular science magazine Earth in 1997 about possible red blood cells in her dinosaur specimens. Creation magazine claimed that Schweitzer’s research was “powerful testimony against the whole idea of dinosaurs living millions of years ago. It speaks volumes for the Bible’s account of a recent creation.”

This drives Schweitzer crazy. Geologists have established that the Hell Creek Formation, where B. rex was found, is 68 million years old, and so are the bones buried in it. She’s horrified that some Christians accuse her of hiding the true meaning of her data. “They treat you really bad,” she says. “They twist your words and they manipulate your data.” For her, science and religion represent two different ways of looking at the world; invoking the hand of God to explain natural phenomena breaks the rules of science. After all, she says, what God asks is faith, not evidence. “If you have all this evidence and proof positive that God exists, you don’t need faith. I think he kind of designed it so that we’d never be able to prove his existence. And I think that’s really cool.”

By definition, there is a lot that scientists don’t know, because the whole point of science is to explore the unknown. By being clear that scientists haven’t explained everything, Schweitzer leaves room for other explanations. “I think that we’re always wise to leave certain doors open,” she says.

I feel tolerably certain that the fact that the reporter carefully used the term "young earth creationist" is due to the fact that Mary Schweitzer herself used it in the interview, since as a rule popular science journalists are not particularly careful in their taxonomy of creationism. *

The article goes on to talk about Mary Schweitzer's "unorthodox approach to paleontology," including her interest in astrobiology.

Maybe her different perspective from other scientists comes from her being a Christian paleontologist. You can't really get a sense of it from the quotations in the article, but really, if there was anything that would teach you independence of mind, it would be being a Christian paleontologist.

Cross-posted at Here We Stand.

UPDATE: Helen Fields, the author of the article wrote this: Hi there - nope, it was me who picked 'young earth creationist' - I didn't want my readers to mix them up with the intelligent design folks. Actually, in an earlier version of the story, I also explained intelligent design and how this is different, but, well, it got cut for space. Too bad, but that's how it goes. I'm flattered she stopped by and made the comment!

The Real Prejudice Romney Has to Face

There have been a number of people writing lately about Mitt Romney and his chances as a Mormon of getting votes from revivalistic (i.e. "evangelical") Christians. Amy Sullivan had the original big piece claiming that behind the voting booth curtain, conservative Christians won't vote for a Mormon. First Russ Douthat and then Bob Novak have seconded that opinion. And so lots of people are now discussing it (for example, verbum ipsum).

Let me record first of all my doubts. Firstly, Amy Sullivan and Bob Novak are, for different reasons, no fans of conservative Christians. As I read them the subtext of their columns is as follows: "See? You thought those horrible conservative/dispensational Christians weren't bigots and stooges, didn't you? Well you were wrong -- they are bigots! And you in the Republican Party (or "you dispensational nuts in Israel's amen corner" to Bob Novak) will just have to live with their bigotry -- and it will serve you right! Ha, ha, ha, ha! And we'll defeat Bush for good in 2008 and put Saddam back in charge of Iraq and everything will be sunshine and roses in the Middle East just like it was on Sept. 10, 2001! So there!"

(OK that last part may not be so much what they're thinking, although it is the common ground between a guy like Bob Novak and a gal like Amy Sullivan. And yes, the Democrats definitely need reminding that no matter how unpopular the President is, they can't win by running against him in 2008.)

So, no, I don't think Amy Sullivan's "analysis" of Christian voters can be accepted as simply a neutral observation.

Secondly, I find the constant linking of the idea that "Mormons aren't Christian" with "Revivalist Christians won't vote for them" to be curious. Would conservative Christians vote for a conservative Republican who is Jewish? Probably (in fact, they're more likely to vote for a Republican Jew than Bob Novak is, that's for sure). Is this on the misapprehension that Jews are Christians?

Finally, I think there's a much more powerful prejudice at work in Republican primary voters, and that's the conservative prejudice against Northeasterners, and especially New Englanders -- and this has nothing to do whether the New Englanders are or are not conservative on the issues. Particularly in the South it's quite powerful, and I wonder if that, much more than the Mormon issue, will challenge the Romney candidacy. This is of course one reason why the Democrats have survived minority party status pretty well. They've realized that if you're typecast as the party of one half of America, you're better off geting candidates from the other half, to neutralize that advantage. (That's how the Democrats won with Carter and Clinton, and won the popular vote, even while losing the electoral college, with Gore.) Can the Republicans do the same? Will they do the same? (I'm sure Amy Sullivan's hoping they won't.) I think that's more interesting than whether Romney's a Mormon or not.

Finally, about Romney's Mormonism, I'll just repeat what I said in verbum ipsum's comment box: there are good reasons to vote for a Mormon, even if you definitely reject Mormon doctrine. In the kingdom of the Left Hand (which is all we should care about as voters in a non-sectarian republic), Utah is actually a pretty well-run state. I find its combination of the idea of community responsibility, support for universal education, relatively egalitarian wealth distribution, socially conservative family values, and robust American patriotism, all of which are embedded in the way of life of the Mormons as a community to be not just tolerable, but actually desirable. The downsides (philistinism, the obsession with the immediately useful and practical, the tendency to a kind of practical intolerance which comes from being the heavy demographic majority, and of course the whole doctrinal underpinning of the Mormon system) occur solely in areas in which the president would have no influence on American life.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Good Stuff from Unlikely Sources

I'm generally not a fan of Ann Coulter, finding her more of a provocateur than a sharp conservative analyst, but I have to admit a recent column of her's is right on the money. (HT: Kletos Sumboulos).

And of course being LCMS it's a (just a bit) surprising for me to see that an (apparently) ELCA affiliated Lutheran, Thomas Adams, has produced two excellent posts on justification, one on "the Finnish Luther," and another the Catholic idea of grace. (HT: verbum ipsum)

Something tells me that neither Anne Coulter nor Thomas Adams will feel comfortable being so close on the same page!

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Medieval Conversion of the Turks

One of the interesting byways of medieval history is the conversion of a certain Turco-Mongol peoples on the Mongolian plateau to Christianity, specifically to the Church of the East.

The most famous source on this conversion is from the Ecclesiastical Chronicle of the thirteenth century writer and Oriental Christian bishop Bar Hebraeus (bio here, but he is generally not believed today to be the "son of a Hebrew"; rather Hebraeus is a Latin misunderstanding of his birth place). According to this Chronicle in 1007 AD a letter was sent from the Metropolitan of Merv (modern Mary in Turkmenistan, but then a part of the eastern Iranian realm of Khorasan) to the Catholicus (i.e. "Pope") of the Church of the East in Baghdad, telling of the conversion of a Turkish king.

Around this same time, ’Abdisho, the Metropolitan of Merv, one of the cities of Khorasan, sent this to the Catholicus:

"The king of the people who are called Keraith [properly Kereyid], that is interior [=inland] Turks, from the northeast, when he had come into the high mountains of his region fell into the midst of vast snows and in his bewilderment wandered from his road. When he had lost all hope of ever being saved, one of the saints appeared to him in a revelation and said this to the man: ‘If you believe in Christ, I will guide you so that you shall not perish here.’ The king promised that he would become a lamb in the Christian sheepfold, and then the saint guided him and lead him on to open spaces. And thus having returned safe and sound to his tents, he called into his presence Christian merchants who were going to and fro there and asked them about the faith. They said to him truly that this was not possible to be fulfilled except through baptism, so he thus received from them a Gospel and lo, he is worshipping every day. And now by a messenger, he asks me if I would visit him or would appoint a priest who would baptize him. He has also questioned me about fasting, saying, ‘Apart from meat and milk we have no other food: how then could we fast?’ He also told me that the number of those who were converted with him reached 200,000 souls."
To this message, the catholicus replied to the metropolitan in this manner, so that by sending two persons, a presbyter and a deacon, and altar paraments with them they might baptize those who have truly set out in this, even whosoever would believe, and teach them the customs of the Christians and prescribed for them that during the dominical fast they abstain from the taking of meat, permitting them solely to drink milk, if indeed, as they say, food proper for Lent is not to be had in their area.

