sic scribatur (pt 2): illa via est (That’s the Way it is!)

DSCF1143.JPGI’m amazed at the way church leadership acts–and perhaps should be more amazed at the way they think.  I get more clarity and common sense  from the bartenders at work.  Why?  There are probably a great number of factors, but one possibility that first presents itself is that cocktail bartenders live in the real world, and don’t have much time for postmodern sociological constructs and terminology, therapeutic abstracts and cliches, or faux-intellectualism.  How educated Christians get duped into adopting those patterns of thought when they have the Bible and Christian tradition is then the next question!

Someone can talk in a half-hearted but flowery way about worldviews and lack the awareness (or education?) to recognize he betrays or is demonstrating the unbiblical nature of his own worldview.  And don’t say there are multiple ways of interpreting key passages which can lead to multiple ‘Christian’ worldviews!  Is that what the Bible itself says or assumes about itself?

The Ancient of Days, crowned with power and authority, can’t make himself clear?  Or, which of his words are open to multiple, valid yet contradictory interpretations, and which are not?  And can the first category suffer this fate of multiple ‘readings’ without also suffering degradation of scripture’s perspicuity, infallibility, etc.?

This situation exemplifies the arrogance of (post)modernity–operating in a chronological vacuum and an intellectual bubble.  Ingrates and imbeciles!

Is it possible to be jealous of someone else’s conviction or integrity?  I think it certainly is possible, even for those who have sold out to the Zeitgeist.  If only more CRC people had gone to a place like Hillsdale, rather than to Calvin, where they were evidently not taught to think and not equipped to resist the ebb and flow of culture and philosophical fads.  And where ought they to have learned to put Jesus before their families?  Shouldn’t need seminary for the application of Luke 14:26.

You’ve made a mistake –you believed what you were told without having seen the Thing for itself.  That is the responsibility in any investigation—verification, confirming the truthfulness of a claim. (Proverbs 18:17)

You’ve made a second mistake–you were warned by three different parties that you’d judged in haste, and you ignored them.

You’ve made a third mistake–you acted on your first intelligence without checking in with Celestial HQ.

You’ve made a fourth mistake–when challenged on your first three, you declined to own your part in the unfolding drama of injustice, and have since scrambled to cover your tracks and double-talk your way out of responsibility.

Now in the denouement, your every correspondence is another stroke, another dip of the spade into the earth, ever deepening the hole of your denial.

Evangelicalism is dying, and people who are awake on the ramparts are asking why.  It is because of people within, people like these who speed its demise by encouraging and nurturing its disease, when they should know better, when they’re told better, when the watchmen have spelled it out for them.

Clergy should be scholars as well as all the other things required by pastoral ministry.  How can it be beyond such men to think in biblical categories?  This (whether a pastor is being unfairly treated and dismissed without biblical grounds) should be a case of going back to basics.

Instead, these clerical spectators and meddlers operate in ways that would bring a blush to the cheek of the Christian intellectual tradition.  Disciples and apostles–among them educated men.  The students of the Word among the Patristics and throughout the Middle Ages, particularly the As–Augustine, Athanasius, Ambrose, Anselm and Aquinas.  Where would Christendom be if it weren’t for such as these?  Lost to heresy long ago, but God used men and their minds.  The Reformation and the brain-efforts that rivaled the achievements of Plato and Aristotle (in my opinion!)–where would we be if such people who led the charge for the Word had dealt in the subjective, feelings- and perceptions-based intellectual ‘economy’ of our day?

Where is forthrightness?  Where is commitment?  Where is discipline?  Where is wisdom?  Where is prayer?

To be assaulted by indignant believers demanding justice, and to answer them with hollow, easy, Google-level therapeutic platitudes is so unworthy of true Christianity.  But it’s no wonder that the shrewd among the worldly academics perceive the intellectual bankruptcy of so much of contemporary ‘Christianity’.  Cotton candy self-esteem aids (or placebos) can be gotten anywhere, from any dime-a-dozen NY Times bestselling author with an active pen and originality enough to regurgitate ideas about life improvement and self-validation and -justification in a ‘fresh’way for 130 pages.  Why do you need organized religion for that?

