Archive for the ‘Southern Baptist Convention’ Category

Trust in God, Part III   3 comments

Above:  Annunciation of the Angel to Saint Zechariah, by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Jeremiah 33:14-16

Psalm 25

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Luke 1:1-25

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As Karl Barth pointed out, God, not human beings, properly occupies the center of Christian theology.  The overabundance of human-centered language in hymnals and in lyrics to music in church is never a good sign.

God is at the center in the readings for this Sunday.  God occupies the center of Jeremiah 33, with its prophecy of a restored Davidic monarchy and levitical priesthood.  God occupies the center in the prediction of redemption while all around looks dire.  God guides people spiritually and forgives sins.  God helps us empathize and rejoice with each other as we serve God.  God offers good news that seems unbelievable.

A Southern Baptist collegiate ministry sends people to stand in the quadrangle at the Oconee Campus of the University of North Georgia a few times each semester.  Sometimes someone stops me to ask me a few questions.  One of those questions is,

Do you believe in God?

My answer is always the same:

What do you mean?

I ask because my answer depends on the intent of the questioner.  A common understanding of belief in God is intellectual acceptance of the existence of God.  In the creeds and in many Biblical passages, though, belief in God indicates trust in God.  I always affirm the existence of God, whom I usually trust.

Trust is of the essence of in Luke 1:1-25.  In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, the lack of trust is a problem for Zechariah.  I do not condemn, though, for my response would also be in so many words,

Yeah, right.

We readers, if we know the Bible well, should think immediately of Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah (Genesis 15:1-20 and 17:1f).  We ought also to remember Genesis 16, the beginning of the story of Hagar and Ishmael, as well as the faithlessness of Abram and Sarai.

Returning to Luke 1:1-25, if we continue reading that chapter, we find next week’s Gospel reading, which I mention here only in passing.  The contrast between Zechariah and Mary is multifaceted.  Trust (or lack thereof) in God is one of those facets.

I do not condemn Zechariah caution and skepticism.  I also rejoice that God does not asks us to cease to transform into gullible people.  Furthermore, divine grace continues to shower upon those who respond to seemingly unbelievable truths with

Yeah, right.

My favorite Biblical character is St. Thomas the Apostle; I affirm honest doubt.  It keeps one from falling for scams and joining cults.

Yeah, right

is frequently the correct reply.

When, however, the seemingly unbelievable is true and of God, we can turn to God and admit that our initial skepticism was wrong, even if it was understandable.  Sometimes we need hindsight to see more clearly.  And grace continues to abound.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF EDWARD KING, BISHOP OF LINCOLN

THE FEAST OF FRED B. CRADDOCK, U.S. DISCIPLES OF CHRIST MINISTER, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, AND RENOWNED PREACHER

THE FEAST OF GEOFFREY STUDDERT KENNEDY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HAMPDEN GURNEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF GOD, FOUNDER OF THE BROTHERS HOSPITALLERS OF SAINT JOHN OF GOD

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2020/03/08/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-of-advent-year-c-humes/

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Prelude to the Passion, Part IV   1 comment

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Above:  Absalom Conspires Against David

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 28:15-30 or 2 Samuel 15:30-37; 16:15-19, 23; 17:1-23 or 2 Chronicles 30:1-27

Psalm 141

John 11:(45) 46-57

1 Corinthians 16:1-24

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The tone of the readings, taken together, darkens.  However, the lesson from 1 Corinthians, part of the continuous reading of that epistle, stands apart from the other readings.  Exodus 28:15-30, a description of Aaron’s priestly vestments, makes sense in the context of 28:2, which specifies that the purpose of vestments is “for glory and beauty,” as Richard Elliott Friedman translates in Commentary on the Torah (2001).  As Dr. Friedman writes:

Beauty inspires.  Building beautiful places for the practice of religion is a valuable thing.  Of course this does not mean building great edifices at the expense of the starving masses, nor does it mean focusing on the outer trappings and missing the content and spirit that they serve.  There must be balance–wisdom.  But we must recognize the value of art and beauty:  the building, the priests’ clothing, the music, the smells, the tastes.  Religion is not the enemy of the senses.

–Page 266

At least religion should not be the enemy of the senses.  I have had some unfortunate discussions with Southern Baptists who have disagreed with Dr. Friedman and me.

Part of the beauty of ritual played out at the Temple at Jerusalem during Passover each year.  Passover was the annual celebration of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  At the time of Jesus this commemoration took place under the observant eyes of agents of the occupying Roman Empire, with Temple officials in cohorts with the Romans.  Something was out of balance.