From: Gregory Abul-Faraj Bar Hebraeus, Gregorii Barhebraei Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, trans. Joannes Baptista Abbeloos and Thomas Josephus Lamy, vol. 3 (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1877), pp. 279-282.

As Erica C.D. Hunter, at the Cambridge University Library, points out in her "The Conversion of the Kerait to Christianity in A.D. 1007," Zentralasiatische Studien 22 (1898/91), pp. 142-163, there is another account, that of of the eleventh century writer Mari ibn Suleiman (despite his Arabic name, a Church of the East Christian writer) in his Kitabu'-l Mijdal ("Book of the Tower"). His account differs on several points from that of Bar Hebraeus.

First of all Mari ibn Suleiman describes the king as simply of Turkish origin, but does not specify the Kereyid, although like Bar Hebraeus, he mentions the 200,000 number, saying " A king of the Turkish kings became Christian with 200,000 souls." In Mari ibn Suleiman's account, the the saint is specifically named as Mar Sergius (Lord Sergius), who commanded the king to become a Christian and to close his eyes, upon which he found himself back in his camp.

In Mari ibn Suleiman's account, the monarch asked the merchants "concerning the Christian religion, prayer, and the book of canon-laws," in response to which the merchants taught him "the Lord's Prayer, Lakhu Mara, and Qadisha Alaha." The Lakhu Mara is the Syriac of the hymn Te deum, and the Qadisha Alaha is the Trisagion, together forming the three crucial parts of the service of the Word (e.g. here). Mari ibn Suleman details the king's mode of worship as he awaits further information from Merv and Baghdad:

The king set up a pavilion to take the place of an altar, in which was a cross and a Gospel, and named it after Mar Sergius, and he tethered a mare there and he takes her milk and lays it on the Gospel and the cross, and recites over it the prayers which he has learned, and makes the sign of the cross over it, and he and his people after him take a draft from it.

In this "folk" Eucharist, Mari ibn Suleiman, explains there was no bread because "they had no wheat."

In the Kitabu'l-Mijdal's version of ’Abdisho's letter and the Catholicus's response, the Metropolitan also writes "that he was informed that his people were accustomed to eat only meat and milk," and in response the Catholicus askes him "to endeavor to find them wheat and wine for Easter" (i.e. the Paschal Eucharist), and that while taking milk (but not meat) would be allowed during Lent, "if their habit was to take sour milk, they should take sweet milk as a change."

Sour milk here is fermented mare's milk or koumiss (Turkish qumyz, or in Mongolian variously esüg, airag, or chigee), a lightly alcoholic drink, which was used to replace wine in the king's non-Paschal Eucharist (the photo shows koumiss being churned).

The fact that Mari ibn Suleiman, the earlier source, does not link this story to the Kereyid is important. When Bar Hebraeus was writing, the Mongols ruled the Middle East and the queens of the Kereyid (who had been defeated and conquered by Genghis Khan in 1203) were famous as patrons of Christianity. It is likely that Bar Hebraeus writing in the thirteenth century decided that the Christian king of the Turks must be of the Kereyid, who were a kingdom in what is now central Mongolia, close to the country's current capital of Ulaanbaatar.

In fact, however, the king in question is almost certainly not of the Kereyid, but of the "White Tatars" or Önggüd, a people living south of the Kereyid in present day Inner Mongolia in China. The Önggüd were the most staunchly Christian people of the Mongolian plateau in the thirteenth-fourteenth century, and the name Sergius (in the Turkish form Sergis~Sirgis) is well attested among them. Although part of the Mongol empire, they long retained their Turkish language. The story of St. Sergius appearing to the lost king was retold in the fourteenth century, by the Confucian literatus Yuan Haowen. Writing a memorial epitaph for the grave-stie of a distinguished Önggüd literatus, Ma Qingxiang, he repeated the story. In his version, the Christian saint appears as a kind of Buddha, and the king is not the king of the Önggüd, but the emperor of the Jin dynasty (A.D. 1115-1234), who were the liegelords of the Önggüd kings, and ruled North China. (The Jin was founded by the Manchurian Jurchen, ancestors of the later Manchus) . In this version, the Önggüds, having been deported and exiled to Manchuria by the Jin founders are released as an act of merit by the second emperor of the Jin dynasty, whom the Önggüd then serve loyally in Inner Mongolia. (Later their prince deserted to the Mongols, and they became marriage allies of the Mongol khans of China.) It is fascinating to see how Yuan Haowen takes the story and modifies it, making the central issue that of the identity of the image, and the spiritual redemption of the Önggüds into their political redemption by the emperor. Here is the text of the beginning of Yuan Haowen's funerary inscription for Ma Qingxiang:

Qingxiang, whose courtesy name was Ruining and family name Ma, and who had another courtesy name of Sirgis was a member of the aristocracy of Huamen. In the time of Xuanzheng [this is hard to interpret but appears to mean rought around 1120 AD], his tribes-people were settled at Didao of Lintao [in Gansu, northwest China] and had lost trace of their origin. When the Jin armies invaded western Shaanxi [near Gansu], the whole group was transported to Liaodong [eastern Liaoning, in southern Manchuria] where they remained. Once when the Great Ancestor [honorific title of the second emperor of the Jin, 1123-1135] went out on a hunting expedition, he thought he saw a golden man walking along with the sun clasped to his bosom. He was much excited and did not dare to gaze upwards. He gave up the hunt and returned, and commanded that a search be made of what he had just seen. It was thought by some that what the Emperor had witnessed was the personification of the Buddha. As there were no Buddhist temples or pagodas in Liaodong, a Buddhist likeness could not be obtained except in the building where the fanbai [scriptures] were chanted by a Turkestani [commonly used in Chinese at the time for Middle Easterners as well]. Hence, a painting was taken from them and presented to the Emperor; this actually agreed with what he had seen. The Emperor was delighted. He sighed with relief and ordered that an appropriate recompense be made (lit: that a field be planted with blessings). All tribesmen held as captives were amnesties and became ordinary commoners. They were provided with funds and released. Mr. Ma’s grandfather was Temür-Öge., and his father’s name was Bar-Saoma Elishu. They moved to Tianshan in Jingzhou [in central Inner Mongolia], where they have been recorded and lived for generations. (Adapted from Chen Yuan, Western and Central Asians in China Under the Mongols: Their Transformation Into Chinese, trans. Ch’ien Hsing-hai and L. Carrington Goodrich (Los Angeles: UCLA, 1966), p. 44-45.)

Despite the acceptance of it shown by the Church of the East, fermented mare's milk would be a flash-point of religious conflict in the Eastern Orthodox tradition in later centuries, marking off the sedentary Christian from the nomadic infidel.



Saturday, April 22, 2006

"Pulling a Chiang Kai-shek"?

I haven't blogged on Iraq for a while (it doesn't seem to breed a whole lot of reader comments), but there's enough interesting stuff out there recently that I just can't resist.

First check out Matthew Yglesias on why we shouldn't bomb Iran. Apart from the annoying intro and concluding paragraphs to establish that he's a lefty, he makes pretty much all the points I made here, just a month or two later and with less sophistication. Sad to say, he doesn't cite me. (Let me also lodge a preemptive protest to his absurd claim that Iranian terrorism has never killed Americans. Has he forgotten the Khobar Towers?)
(HT: David Frum; and see also on his recommendation the very well-informed analysis of Edward Luttwak here).

Second there's an excellent micro-level Iraq analysis here. Basically, the Sadr family and al-Hakim family represent two opposite political lines -- and before we get all "Oh, its so insane to try to democratize those primitive Iraqis" think of Clintons and Bushes, or Kennedies and Rockefellers or Roosevelts and Tafts. Yes, it's a lot more violent than them. But the take home point is that the al-Sadrs are anti-American and more violent, the al-Hakims are pro-American and less violent, and as we see today, the bad guys couldn't get their way.