One of the reasons for being in a local fellowship of believers is to hold one another accountable.  When there is no longer any ‘accounting’, why should people leave the comfort of their homes on a Sunday?  Socializing and a sense of belonging can be had at the pub or bowling alley or book club, or group therapy.

But since when did we proclaim a person or a body ‘good and godly’ based on someone’s, anyone’s, say-so?  What about the sons of Sceva?  They knew the vocabulary–how come what they ‘said’ didn’t count?  By their fruit shall you know them.  ‘God is blessing there.’ ‘Oh, in what way?’ ‘They’re growing.’ ‘Oh, in what way?’ ‘Membership rolls are needing constant updates!’ ‘Oh, so people are being saved?’ ‘Well, they’re being reached…’ ‘With what?’ ‘Why, with them, of course!   They’re doing such a good job!’

When the praise you hear (from even pastors outside, in this case) about a church is for the people, about how great they are, with only an obligatory but meaningless nod (when pressed about the spiritual state) to our remnant sin nature, and there’s no mention of the Gospel or move of the Spirit, you have to wonder if the congregation want themselves preached.  Why not?  They’re so good and godly and generous and loving that surely God would want them set forth as an example!  After all, who can see himself in Jesus without a bit of extra effort?  Jesus preached straight only embodies a challenge for them to open their eyes.  They’d (perhaps the congregation and their visitors) prefer to keep him in the periphery as much as possible, or else trot out a sanitized, squishy version of him that puffs their pride and approves their moral waffling.  After all, he is the Word, and they didn’t like the Word unless they got to pick which bits applied to them, and unless they got to define with they meant.

The other Dutch Masters–Bavinck and Berkhof–how would they describe the plight of this denomination?  How would they respond to these deniers of inerrancy, of sufficiency, of transcendence, of authority, of kingship, of unity, of gifts, of forgiveness, of growth, of love and of the gospel itself… how did it happen?

To deny, as a knee-jerk reflex, the possibility of a church at risk, just because it hasn’t proclaimed itself (or owned up to being) liberal, is naive–it’s denying what must be obvious.  Apostasy is not usually determined and revealed in a matter of hours–it is a gradual decline, a gradual backsliding.  Modernity and Postmodernity, in the ways they’ve manifested in the Church, did not materialize out of nowhere.  They’re extended periods in a historical process, developments in a chain along a timeline.  Once devotion to and respect for scripture goes (and the ‘giving up’ of that often happens only gradually, without anyone realizing it), it is only a matter of time.

Certain denominations in America are presumed dead, as are their local bodies, unless proven otherwise by a visit.  But that doesn’t mean that other denoms not so presumed are healthy.  Regression–the process–is at work; churches all over are dying or already dead, and people don’t know it yet.  And, dying doesn’t necessarily mean shrinking, which means diagnosis must be done with more than a superficial glance.  Decline is measured in a number of ways, although American pragmatism, with values and judgments revolving around RESULTS, so easily leads us astray here.  It is a mode of assessment which can’t be applied to scripture, and therefore it should be viewed with suspicion.  E.g., Jeremiah was an abject failure.  ‘Nuff said?

Some of the biggest ‘churches’ in America have been places where the Gospel is obscured, or outright denied.  Success?  Must be doing a lot of things ‘right’ anyway, with all that money and all those names and all those ‘satellites’.

At any rate, a church still on its feet that ‘looks good’ and ‘happy’ at first blush, especially one that will tell you everything is great (at least, with the sheep!) should pass a certain number of litmus tests, the most important of which concern their relationship to the Word of God.  The pharisees lived out the law, to all appearances, and they’d have been the first to tell you how on track they were.  And yet Jesus knew their hearts, and it wasn’t a pretty picture.  We can see some of what he knew for ourselves, in passages of the Gospels, like when Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  At least the pharisees knew God’s Word, even if they didn’t understand it, honor it, or live it.