The desperate tone of Psalm 141 fits the Passion narrative well.  It also suits the plight of King David, on the run from Absalom, his son.  David won that conflict and mourned his son, who died when his hair became caught in a tree.  Absalom was not innocent, but Jesus was.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 18, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT:  THE TWENTY-SECOND DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF MARC BOEGNER, ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT GIULIA VALLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ISAAC HECKER, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/devotion-for-proper-18-year-d/

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Nobility of Character   1 comment

Atlas Scan

Above:  Dougherty, Baker, and Mitchell Counties, Georgia

Image Source = Hammond’s Complete World Atlas (1951)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Collect:

Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform

sickness into health and death into life.

Openness to the power of your presence,

and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the world,

through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 47

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 30:27-33 (Thursday)

Isaiah 32:1-18 (Friday)

Isaiah 33:1-9 (Saturday)

Psalm 146 (All Days)

Romans 2:1-11 (Thursday)

Romans 2:12-16 (Friday)

Matthew 15:21-31 (Saturday)

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Hallelujah!

Praise the LORD, O my soul!

I will praise the Lord as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,

for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,

and in that day their thoughts perish.

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help:

whose hope is in the LORD their God;

who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;

who keeps faith forever;

who gives justice to those who are oppressed,

and food to those who hunger.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind;

the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;

the LORD loves the righteous

and cares for the stranger;

the LORD sustains the orphan and the widow,

but frustrates the way of the wicked.

The LORD shall reign forever,

your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

Hallelujah!

–Psalm 146, The Book of Common Worship (1993)

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When I was a graduate student in history at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, my thesis director asked me one day to help a friend and colleague of his who lived on the West Coast.  I was glad to do so.  The simple task entailed conducting some research there in town.  I learned what I could about a notorious law enforcement official (John Doe, for the purpose of this post) in an equally notorious county immediately south of Albany, Georgia, from the 1940s through the 1960s.  My answers came quickly.  Doe, whom his white-washed profile in the county history described as a devoted family man, a faithful Christian, and a deacon of the First Baptist Church in the county seat, was the sort of police officer who gave Southern law enforcement a bad name, especially among African Americans.  The federal government investigated him after he threw acid into the face of an African-American man, in fact.  No charges or disciplinary actions resulted, however, and Doe served locally until he retired and won a seat in the state General Assembly.  His offenses never caught up with him in this life.

A few years ago a student told a story in class.  He had been opening doors at his family’s church.  In the process he opened a closet door and found Ku Klux Klan robes.  Older members of the congregation preferred not to discuss why the robes were there.  I know, however, that the Klan had much support from many churchgoers a century ago and more recently than that.

A composite of the readings from Isaiah and Romans says that, among other things, character matters and becomes evident in one’s actions and inactions.  As we think, so we are and behave.  For example, do we really care for the vulnerable people around us, or do we just claim to do so?  To use other examples, do we profess “family values” while practicing serial infidelity or condemn gambling while playing slot machines?  Few offenses are more objectionable than hypocrisy.

Among my complaints about the Bible is the fact that it almost never mentions one’s tone of voice, a detail which can change the meaning of a statement.  Consider, O reader, the exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-27.  Was he being dismissive of her?  I think not.  The text provides some clues to support my conclusion:

  1. Jesus had entered the region of Tyre and Sidon, Gentile territory, voluntarily.
  2. Later our Lord and Savior expressed his compassion for people outside that region via words and deeds.  Surely his compassion knew no ethnic or geographic bounds.

No, I propose that Jesus responded to the Canaanite woman to prompt her to say what she did, and that he found her rebuttal satisfactory.  Then he did as she requested.

Jesus acted compassionately and effectively.  Hebrew prophets condemned judicial corruption and the exploitation of the poor.  One function of the language of the Kingdom of God (in both Testaments) was to call the attention of people to the failings of human economic and political systems.  That function applies to the world today, sadly.

What does it say about your life, O reader?  In Isaiah 32 the standard of nobility is character, especially in the context of helping the poor, the hungry, and the thirsty–the vulnerable in society, more broadly.  Are you noble by that standard?  Do you love your neighbor as you love yourself?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 5, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONIFACE OF MAINZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF ANDERS CHRISTENSEN ARREBO, “THE FATHER OF DANISH POETRY”

THE FEAST OF OLE T. (SANDEN) ARNESON, U.S. NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-18-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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A Stingy, Mean-Spirited Orthodoxy   3 comments

Books with Menorah

Above:  Two Books and a Menorah, January 16, 2015

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

I am quite fond of Judaism, from which my religion, Christianity (yes, a generally liberal version thereof) flows, and which many conservative Christians seem to consider severely lacking.