On a larger level, it's a bit late to announce it here, but Wretchard (at Belmont Club -- see here and again here) is of course right that the war we all hear about in Iraq, you know, the insurgency, is over: the insurgency, the mooj, whatever, have lost, which is good news for the United States. Al Qaeda's allies in Iraq won't be establishing a Caliphate. Oh, they can still cause some carnage, but basically, they're kaput.

The real issue then is, what's going to be the political orientation of the new regime. The phrase you want to be familiar with is "pulling a Chiang Kai-shek." In the mid-1920s, Chiang Kai-shek was the "Red General of Canton," whose dissident army invading northern China from the south was being funded by the Soviet Union to the tune of $1 million a month (the fact that the Soviet Union had diplomatic relations with the northern government in Beijing at the time was a mere detail). Anyway, Red Canton was under a coalition of the Kuomintang and the Communists, with the Kuomintang as the senior partner in theory, but the Communists as the ones with the real oomph in practice.

The Soviet Union's main interest from her first advances to China in 1921 had been strategic -- to make China, like Iran and Turkey before her, adopt an attitude of benevolent neutrality toward the Soviet Union and refuse to allow her territory to be used by the hostile Versailles powers (esp. Britain and Japan) to threaten the Soviet Union. But as the Canton armies moved north, the revolution became more radical and the Kuomintang began to be more and more nervous. Soviet operatives began to get greedy and think China might really have a revolution, just like theirs, and KMT leaders like Chiang Kai-shek began to feel the same thing. In the end, Chiang, after he took Shanghai, rounded up all the Communists he could find and shot them, deported all the Soviet advisers in his army and went over to the other side, becoming an ally first of Fascist Italy and Weimar Germany, and then of the Britain and the USA. It is this type of action which I call "pulling a Chiang Kai-shek" -- using the money and forces of a powerful ally to get control of your country, and then deserting that powerful ally and crushing that ally's more uppity internal followers.

Another example is how after the Soviets had sunk millions (probably billions in today's money) into Nasser's Egypt, Sadat threw them over and allied with the USA.

So this is now a much more likely scenario now than the insurgency actually winning, or even the much balleyhooed "civil war" between Sunnis and Shi'ites. How can we prevent this from happening? First, remember why Chiang Kai-shek did it in the first place: not because he hated the Soviet Union or Russians, but because he became convinced the Soviet Union was planning to replace him with the Communists. In other words, impatient pushing of the Soviet Union's ultimate "transformation" agenda drove the KMT leaders into hostility to their patron. So far there looks like two issues which might push Shi'ite leaders to abandon the USA as their patron: either pushing secularization too fast (which the USA certainly hasn't done), or pushing the Shi'ites to make too many concessions to the Kurds and Sunni Arabs (which some might say the USA has done).

And here's where Iran comes back in. A Shi'ite leader looking for a new patron will naturally turn to Shi'ite (but ethnically not Arab-speaking but Persian-speaking) Iran: what other choice does he have? And Iran is certainly desperately anxious to turn Iraq into a satellite: this would be the culmination of decades, indeed centuries, of geopolitical planning. This is why the talk about "We need to get out of Iraq, so we can concentrate on deterring Iran's nuclear ambitions" is so truly and utterly numb-skulled. Iran's mullahs wants a nuclear bomb, sure, but not nearly as much as they want to take Iraq under their wing. Unlike some Americans, they don't fixate on technology, they focus on building up a stable of loyal allies, whom they back to the hilt. (The mullahs may be unpleasant, the worst kind of blood-stained Pharisees, but they are quite shrewd.)

So far, the al-Sadr family and Mookie have clearly been Iran's favored party in Iraq. By all accounts, despite their long residence in Iran, the al-Hakim family has been America's favored party. So are all the pieces in place for a "pulling a Chiang Kai-shek"? The USA pushes the Shi'ites to be nice to the Kurds and Sunni Arabs, they don't want to, and so they turn to Iran which is happy to bankroll a program of savage vengeance against the old Sunni oppressors? Well, I wouldn't rule it out, but this scenario doesn't seem likely. Why not?

The main reason is that al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army for all their general belligerence can't quite stay focused on who their enemy is. Muqtada al-Sadr ("Mookie" for short) is politically committed to Sunni-Shi'ite alliance against the Americans, alliance of all Iraq against the Crusaders etc., etc. When the big golden dome in Samarra was blown up, Mookie was in Beirut at a big meeting of all the usual anti-American suspects (Sunni Muslim Brotherhood types, Shi'ite Hizbullah, etc.), saying the same.

But back at home who responded instantly to the bombing with the most violent attacks on ordinary Sunni Arabs? The Mahdi Army, of course.

Here's his problem: the Mahdi Army, as far as I can see, is not an army and has no intention of being an army. Rather it is an undisciplined mob of racketeers (unfortunately not unlike the al-Hakim family's Badr Brigade). As an undisciplined mob, the Mahdi Army simply cannot be used to deliver violence according to a sophisticated political program. While Mookie is politically committed to a program of alliance with the remnants of the Sunni insurgency to fight the USA (probably because he knows his own "army" couldn't defeat any of his enemies on its own), his troops are committed to being the nastiest they can be to their local rivals -- who are in many places the Sunni Arabs. So Mookie can't keep the Mahdi Army on track about who the blind violence is to be directed at in any given time.

So will anyone in Iraq "pull a Chiang Kai-shek"? It's hard to say in the future, but it's pretty clear no figure in Iraq has the wherewithal to do it now. But one thing we can say, keeping the Iraqi Shi'ites "on board" (if not completely happy) with the American-led "War on Terror" and our (de facto) coalition of Middle Eastern minority peoples is far more important for deterring Iran than anything we could do about her nukes.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Arabization as Globalization

Reihan Salam, whom I've quoted before, has a great post on the spread of radical Islam as a particularly insensitive and destructive type of globalization. [HT: Jonah Goldberg] First he points out (citing Fareed Zakaria's Future of Freedom):

India has grown progressively less Western as it's grown more democratic and more affluent, and a wide variety of cultural forms that are both modern and indigenous have flourished. (Bollywood comes to mind.) There is a place for English, to be sure, but it is an indigenized English. At the same time, dozens of regional languages have parallel publishing industries and even film industries all their own, and many are thriving as profitable niche markets.

He then contrasts this with the "Arabization" going on in Southeast Asia. There indigenous cultures are being revitalized by new technology, but are being simply eliminated as not being truly "Islamic," when what is meant by Islam is simply "what they do in Saudi Arabia." So the native Mak Yong style folk music of Muslim Malaysia is going extinct, after being banned by the Parti Islam in the local government.

He concludes:

Rather than offering a precise cultural pattern that demands the displacement of indigenous traditions, Western cultural exports, certainly in recent decades, take the form of techniques and practices that can in fact revitalize indigenous cultures [This is what he's described in the case of India]. Even anti-Americanism is a kind of American export, spreading as it does via popular music and a cultural pose perfected by American provocateurs. But the "soft power" of the Arab world takes a different, more pernicious form.

You can see this in China too. I have put up two pictures of mosques in northwest China, where the Hui (Chinese-speaking Muslims) are a widespread commercial minority, with some districts of rural population. The smaller one is a typical pre-Cultural Revolution style mosque (one in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia), which was basically Chinese in style, with Koranic calligraphy and a minaret. But after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when destroyed mosques were rebuilt and religious expression was given more leeway, young Huis began building mosques. Having had their own indigenous traditions assaulted and being more familiar with the Arab world, and often funded by Saudi oil money, they built all the new mosques in the style of cheap knock-offs of Middle Eastern mosques (the large picture is of a new mosque in Linxia, traditionally known as "the Mecca of China"). The difference is symptomatic of the globalization of Islam.