In some churches, respect paid to the Bible is all lip-service.  Some people in our case study have acted if their ears bleed when they hear sound doctrine (they would rather hear, from behind the pulpit, evil called good!), and praise and pass around offensive (because misleading or deceiving), unbiblical rubbish on their own time.  This tells you something, if you know your Bible, take it seriously, on its own terms, and if the Lord speaks to you and gives you a modicum of discernment.  If you are consistently being more and more conformed to His image, your mind will be more like His, and so will your ‘eyes’.  You’ll see this kind of situation for what it is –what it really is.  Certainly early signs should have been enough, while the abuse and maligning of the pastor apparently isn’t.   How can people be so dense?

How is this for a logic puzzle?  Only in Christian churches does someone who has been tormented for months and months and then unjustly fired get asked, ‘What can you learn from this?  What is God trying to show you?’  lege hic: ‘Now what did you do to bring this on yourself?’**   The culture pounces on people for victim-blaming.  Only into the church has psycho-therapy, with an accompanying reluctance to hold people accountable for sin, for fear of ‘losing’ them (while sin as a concept has been rejected by the world), seeped and stuck in its toxic barbs so deep that it has been carried long past biblically reasonable application ad absurdum–and it shows a church that has fallen from its foundations, or else allowed them to be blown out from under it by the insidious creep of godless thinking and rebellion from the world’s culture.

Oddly enough, it’s admitted that ‘everyone is (still) a sinner’, but this is given as some sort of placatory concession; folk don’t really operate (believe?) as if they’re sinners, nor as if the people whom they support are sinners.  In this situation, it doesn’t take two to tango.  Just a pastor who takes a stand, who preaches the trustworthy word as taught even if some people with no biblical credibility grumble.  Back on track: if the church is full of people who are still capable of sinning, why is it assumed that they never actually do?  Is it because it’s the word of many against the few, or the one?  What does that mean, that right is decided by a majority?  Dangerous reasoning!

In this case, you don’t even have to be a howling mob to get what you want–you just have to create the impression that you’re a howling mob, and that you’ve been screaming for ages, and Big Brother will give you exactly what you want, even if it’s not what the Bible says is good for you, or is the right and godly thing.  Oh wait, did I say Big Brother?  That’s a reference to a totalitarian (secular) government–what is fitting for the powers and colleagues and players in a church drama?

**I return to this question.  How come the gangbangers aren’t asked any questions?  They’re allowed to go on their merry way, with the loot, their self-righteousness, and all.  Sinners?  Yet somehow immaculate, and no one of them, on his or her own, will have to give an explanation (on this earth) for what they’ve done, or even demonstrate how they justify it even to themselves, individually and as a group.  But there’s nothing to justify when justice isn’t a priority–just expediency.  If it is possible to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake, then can it not be possible for one party to be wholly in the wrong, and the other wholly in the right?  Or, since we’re now so equal-opportunity and so postmodern, perhaps we should ask the persecuted one whether he realizes now that he could have been a little less righteous, and the beating wouldn’t have happened to him.

When the group of senators determined to kill Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, several of them had knives–only one stab wound, the lethal one, was necessary, but he was left with more than 20.  Surely the intent was for the conspirators to prove their permanent and irrevocable commitment to the plot by getting their hands dirty–bloody, even.  Was that one of the reasons for the whole of the council standing together to make official announcements in our case?

They’ll put themselves on the record backing this wicked nonsense, and somehow, pastors and denominational higher-ups can’t commit the time and mental and spiritual energy to finding the truth, declaring it and securing justice for the injured party, while obeying God’s Word and calling to account the wrongdoers, who sound like they need the Gospel preached to them anew, and also a physical shaking by the shoulders like a child that’s kicked the baby or the dog.  Their fruit does not offer much cause for assurance that they actually know Christ, after decades in a church, within a tradition that is still so widely respected for its commitment to the Bible.