In other words, rather than being an "tribal" reaction to "globalization" (Jihad vs. McWorld), Islamism is simply another globalization agenda, another program for standardizing all the world according to one template.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Better Way to Define the Sacraments

In scholastic theology, sacraments have been defined by their category of having a visible sign or action associated with them. The theological question then becomes the relationship of the visible sign (water in baptism, for example) to the grace imparted. Herman Sasse, for one, has criticized this mode of argumentation for starting with a genus (sacrament) and then arguing from the genus "sacrament" to the characteristics of the species (say, baptism)

Near the end of Luther's Babylonian Captivity of the Church (most easily available in his Three Treatises), he too offers a similar definition. He argues that there are only two sacraments, since only baptism and the Lord's Supper have the defining characteristics of a sacrament, that is, a divine (i.e. Biblical) promise of grace, and a visible sign. Absolution has a divine promise, but lacks a visible sign and is hence not a sacrament. This has generally been followed in Evangelical theology.

Embedded within the Babylonian Captivity is, I think, actually a better definition, one according to which absolution is indeed a sacrament. Repeatedly, Luther distinguishes between sacramental actions, whose efficacy depends not at all on the faith of the officiant, but only on the faith of the one receiving the sacrament, and prayer, whose efficacy depends not at all on the faith of the one for the prayer is being offered, but only on the faith of the one praying.

Even within a single complex of actions Luther holds that this distinction must be maintained. Thus in the Lord's Supper, the communicants receive the forgiveness of sins with the body and blood of Christ, regardless of the faith of the pastor. But if the pastor at the Lord's Supper is a faithful pastor and prays in faith (say, for bodily healing, for salvation of a certain person, for relief from natural disaster), then the object of that prayer (the sick person, the unbeliever, the disaster victims) will be helped regardless of his or her faith, indeed even without his or her knowledge. Similarly, while a baptized child receives the benefits of baptism solely by faith in the sacramental action, without any need for saving faith on the part of the pastor, Luther says that the prayer of the church for the newly baptized child, if done in sincere faith toward God, can convert that child and sustain his or her faith.

(What is the connection of the sacrament and the prayers then? Those who pray are partakers in the sacrament -- receiving that promise then builds their faith to offer sincere prayers for their neighbors, who may not have faith yet.)

In other words: in a sacramental action, faith is needed only by the receiver of the action, not the doer. But in a non-sacramental action, faith is needed only by the doer of the action, not the receiver.

This definition eliminates entirely the whole need to distinguish what each sacrament's visible sign is, how it is or is not efficacious, and so on. All communication of God with man is by promise and faith. In the sacrament, as in Gospel preaching, this promise is directly given by God (through the mere agency of man) for us to have faith in. In prayer, we seek, in accordance with God's promise, the benefit of our neighbor through asking God to help them -- whether they are believers and have faith or not.

By this definition, absolution is definitely a sacrament, since the promise of absolution is entirely irrespective of the absolver and depends wholly on the faith of the one absolved.

Perhaps Luther wished to preserve the visible sign definition, because it yielded a number for the sacraments even lower (only two, as opposed to three) than that of the Roman Catholic seven. But in terms of the structure of his sacramental theology, his focus in the Babylonian Captivity on where there is the need for faith seems a far more faith-and-works, rightly divided, and Evangelical way to define the place of sacraments than the presence or absence of a visible sign.

For a general introduction to my series on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and a guide to the posts so far, see here.

Why Girl Acolytes Have Never Bothered Me (or any other Lutherans, either?)

It's always a bit interesting to read articles like this, or blog entries like this or this, precisely because it seems so remote from my experience. Apparently, the role of the acolyte in the Catholic Church was traditionally conceived of as apprenticeship for the priesthood. So to anxious conservative Catholics, "altar girls" (apparently "girl altar boys" is the required RadTrad term) is jus one more violation of the traditional understanding of the priesthood.

Let me suggest a different way of looking at it. In our church, acolyte service has nothing to do with apprenticeship to the pastorate. Instead it is part of confirmation. All children being confirmed, boys and girls alike, in the two years of confirmation classes also serve as acolytes (and crucifers and other tasks in the liturgy). In so doing they are indeed apprenticed to the priesthood: that of all believers. They learn about the church year, the liturgy, the reverential treatment of the Sacrament, and decorum in the church (ideally, that is -- and they all try hard, despite the occasional attack of the sleepers).

Upon being confirmed, their acolyte service is concluded. Those who wish to become pastors, show it by doing mission trips, not by being acolytes.

So, for me at least "girl altar boys" is a non-issue.

Are there any Augsburg Evangelicals for whom it is a big issue?

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

You know you're nuts when . . .

I know I'm a bit skeptical about doctors and so-called medical miracles, but I think it's a wake-up when for half the column I actually took this seriously, and thought "yeah, why are we wasting our money on the war against cancer?," rather than reading it as a satire.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Bit of Both

You are 50% Calvin and 50% Hobbes

Calvin & Hobbes, like a scruffy yin and yang, are in perfect balance within you. Like Calvin, you're weird, a bit insecure, and can be a trouble-maker. But like Hobbes, you're down to earth and sensitive. It's a risk to say it here, after just a ten question test, but I'll bet you're smarter than most. Both Calvin and Hobbes are crafty, clever characters, and any one made from equal parts of each is a force to be reckoned with.

I scored higher than 61% of 42 year-old males on Calvin, and higher than 27% of 42 year-old males on Hobbes. Needless to say, my favorite quiz result in a long time.

HT: Confessing Evangelical; take the quiz yourself here.



Friday, April 14, 2006

The Theodicy of Bondage of the Will in Novel Form

Why aren't I still a Presbyterian? Three reasons, or rather three books, each of which I picked up used or damaged, at a discount. The relevance of two would be obvious: Luther's Three Treatises and the Small Catechism, in the 1943 version with the glorious woodcuts. The third is perhaps a bit more obscure: a copy of the Library of America edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novels: Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Minister's Wooing, and Old Town Folks. Mrs. Stowe has fallen on hard times lately. So much of modern Christendom is trying to forget the sentimental Victorian era and move back to the earthy Reformers and/or the hieratic Fathers. Mrs. Stowe has exactly the wrong demographic to appeal to confessional Christians today: a Yankee, a reformer, and a believer in progress (although exactly of what sort is something often misunderstood).

Now there is much that can be said against Mrs. Stowe's works. Her sentimentality is sometimes different from ours, and hence (unlike ours) occasionally looks ridiculous to us. She recycles characters -- although somehow, I personally can't hold it against her, since the characters remain wonderfully alive and the same even under different names: It was perhaps simply excessive timidity that made her rename The Minister's Wooing's Aaron Burr as Oldtown Folks's Ellery Davenport -- had she simply kept the name the same, it would have been a bravura performance of art over creeping empiricism.

But more importantly, she was the magus of my secret knowledge, the one that made the cross the center, not the sovereign God. I had never (and still have never) actually met anyone who has read her New England novels (The Minister's Wooing, Oldtown Folks, and Poganuc People). But they had long propelled out of the whole problematique of five-point Calvinism, not by the unconvincing expedient of disproving it, but by the living experience of what it meant in life.

Let me explain.

Mrs. Stowe grew under Jonathan Edward's revivalist restatement of Calvinist theology. One must have a conscious conversion experience, or else one will not be saved. Yet God has determined sovereignly who will and who will not have such an experience. The sign of a true conversion experience is precisely that it led one to exults in God's purely sovereign decision to save and damn who He pleases, entirely apart from any reference to one's own self's fate. Her novels were animated by aim of transcending this upbringing: transcending it, by showing her love for her Puritan heritage, and her conviction that it was in many points a dreadful mistake.

She never read much, if anything, of Luther. In the end she, like many others leaving revivalist low-church Protestantism, followed the fata morgana of Episcopalianism, which disguised, rather than cured the symptoms. Obsessional confessionals will have great glee in pointing out her incorrect division of Law and Gospel.