Pastors in this church’s denomination are being punished for standing up for the whole Truth in the face of the degradation of the authority of scripture, threats to their personal security, and opposition to the Gospel, all from and within their flocks.  If a pastor does not cow-tow to the demands of extortionists, he’s drummed out, ridden out of town on a rail, and slapped with a black mark called an Article 17, from which he’ll spend years trying to recover his reputation and on account of which he may not get another job.  And he’ll have to abide by a clause, a gag order, keep his mouth shut, lest he forfeit his severance pay.  And who will hold the flock accountable should they gossip about him after his ignominious departure?  We already know how this story (well, the council’s scandal, though no one recognizes it) is still on people’s lips–it’s actually continuing to evolve, the narrative of why the pastor was kicked out!   And God help the disgraced pastor’s successor, if he has any godly mettle in him; because that flock will face no consequences for their abuse of the minister of God whom they called.  They’ll do it again if they’re chafed by the challenge of scripture, if that Hole in their Holiness is exposed afresh. I do hope that the cavalry is just on the other side of the ridge, and that the riders actually have the mind of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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sic scribatur (pt 1)

♫’This post is making fun of yoooouuu!’♫

People talk about respect being something one earns.

I suppose there are different types of respect, and different means by which people earn it.  If you want to be respected as a chef, you design and cook dishes that taste good.  If you want to be respected as an engineer, you build things that are safe, strong, functional, and hopefully, within budget.  If you want to be respected as a teacher, you have to be both knowledgeable about your topic, and be able to communicate information as well as your passion about it to others; you also have to be a lifelong student yourself and ready to admit when you don’t know something.

If you want to be respected for your ideas, that is, as a thinker, you have to prove in the first place that you can think.  We humans have been gifted with something unique to us–I won’t argue that it is language, per se, because plenty of scientists argue that other species have ‘language’.  I am not qualified to debate that.  But something we do have, and it in its turn demonstrates that with language we can do something other species cannot–we can talk about ideas, and when we do, we have a means by which to immortalize, commit to memory, for both history and posterity, those ideas–the development, the discussion, the disagreement, the breakthroughs, the dead-ends, the triumphs, the failures, the lessons learned or ignored–in writing.  Writing is essential to intellectual pursuit and progress in all the disciplines: from mathematics to philosophy to history to molecular biology,  and everything in between, we work with ideas and through problems, publish the process (and results) for the benefit or scrutiny of our fellow man, and they criticize, correct, praise, learn from and build upon what has been done, and add more to the ever-expanding library in the Marketplace of Ideas, the forum of the Great Dialogue.

Christian theologians and ministers, above all, should appreciate the inherent value of writing, and its counterpart blessing, reading.  As a ‘people of the Book’, we and the Jews worship a deity who chose to reveal Himself through the written Word, which by His Spirit He inspired human authors to commit to stone, vellum and papyri, and which through His Providence He preserved across the ages by human agents.  We must be thankful that He has made His will so very clear, so permanent, so accessible.  And we must appreciate that reading and writing well, two disciplines that go hand-in-hand, ought to be respected, and indeed cultivated, by all who want to engage in the Marketplace of Ideas as capable, effective Christian witnesses.

Not only must we read well to be able to approach God’s Word as He intended, but also, if we are influential, in any way, in the Church, from Bible-study leaders to seminary professors, we have to be able to express the truths of God clearly to those who know Him, as those learning from us have to be equipped to testify in the world.  The best way to prepare, and keep our minds sharp, for such responsibilities is to engage with ideas, with the treasures at the heart of the gospel, as well as with the written gems of the Church’s great minds from the past centuries up to now, throughout our lives–and in writing, as we do in school.

When we discuss things that matter, we have to know what others are saying, and what they mean.  And we have to ensure they are able to do the same–we have to make ourselves intelligible, and prove that we understand our colleagues and especially our opponents.  We have to choose our own words as carefully as we listen to those of other people.  We have to know how to discern a speaker’s or writer’s own level of knowledge, his presuppositions, the influences on his perspective and philosophical approach, the things which inform his worldview; we also have to be able to recognize, articulate, defend, and if necessary, amend, our own.  We have to know how to listen, read, examine, and analyze–and do all these things competently.  And, likewise, to respond in a meaningful way, we must know how to express ourselves well, and we learn to do that by writing.