But she knew, she'd been to the mountaintop -- the mountaintop that is the valley of the shadow of death. She'd been baptized in the waters of suffering, the suffering that no one in the Lutheran Witness, For the Life of the World, or the Lutheran blogosphere wants to talk about: to lose a loved one and not know where he was going. And in that knowledge she learned from Scripture not to turn to God's sovereign decrees, nor yet to employ the clever lawyers of theology to bedazzle the jury with free will, and free agency, and predestination not being double, and God wanting a free response, all to acquit God and say, "Hey, I'm sorry you feel bad, but according to cosmic liability law God's just not responsible."

Instead she turned to Jesus on the cross, and to God the Father's suffering in giving up His Son for us.

I haven't cited much from Mrs. Stowe's novels here (here's one), I guess because somehow it has enough meaning to me that it would only want to share her with those who also know what she knew. This particular post has been in the works for about a half year. But it is, I believe, a rather fitting topic for Holy Saturday.

I would ask you first to please read this citation from Jonathan Edwards's, which begins, From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God's sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life; and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me...

Please read the whole thing here and the comment from Valerie that follows. Jonathan Edwards was the mentor of Dr. Samuel Hopkins, a New England preacher and theologian who drew out and spread the implications of Edwards' doctrine for the spiritual life of his parishioners, demanding that they learn to love God especially and primarily for his sovereign decrees of reprobation and election.

Mrs. Stowe saw those advancing triumphantly like Valerie. And she saw that the knowledge of God in those who had been through this Puritan crisis was much realer than those who settled for "Arminianism" (which was really in colonial New England a way of saying moralism and justification through the law). But she also saw those under "religious gloom" -- a recognized category in old New England of those who heard every Sunday about God's sovereign decrees, but never could come to say they love them and Him for them.

In Minister's Wooing, Mrs. Marvyn has received news that her son James, long considered a young "heathen" in the community, has died in a shipwreck. James's all but fiancee Mary has heard the news too and comes to comfort Mrs. Marvyn whom she has heard is taking the news very badly:

When Mrs. Marvyn had drawn Mary with her into her room, she seemed like a person almost in frenzy. She shut and bolted the door, drew her to the foot of the bed, and, throwing her arms round her, rested her hot and throbbing forehead on her shoulder. She pressed her thin hand over her eyes, and then, suddenly drawing back, looked her in the face as one resolved to speak something long suppressed. Her soft brown eyes had a flash of despairing wildness in them, like that of a hunted animal turning in its death struggle on its pursuer.

"Mary," she said, "I can't help it -- don't mind what I say, but I must speak or die! Mary, I cannot, will not be resigned! -- it is all hard, unjust, cruel! -- to all eternity I will say so! To me there is no goodness, no justice, no mercy in anything! Life seems to me the most tremendous doom that can be inflicted on a helpless being! What had we done, that it should be sent upon us? Why were we made to love so, to hope so -- our hearts so full of feeling, and all the laws of Nature marching over us -- never stopping for our agony? Why we can suffer so in this life that we had better never have been born!

"But, Mary, think what a moment life is! think of those awful ages of eternity! and then think of all God's power and knowledge used on the lost to make them suffer! think that all but the merest fragment of mankind have gone into this -- are in it now! The number of the elect is so small we can scarce count them for anything! Think what noble minds, what warm, generous hearts, what splendid natures are wrecked and thrown away by thousands and tens of thousands! How we love each other! how our hearts weave into each other! how more than glad we should be to die for each other! -- And all this ends -- O God, how must it end? -- Mary, it isn't my sorrow only! What right have I to mourn? Is my son any better than any other mother's son? Thousands of thousands, whose mothers loved them as I love mine, are gone there! -- Oh, my wedding day! Why did they rejoice? Brides should wear mourning -- the bells should toll for every wedding; every family is built over this awful pit of despair, and only one in a thousand escape!"

Pale, aghast, horror-stricken, Mary stood dumb, as one who in the dark and storm sees by the sudden glare of lightning a chasm yawning under foot. It was amazement and dimness of anguish -- the dreadful words struck on the very center where her soul rested. She felt as if the point of a wedge were being driven between her life and her life's life -- between her and her God. She clasped her hands instinctively on her bosom, as if to hold there some cherished image, and said, in a piercing voice of supplication, "My God! my God! oh, where art Thou?"

Mrs. Marvyn walked up and down the room with a vivid spot of red in each cheek, and a baleful fire in her eyes, talking in rapid soliloquy, scarcely regarding her listener, absorbed in her own enkindled thoughts.

"Dr. Hopkins says that this is all best -- better than it would have been in any other possible way -- that God chose it because it was for a greater final good -- that He not only chose it, but took means to make it certain -- that He ordains every sin, and does all that is necessary to make it certain -- that He creates the vessels of wrath and fits them for destruction, and that He has an infinite knowledge by which He can do it without violating their free agency. So much the worse! What a use of infinite knowledge! What if men should do so? What if a father should take means to make it certain that his poor little child should be an abandoned wretch, without violating his free agency? So much the worse, I say! -- They say that He does this so that He may show to all eternity, by their example, the evil nature of sin, and its consequences! This is all that the greater part of the human race have been used for yet; and it is all right, because an overplus of infinite happiness is yet to be wrought out by it! -- It is not right! No possible amount of good to ever so many can make it right to deprave ever so few -- happiness and misery cannot be measured so! I never can think it right -- never! -- Yet they say our salvation depends on our loving God -- loving Him better than ourselves -- loving Him better than our dearest friends. It is impossible! -- it is contrary to the laws of my nature! I can never love God! I can never praise Him! -- I am lost! lost! lost! And what is worse, I cannot redeem my friends! Oh, I could suffer forever --how willingly! -- If I could save him! -- But oh, eternity, eternity! Frightful, unspeakable woe! No end! -- no bottom! -- no shore! -- no hope! -- O God! O God!"

Mrs. Marvyn's eyes grew wilder -- she walked the floor, wringing her hands -- and her words, mingled with shrieks and moans, became whirling and confused, as when in autumn a storm drives the leaves in dizzy mazes.

Mary was alarmed -- the ecstacy of despair was just verging on insanity. She rushed out and called Mr. Marvyn.

"Oh! come in! do! quick! -- I'm afraid her mind is going!" she said.

"It is what I feared," he said, rising from where he sat reading his great Bible, with an air of heartbroken dejection. "Since she heard this news, she has not slept nor shed a tear. The Lord hath covered us with a cloud in the day of His fierce anger."

He came into the room, and tried to take his wife into his arms. She pushed him violently back, her eyes glistening with a fierce light. "Leave me alone!" she said -- "I am a lost spirit!"

These words were uttered in a shriek that went through Mary's heart like an arrow.

At this moment, Candace, who had been anxiously listening at the door for an hour past, suddenly burst into the room.

"Lor' bress ye, Squire Marvyn, we won't hab her goin' on dis yer way," she said. "Do talk gospel to her, can't ye? -- ef you can't, I will."

"Come, ye poor little lamb," she said, walking straight up to Mrs. Marvyn, "come to ole Candace!" -- and with that she gathered the pale form to her bosom, and sat down and began to rock her, as if she had been a babe. "Honey, darlin', ye a'n't right -- dar's a drefful mistkate somewhar," she said. "Why, de Lord a'n't like what ye tink -- He loves ye, honey! Why jes' feel how I loves ye -- poor ole black Candace -- an' I a'n't better'n Him as made me! Who was it wore de crown o' thorns, lamb? -- who was it sweat great drops o' blood? -- who was it said, 'Father, forgive dem'? Say, honey! -- wasn't it de Lord dat made ye? -- Dar, dar, now ye'r' cryin'! -- cry away, and ease yer poor little heart! He died for Mass'r Jim -- loved him and died for him -- jes' give up his sweet precious body and soul for him on de cross! Laws, jes' leave him in Jesus's hands! Why, honey, dar's de very print o' de nails in His hands now!"

The flood gates were rent; and healing sobs and tears shook the frail form, as a faded lily shakes under the soft rains of summer. All in the room wept together.
(The Minister's Wooing, chapter 23).

. . .

After the first interview with Mrs. Marvyn, the subject which had so agitated them was not renewed. She had risen at last from her sick-bed, as thin and shadowy as a faded moon after sunrise. Candace often shook her head mournfully, as her eyes followed her about her daily tasks. Once only, with Mary, she alluded to the conversation which had passed between them; -- it was one day when they were together, spinning, in the north upper room that looked out upon the sea. It was a glorious day. A ship was coming in under full sail, with white gleaming wings. Mrs. Marvyn watched it a few moments -- the gay creature, so full of exultant life -- and then smothered down an inward groan, and Mary thought she heard her saying, "Thy will be done!"

"Mary," she said, gently, "I hope you will forget all I said to you that dreadful day. It had to be said, or I should have died. Mary, I beging to think that it is not best to stretch out our minds with reasonings where we are so limited, where we can know so little. I am quite sure there must be dreadful mistakes somewhere.

"It seems to me irreverent and shocking that a child should oppose a father, or a creature its Creator. I never should have done it, only that, where direct questionings are presented to the judgment, one cannot help judging. If one is required to praise a being as just and good, one must judge of his actions by some standard of right -- and we have no standard but such as our Creator has placed in us. I have been told it was my duty to attend to these subjects, and I have tried to -- and the result has been that the facts presented seem wholly irreconcilable with any notions of justice or mercy that I am able to form. If these be the facts, I can only say that my nature is made entirely opposed to them. If I followed the standard of right they present, and acted according to my small mortal powers on the same principles, I should be a very bad person. Any father, who should make such use of power his children as they say the Deity does with regard to us, would be looked upon as a monster by our very imperfect moral sense. Yet I cannot say that the facts are not so. When I heard the Doctor's sermons on 'Sin a Necessary Means of the Greatest Good,' I could not extricate myself from the reasoning.

"I have thought, in desperate moments, of giving up the Bible itself. But what do I gain? Do I not see the same difficulty in Nature? I see everywhere a Being whose main ends seem to be beneficent, but whose good purposes are worked out at terrible expense of suffering, and apparently by the total sacrifice of myriads of sensitive creatures. I see unflinching order, general good-will, but no sympathy, no mercy. Storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, sickness, death, go on without regarding us. Everywhere I see the most hopeless, unrelieved suffering -- and for aught I see, it may be eternal. Immortality is a dreadful chance, and I would rather never have been -- The Doctor's dreadful system is, I confess, much like the laws of Nature -- about what one might reason out from them.

"There is but one thing remaining, and that is, as Candace said, the cross of Christ. If God so loved us, -- if He died for us -- greater love hath no man than this. It seems to me that love is shown here in the two highest forms possible to our comprehension. We see a Being who gives himself for us -- and more than that, harder than that, a Being who consents to the suffering of a dearer than self. Mary, I feel that I must love more, to give up one of my children to suffer, than to consent to suffer myself. There is a world of comfort to me in the words, 'He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?' These words speak to my heart. I can interpret them by my own nature, and I rest on them. If there is a fathomless mystery of sin and sorrow, there is a deeper mystery of God's love. So, Mary, I try Candace's way -- I look at Christ -- I pray to Him. If he that hath seen Him hath seen the Father, it is enough. I rest there -- I wait. What I know not now I shall now hereafter."

Mary kept all things and pondered them in her heart. She could speak to no one -- not to her mother, nor to her spiritual guide; for had she not passed to a region beyond theirs? As well might those on the hither side of mortality instruct the soul gone beyond the veil as souls outside a great affliction guide those who are struggling in it. That is a mighty baptism, and only Christ can go down with us into those waters (The Minister's Wooing, chapter 24).

"More than that, harder than that, a Being who consents to the suffering of a dearer than self" -- In the old creeds, patripassianism is a heresy. True, God the Father did not die on the cross. But if it took sentimental, romantic, pietistic Christianity to bring to our attention to just this form of "patri-passianism," that is, "the Father-suffering-ism," then glory be to romanticism and pietism. When one separates the revealed miracle of Christ's universal atonement from the natural religious truth of predestination as Luther (see here and here) and Stowe did, it is the great risk that Christ becomes, as in Gnosticism, something apart from and opposed to His Father. But when the Father's suffering on Good Friday is remembered, we know that however it may seem, this terrible juggernaut of nature rolling over creation is not the Father's will either.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all.



Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"Bishops" and "Priests" Were the Same Thing in the Early Church

Courtesy of Bill Tighe -- what a generous man! -- I have read a number of books on the issue of bishops, written from the Anglican perspective. I must say, however, that their treatment of the first-century situation also seems unnecessarily obscure, perhaps because they seem to be simply avoiding recognition of a single, well-documented point: which is that in the earliest texts as we have them, "bishop/overseer" (episcopos) and "elder/presbyter/priest" (presbyteros) are used synonymously and are plural in the churches. The modern version of the Anglican case for a necessary distinction between bishops and pastors in the church seems to be that those appointed as elders by the apostles (e.g. Acts 14:23) are the ancestors of the post-second century presbyters (>priests), while the Apostles themselves are the model for the post-second century overseers (>bishops). I've looked at Anglican case with an open mind, but this is one issue where the teaching I picked up in the Presbyterian church has stood up remarkably well.

For example, in Acts 20:17 Paul sends for the "elders" of the church of Ephesus and speaks to them. In his speech, among other things, he pleads with them to keep watch over the church over which the Holy Spirit made them "bishops/overseers" (v. 28). In 1 Timothy, elders are mentioned several times (4:14, 5:1, 5:17, 5:19), but we also have a description only of the ideal "bishop/overseer" and "deacon," but no elders -- unless elders are in fact the same as overseers/bishops. This identity is confirmed by the fact that the description of the ideal overseer in 1 Timothy 3 is in many points verbally identical to that in Titus 1:5-9 of "elders." 1 Peter 5:1-2 begins with the apostle addressing the church leaders as a fellow "elder," and then calls on them to serve well as "overseers."

Nor does the sub-Apostolic material differ (until we get to Ignatius). In the Didache 15:1-2, we read:

Appoint, therefore, for yourselves overseers/bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, meek wers, and not lovers of money, and truthful and approved, for they also minister to you the ministry of the prophets and teachers. Therefore do not despise them, for they are your honorable men together with the prophets and teachers.

Similarly, Clement says of the Apostles:

They preached from district to district, and from city to city, and they appointed their first converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons for the future believers (1 Clem. 42:4; more on this passage later) .

The two-office structure of the church goes back to apostolic times: in Philippians 1:1, Paul address the church at Philippi, "together with the overseers and deacons." Philippi's elders and deacons, 1 Timothy's, the Didache's, and Clement's overseers and deacons: the simplest thing is to assume they are all the same, and both the elders/overseers and deacons in each city are multiple. Indeed Hermas seems to refer to Clement's own church in Rome, when he is told in a vision:

You shall therefore write two little books and send one to Clement and one to Grapte [a woman's name, BTW]. Clement then shall send it to the cities abroad, for that is his duty; and Grapte shall exhort the widows and orphans; but in this city [=Rome] you shall read it yourself with the elders who are in charge of the church.

The simplest hypothesis is that the elders who are in charge of the church are the same as Clement's bishops.

Now, I know there are immense tomes written about all of this, but for the life of me I cannot see why this is complicated. It doesn't look complicated, unless you need to see presbyters and bishops as different orders.

Let's look more closely at Clement's argument. As I wrote before his aim is to calm a sedition in the church of Corinth that erupted around the time of the persecution under Domitian (96 AD) that send St. John to Patmos. His whole mode of argumentation is Old Testament-centered; he's obviously aware of the Apostolic writings, but like the writer of Hebrews mostly establishes his point by analogy with the history of Israel. In chapter 40, he begins an analogy of the Christian ministry/liturgy with the Israelite priesthood:

Since then these things are manifest to us, and we have looked into the depths of the divine knowledge, we ought to do in order all things which the Master commanded us to perform at appointed times. He commanded us to celebrate sacrifices [prosphera, a reference to the offertory] and services [leitourgeiai, liturgies], and that it should not be thoughtlessly or disorderly, but at fixed times and hours. He has himself fixed by His supreme will the places and persons whom He desires for these celebrations, in order that all things may be done piously according to His good pleasure, and be acceptable to His will. So then those who accept their oblations [prosphera] at the appointed seasons are acceptable and blessed, for they follow the laws of the Master and do no sin.