***

Imagine my surprise when I discover that–not one, not two, but at least three clergymen, with advanced degrees from a reputable seminary, men older than myself, with Masters of Divinity, cannot read!

TBC…

 

 

 

 

Home is…

I’d been in that House many times

But it’d been a long time since

and I went to visit

renew old friendships and share in

the Worship of the saints—

but met by many Unexpecteds.

First was the empty lot–no cars.

I must have been very early.

But there was a nip in the air

so I thought I’d try the door.

Odd it was–the bolt had been drawn

but the door was ajar.

Not useful, really, but I was glad to go in.

It seemed inordinately bright inside

Refreshingly so, but strange–

it seemed to be coming from everywhere

at once, and yet not–

I realized it was less than a glow

from the walls;

it was more reflection, gleam, from all sides

sparkling white and silver

Striking, kind of nice.

But then I was distracted–

I saw my breath curling in mists before me

before I felt the chill.

How very early I must have been!

the heat wasn’t on–it was colder inside than out.

But it wasn’t for me to check the heat,

so I hugged myself and kept on my gloves.

Moving from narthex to sanctuary, I saw

I wasn’t so very early after all.

I sat down in a pew and waited.

At two minutes to service time,

a crowd appeared.  The lot filled,

the congregation filed in.

Everyone was seated at six minutes past.

Late, but the congregation was smiling.

I saw Sinclair, Dawn, Doug and Sadie–

so many I greeted who’d danced at my wedding…

There hadn’t been enough time to heat the place

perhaps something was broken?

But no–everyone else, most everyone, was taking off

his coat, her scarf, and settling in.

I could feel the cold–or rather,couldn’t–

in the tip of my nose.

Perhaps I’d been away too long.

I kept my shivers to myself as we stood for the first song.

That glittering bright light swelled with the most unusual–

what’s the word?  Timbre? Tone?  The

quality of sound made me cock my head

while I stifled a grimace and a noise to go with it.

I sang and listened at the same time.

What was that?  The silver glow seemed so heavenly

yet the singing was as

from within a tin can.

I drifted in and out during the sermon–

the pastor I didn’t know–

until I felt something at my feet.

I looked down, through the cloud of my breath

Saw something wriggling, dark, glossy–no,

slimy, swirling and swimming at my ankles

swimming and strong like salmon fighting a river.

I let out a little gasp, but no one noticed,

and then they were gone.

And there was something else,

something in the back.

Voices while the pastor was preaching.

I tried to glance ’round furtively

who was speaking?

Surely it was no one present,

but voices there were,

distant, breathy wind-whispers through trees

as if out of the distant past.

And there was no one there.

It seemed only I saw, only I heard

these things in that crystalline hall;

but the contentment of everyone else

could not be spoiled,

so I wrapped myself up tighter

and held the Book closer.

When it was time for refreshments,

eagerly I bounded to the next room

surely it would be normal!

But I held that styrofoam cup in my hand,

brought it to my lips, and looked round in amazement.

Others were blowing gently across their coffee to cool  it

while mine–was as cold as ice.

Bewildered again, as someone was bumped,

and the coffee tossed out to the floor.

A splash–there was none,

but a tinkling crash as a mass of dark brown

hit the floor and shattered–

as many fragments

as an expensive wine glass.

I took a few steps back, blinked, and looked again–

I was not mistaken.  The coffee had frozen

before it hit the ground.

I knelt to touch it, caught myself as I tottered

and through my glove, felt the carpet.

Who knows but that it was the floor itself

that froze the coffee?

Now that I knew I could feel it through my shoes,

and wiggled my toes fretfully.

Conversation went on, laughing, chewing,

trifles and this-n-that and last week’s and this week’s

news and nothings–not much churchy about it,

but that wasn’t unusual…

I wandered down to the council room,

where I’d had Sunday School

Once Upon a Time.

I sat in a chair in the chill, and know there was something

off.

There was a picture on the wall I didn’t recognize.

There was a small plate in the frame with the name,

something about their finest hour.

It was like one of those cheesy paintings of anthropomorphic dogs

at cards in pubs and pool halls.