Just as Moses appointed propitiatory bloodless sacrifices, so the Master (despotes, head of the household) commanded a liturgy and thank-offerings (in the form of the offertory). Then follows a passage that Gregory Dix got immense mileage out of:

For to the High Priest his proper ministrations are alloted, and to the priests the proper place has been appointed, and on Levites their proper services have been imposed. The layman [the man of "the people," that is, of the people of God] is bound by the ordinances for the laity. Let each one of us, brethren, be well pleasing to God in his own rank, and have a good conscience, not transgressing the appointed rules of his ministration, with all reverence. Not in every place, my brethren, are the daily sacrifices [prosphera] offered or the free-will offerings/offerings of prayers [there are two possible readings here], but only in Jerusalem; and there also the offering [prosphera] is not made in every place, but before the shrine, at the altar, and the offering [prosphera], is first inspected by the High Priest and the ministers already mentioned.

Here we finally see three orders and the laity: High Priest, priests, Levites, Israelites, used as stand ins for -- for what exactly? Bishop, presbyters, deacons, laymen? Let's not jump to that conclusion, since elsewhere, as we saw, he actually recognizes only two orders: bishops/overseers and deacons. Is the metaphor (the Israelite sacrificial system) here influencing his description of Sunday Eucharist? Perhaps. In any case let us note, that just as the rest of Clement's text makes it clear that the only real division of orders is between the overseers/elders and the deacons on the other, so too, in the Israelite system, the real difference was between the Aaronite priests and the Levites. All the priests, high or not, were descendants of Aaron in various lines and families, and historically, these lines were changed on many occasions. For example, in 2 Kings 2:26, the priest Abiathar, a descendant of Ithamar, is dismissed and replaced as high priest by Zadok, reckoned of the family of Eleazer (thus fulfilling the prophecy 1 Sam. 2:27-36). Clement goes on (in chapter 44) to cite the episode of Aaron's staff budding in Numbers 17. This miracle was aimed, not to distinguish the High Priest from the ordinary priests (and thus typological bishops from priests), but the line of Aaron (priests as a whole) from the Levites (and thus typologically bishops/priests as a single class from deacons and laymen).

Let's go to chapter 44, in which Clement describes in detail the process the Apostolic appointment of offices:

Our Apostles also knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the title of overseer [episcopos]. For this cause, therefore, since they had received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who had been already mentioned [i.e. overseers and deacons], and afterwards added the codicil that if they should fall asleep, other approved wers should succeed to their ministry [leitourgeia]. We consider therefore that it is not just to remove from their ministry those who were appointed by them [presumably, by the Apostles], or later on by other eminent wers [presumably previous rulers of this church], with the consent of the whole Church, and have ministered to the flock of Christ without blame, humbly, peaceably, and disinterestedly, and for many years have received a universally favorable testimony. For our sin is not small, if we eject from the overseership/episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily offered its sacrifices. Blessed are those elders/presbyters who finished their course before now, and have obtained a fruitful and perfect release in the ripeness of completed work, for they have now no fear that any shall move them from the place appointed to them. For we see that in spite of their good service you have removed some from the ministry [leitourgeia] which they have fulfilled blamelessly.

There is some doubt about the text in the last sentence, but the description elsewhere makes it clear that some of the church rulers were left in their office. And the next to last sentence nails down the identity of "elders" and "overseers." The conclusion is unavoidable: Clement believed the post-apostolic church in Corinth, and indeed churches generally two offices: overseers/elders (>bishops/priests) and deacons, that there was more than one in both offices in the churches, and if there was an analogue "High Priest" in the Corinthian church's Eucharist, it was a difference of function or office, and not one of order or consecration/ordination.

Again, there is a tremendous body of literature on all this, but having tasted a chunk of it, I just don't see what possible basis there is to avoid the obvious conclusion, that the first century churches, apostolic and sub-apostolic alike, were ruled by a college of elders/overseers, assisted by deacons/servants and that the emergence of a monarchic bishop, and the separation of presbyterial and episcopal orders is a purely second-century development, with no direct apostolic sanction at all.

Likewise, the idea that the elders/overseers were of similar rank to the Apostles seems rather arbitrary. The Didache, for example, identifies bishops/overseers and deacons with prophets and teachers, a clear reference to the famous list in 1 Cor. 12:28, which mentions apostles, prophets, and teachers, before going on to those with other gifts. Evidently for the Didache author, the overseers/bishops are equivalents not of the apostles, but of the lower-ranked prophets (like Agabus), while the deacons are matched with teachers. Similarly, if, as most of the Anglican literature I've reviewed argues, the Seven in Acts 6 were appointed not as deacons (the traditional interpretation), but as elders/overseers, the distinction between the original bishops/overseers and the Apostles is strikingly confirmed. The monarchic episcopate of the second century is a purely post-Apostolic development in which the (originally perhaps rotating) chairmanship of the college of elders/overseers became a sole pastorate with the title "overseer/bishop," while the others became his assistants, bearing only the title "elders." The distinction of essential vs. dependent ministry used by Dr. Kenneth Kirk in his Apostolic Ministry collection may be a valid idea, but if so the early evidence seems clear, that the essential ministry is that of the bishop/priest (= pastor), and the dependent one is that of deacons.

In any case, can anyone really say that Sosthenes (1 Cor. 1:1, Acts 18:17), for example, was endowed with anything comparable to Paul's authority? As Clement argued, and Ignatius after him, obedience to the established pastorate may well be a key to peace and happiness in the church, but such authority is ordained by the apostles to pastors, not shared by the apostles with bishops.

Theologically this leaves us with many options: de jure divino Presbyterianism, de jure humano Episcopalianism, and the Lutheran idea of a jure divino pastorate with no particular form specified. What seems to be excluded is any de jure divino episcopate, at least absent the idea of a post-Apostolic "development of doctrine" clarifying new requirements of the faith.

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Lots of Lutheran Links

I am honored to be the recipient of two~three Aardies for my posts on the debate team at Jerry Falwell's Liberty U, how Allan Carlson challenges the Republican mainstream, and Dorothy Sayers. Lots of other great links there, too.

And check out the new Lutheran Carnival XXI, with lots of good stuff.

Lutheran blogging is fun!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Asked by a scientist to explain her Christian faith, Dorothy Sayers wrote back this marvellously tart reply:

Why do you want a letter from me? Why don’t you take the trouble to find out for yourselves what Christianity is? You take time to learn technical terms about electricity. Why don’t you do as much for theology? Why do you never read the great writings on the subject, but take your information from the secular ‘experts’ who have picked it up as inaccurately as you? Why don’t you learn the facts in this field as honestly as your own field? Why do you accept mildewed old heresies as the language of the church, when any handbook on church history will tell you where they came from?

Why do you balk at the doctrine of the Trinity – God the three in One – yet meekly acquiesce when Einstein tells you E=mc2? What makes you suppose that the expression “God ordains” is narrow and bigoted, while your own expression, “Science demands” is taken as an objective statement of fact?

You would be ashamed to know as much about internal combustion as you know about Christian beliefs.

I admit, you can practice Christianity without knowing much theology, just as you can drive a car without knowing much about internal combustion. But when something breaks down in the car, you go humbly to the man who understands the works; whereas if something goes wrong with religion, you merely throw the works away and tell the theologian he is a liar.

Why do you want a letter from me telling you about God? You will never bother to check on it or find out whether I’m giving you personal opinions or Christian doctrines. Don’t bother. Go away and do some work and let me get on with mine.

Makes me wish I really liked detective novels, just for the fun of being in her fan club.

HT: BaylyBlog: Out of Our Minds Too.

Haustafeln in 1 Clement

The advice for families in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter, as structured by the relationship of husband-wife, parent-child, and master-servant, are often called haustafeln or "house rules." There are other such "house rules" in early Christian literature as well. That in 1 Clement, a truly magnificent piece of Christian exhortation, is well worth citing. Clement of Rome, one of the college of bishops/elders at Rome responsible for dealings with other churches (Shepherd of Hermas, Vis. II.4) is writing in around 96 AD to the church of Corinth, to make peace between a faction of younger men who have ejected some of the elders/bishops in their churches. Thus he begins by painting a picture of the peace and order that should reign in the church:

For you did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the laws of God, obedient to your rulers [hegoumenoi], and paying all fitting honor to the elders [presbyteroi] among you. On the young, too, you enjoined temperate and seemly thoughts, and to the women you gave instruction that they should do all things with a blameless and seemly and pure conscience, yielding a dutiful affection to their husbands. And you taught them to remain in the rule of obedience and to manage their households with seemliness, in all circumspection. And you were all humble-minded and in no wise arrogant, yielding subjection rather than demanding it, "giving more gladly than receiving," satisfied with the provision of Christ, and paying attention to His words you stored them up carefully in your hearts, and kept his sufferings before your eyes (1 Clement 1:3-2:1).

Passages from the Old Testament and reminders of the harmony reigning in the heavens alternate with passages of exhortation to humility and peace, like this:

Let us observe how near He [that is, the Lord Jesus Christ] is, and that nothing escapes Him of our thoughts or of the devices we make. It is right, therefore, that we should not be deserters from His will. Let us offend foolish and thoughtless men, who are exalted and boast in the pride of their words, rather than God. Let us reverence the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood was given for us, let us respect those who rule us [proegoumenoi], let us honor the elders [presbyteroi], let us instruct the young in the fear of God, let us lead our wives to that which is good. Let them [that is, our wives] exhibit the lovely habit of purity, let them make the gentleness of their tongue manifest by their silence, let them not given their affection by factious preference, but in holiness to all equally who fear God. Let our children share in the instruction which is in Christ, let them learn the strength of humility before God, the power of pure love before God, how beautiful and great is His fear and how it gives salvation to all who live holily in it with a pure mind. For He is the searcher of thoughts and desires; His breath is in us, and when He will He shall take it away (1 Clement 21:3-9).

And after further citations of things from nature offering signs of the resurrection of the dead, and of citations from the Old Testament about the examples offered by the patriarchs, he reminds us:

And if anyone will candidly consider [the faith of the patriarchs] in detail, he will recognize the greatness of the gifts given by God. For from Jacob come the priests and all the Levites, who serve the altar of God, from him comes the Lord Jesus according to the flesh, from him come the kings and rulers and governors in the succession of Judah, and the other scepters of his tribes are in no small renown seeing that God promised that "thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven." All of them therefore were all renowned and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteousness actions which they had wrought, but through His will. And therefore we who by His will have been called in Christ Jesus are not made righteous by ourselves, or by our wisdom or understanding or piety or the deeds which we have wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, by which Almighty God has justified all men from the beginning of the world; to Him be glory for ever and ever.

What shall we do, then, brethren? Shall we be slothful in well-doing and cease from love? May the Master forbid that this should happen, at least to us, but let us be zealous to accomplish every good dead with energy and readiness. (1 Clement 32:1-33.2)

Altogether a noble introduction to his theme that frowardness and arrogance and boldness belong to those that are accursed by God, gentleness and humility and meekness are with those who are blessed by God (30:8).

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Another Lutheran Crunchy Con

Uwe Siemon-Netto (whose column I'm adding to my columnist list) is another European dissatisfied (just a bit!) with American life.

But having been "on our side" on a number of tough issues, I think he's earned the right to ask us what in the world we were thinking when we let our central cities get so destroyed and our public transportation network atrophy.


St. Louis is an urban jewel – or rather, it could be one had it not been for the shortsightedness with which its once vibrant center was laid waste half a century ago.

St. Louis is privy to two God-given “turnpikes,” the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to which it owes its existence. Long gone are the days when passenger liners traveled these glorious waterways. Why? Why is there no regular passenger service up the Missouri past the fabulous vineyards along its shores and to the enchanting little town of Hermann? Why has America abandoned this civilized and efficient form of transportation that still pays on the Danube, the Rhine, and the Seine?

Let’s not dwell lengthily on the failures of the local officials, business leaders and ordinary citizens who have caused the sad decline of this once wondrous place in the past half-century. They are gone now, and they were by no means alone in their folly. They had only bought into the lunatic Schwärmerei, or enthusiasm, of their contemporaries elsewhere in America and the Western world. Like the Schwärmer in 16th-century Germany, they believed in creating their own little utopias – in this particular case a paradise based on the horseless carriage and the two-garage home in the suburbs, a predictably short-lived paradise indeed.

Read it all here.

Our Tragic Schism

LCMS pastor, "Father DMJ," had a post a while back about a funeral:

I'm in Winona, MN now. Just returned from Lewiston, MN where my wife's maternal grandfather received Christian Burial today.

We sang "I Know that My Redeemer Lives", "Beautiful Savior" and "To God Be the Glory". Yes, the WELS hymnal has the latter hymn as one of the "gospel hymns" allowed in. I can't help but hear a rolling, good ol' Suthun Baptist bass line when I hear it sung. Fortunately there was no such thing in this Lutheran church.

The WELS pastor absolutely NAILED the Gospel. Hit the bullseye smack dab in the middle. Grand slam. The resurrection was clearly preached. The sermon was dripping wet with baptism. I told him he preached the Gospel confidently and clearly. He thanked me.

I don't know what it is but I still cannot get over it in my head that these two fine conservative synods are universes apart. It's as if WELS pastors are allergic to speaking to LC-MS pastors and vice versa. I've made a friend who is a WELS pastor and he is good people.

Speaking to me as a Christian will not cause anyone to lose absolute doctrinal purity. I don't want them to commune me. I don't want them to pray with me publicly. Just say "hello" and "thank you". Polite conversation never hurt a soul.

This is an introduction to a Lutheran world I just don't have any experience with. ELCA, LCMS, WELS-ELS: back in the olden days, I guess every German- or Scandinavian-American had a relative in one or another of these synods, and so the break-ups in them were in the nature of family quarrels, bitter, long-lasting, and hard. They would go to funerals and marriages, not be able to take communion, and the scab would ripped off and the wound flow again.

I'm a convert to Augsburg Evangelicalism. My mother, brothers, sisters, grandparents can't take communion in an LCMS church because they're not baptized and view all Christian church -- but especially conservative Protestant ones -- with a kind of superstitious dread. Horrible places that if you stay in them for even one service they will brainwash you instantly into becoming a pro-life homophobe.

We all have our own experiences, and I suppose there are reasons for the schism. In know there are issues in church order between us. On some of them, I think the LCMS is right (definition of ministry, fellowship), on others I think WELS-ELS is right (women's roles in the church, application of close communion). But to me, it seems so tragic and unnecessary that two churches, each of which agrees in full with the Book of Concord cannot be in altar and pulpit fellowship. And when in many cases, one side is simply asking the other to actually apply principles we hold in common! (like male headship or close communion).

The split between the Evangelicals and the Reformed, or the Evangelicals and the Catholic or Orthodox is not a schism, because a schism is a division between churches which agree on all matters pertaining to salvation (law and gospel). We are not in communion with them, because on matters of salvation they are wrong. But what we have between the LCMS and the WELS-ELS appears to me to be just schism: and the first and most important solution for schism is simply the will to no longer tolerate it.

Converts have their strengths and weaknesses, as do those with grandfathers and great-grandfathers in the faith. To this convert, this seems to be the glaring issue of church order in our confession: healing this tragic schism.