There was a dog, though it looked like it was mostly dead,

some sheep, one with horns, and two kangaroos.

It frightened me…

What had happened here?

The coffee.  The cold, the dark fish, the tin…

It was then I realized, the crystal, the glow, the silver–

ceiling, walls, floor, much of the furniture…

I approached one of the windows

and tried to look through

the distorted Translucent.

Took off my glove and touched it.

It was true.  Every surface of that House–

all of it, inside, was coated in two inches of ice.

It wasn’t a House–not a temple

to the Living God,

not anymore.

It was a palace for the heart.

And no wonder–revenge is cold,

and so is pride, grown old and doddering.

But the Lord is a consuming fire.

Proceedings of a Kangaroo Court (no scanner on premises)

I don’t know how many undergraduate essays I graded in a couple of years as a university TA and instructor in Classics.  I had well over 100 students, and they wrote at least 2, if not 3, essays each.  That’s quite a few pieces of writing, analysis of texts and evidence, and arguments, assessed for accuracy, articulation, validity, etc.  I did my best to treat the following as something similar: it is, for all intents and purposes, an argument for the pastor in question being sacked from his church. Given the amount of red ink spilt, you can guess that it ‘didn’t go well’.

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Cut 4 Ways from Tuesday

Will I ever hear from you why?

Why has it come to this?

The bridges we’ve crossed, roads we’ve walked

Battles fought and prayers asked

Was it always my mistake?

Were we never brothers, friends?

It’s not breaking you up like it’s turning my mind

Inside out.

Wondering why—

Wondering what I did to deserve it.

What was the truth then?

And what is it now?

What—what have I done?

Do you even know?

These ballads, these sorrows writ—

I understand them now.

I realize they’re talking about this, talking about you.

Would I find a truer heart among strangers?

Go to any point of the compass,

On the winds,

To find me someone who could disappoint like this.

It’s broken trust that breaks my heart and

Breaks my back.

Was I a fool all along to believe

You’d stick by me?

Will I ever hear the reason from you, from your lips?

Would it come forth in a hiss?

But…

I know you now.

By words—power sharp and sinister and smart

You have stolen the hearts of the men

Of the land

Treachery

And there are no straight backs and clear minds

To oppose you.

What a tale this will make!

A farce and a tragedy—nothing epic about it!

Though I can hope for poetic justice.

Call it Evil I shall.

All others may bristle, may fear to speak the truth

To your face,

But I am not afraid.

Now will I hear it from you why you’ve done all this?

This kind of Vicious I saw on TV once.

A snarling wolf tearing at the hide of a frightened buffalo.

Blood and pitiable cries.

God help me—I didn’t doubt you.

I always tried to act with integrity,

And thought the same of you.

You proclaim there is no peace between us

Yet you’ve shaken my hand—for what?

And I wasn’t the one who declared war.

This charade has gone on long enough—

You’ve shown me where my jugular is.

Perhaps you’ll be good enough to tell the others the truth—

You want to take my place.

I’ll give you this:

You do move quickly and like a spy

Trained for wartime

A knife at my throat, in my back,

And I never knew you were coming.

Lights flash in the darkness—

Cameras to capture your moment of glory.

Your rise, my fall

‘You’re the hero,’ I’ll cry, ‘Uncle!’

You’ve got the power of

Invention, innovation, transformation,

Misappropriation, manipulation, defamation,

Declamation and misrepresentation.

All these helpful Latin derivatives!

They empower me to speak,

Since you’ve tried to steal the right from me.

Justice, self-defense, you dare not grant me.

The law rules—when it serves you.

You’ve imprisoned me with fear

Isolation, intimidation—

I see such strange and hostile faces ‘round me.

What minds, thoughts, attitudes lie behind them,

Burning, fomenting, tumorous and angry.

What have you told them, and what do they believe?

Your word is double-edged:

What cuts me down puffs them up.

What sort of weapon is this?

And your drug of choice is controversy.

Needing to be needed to ‘settle matters’.

I take no pleasure in this:

That the greatest sorrow is not mine,

And the shame is not only yours.

Lord have mercy.