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Purity codes and tests disturb me.  Jesus violated them, and I have almost always been allegedly impure, according to them.  My context is the Bible Belt, in which I have always been a relative heretic, although I am actually fairly orthodox in the context of Christianity as a whole–the one in which Protestantism constitutes a minority.

A recent news story reminded me of J. Gresham Machen, who broke with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1936 to found the Presbyterian Church of America, which as called itself the Orthodox Presbyterian Church since 1940.  He published Christianity and Liberalism in 1923.  In that volume he argued that he and people who thought like him were Christians and that liberal Christians belonged to a religion other than Christianity.  Albert Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, made the same claim recently.

I have no use for the Holier-Than-Thou Club, members of which define me as hell-bound infidel.  Their orthodoxy is narrow-minded, stingy, and mean-spirited.  It functions to define them as the “in” crowd and people like me as the outsiders relative to true religion.  These self-righteous people and I reside in parallel theological realms.  I want nothing to do with their dimension.  No, I prefer a kind, humble orthodoxy–one which acknowledges that it might be mistaken on some points.

Father Anthony de Mello, S.J., related a wonderful story in The Song of the Bird (1982):

The disciples were full of questions about God.

Said the master, “God is the Unknown and the Unknowable.  Every statement about him, every answer to your questions, is a distortion of the truth.”

The disciples were bewildered.  “Then why do you speak about him at all?”

“Why does the bird sing?” said the master.

De Mello continued:

Not because it has a statement, but because it has a song.

(The Song of the Bird, pages 3 and 4)

God exists beyond the realm of complete human comprehension.  The best we mere mortals can do is to grasp part of the truth of God.  I am certain, therefore, that I am both correct and incorrect about a great deal, and that much of what I assume to be right is really wrong.  I sing my theological song anyway and leave the particulars to God and grace.  I strive for a generous orthodoxy, not a stingy and mean-spirited one.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 16, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE AND LILLIAN WILLOUGHBY, QUAKER PEACE ACTIVISTS

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MEUX BENSON, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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Renouncing Hatred   2 comments

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Above:  F. W.  de Klerk and Nelson Mandela in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1993

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-16052

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The Collect:

Holy and righteous God, you are the author of life,

and you adopt us to be your children.

Fill us with your words of life,

that we may live as witnesses of the resurrection of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 33

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 30:1-11a (Monday)

Hosea 5:15-6:6 (Tuesday)

Psalm 150 (Both Days)

1 John 3:10-16 (Monday)

2 John 1-6 (Tuesday)

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For this is the message we have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another….Whoever does not love abides in death.  All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.

–1 John 3:11, 15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another.  And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning–you must walk in it.

–2 John 5-6, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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If one is truly as one thinks, the logic of 1 John 3 (as well as Jesus in Matthew 5:21 forward) is impeccable.  Actions flow flow from attitudes, after all.  The call from 1 John 3 and 2 John is for Christians to build up each other and to seek the best for each other–to love one another actively.  Such love often entails doing that which the other person needs but does not desire, but the commandment is love one another, not to please one another.

The pericopes from Hosea 5 and Jeremiah 30, taken together, point toward the familiar theological formulation of the failure to keep the covenant as the root cause for the demise of the Kingdoms of Israel (northern) and Judah (southern).  Ritual actions are wonderful when people perform them properly, not as talismans meant to protect them from the consequences of their sinful actions for which they are not repentant.  Idolatry, judicial corruption, and economic exploitation were ubiquitous.  People needed to address those problems first, not attempt to hide behind sacred rituals, which they profaned with their lack of sincerity.

The commandment to love one another–a core component of the Law of Moses–is difficult to keep.  It tells us to lay selfishness aside and to sacrifice ourselves for others.  It stands on the bedrock of complete dependence on God and of mutual dependence among human beings.  There are no self-made people in the Kingdom of God.  The rule of the Kingdom of God is not to tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  No, in the Kingdom of God we pull each other up and tend to our own responsibilities, for whatever we do, even in private, affects others for good or for ill.

The difficult commandment to love one another also requires us to cease nursing grudges.  If we cannot forgive someone just yet and know that we should do so, we can rely rely on grace to help us to do that in God’s time.  We are flawed creatures, something God knows well, so moral perfectionism makes no sense to me.  The best good deeds we can muster by our own power call into the Lutheran category of civil righteousness–laudable yet insufficient to save us from our sins.  We ought, therefore, to forgive ourselves for being mere mortals; God has.

I ponder the statement that those who hate are not of God.  Then I consider the numerous incidents of hatred (from ancient times to current events) among people who have claimed to be of God.  In particular I recall the narrative of an African-American slave who escaped (with help from conductors of the Underground Railroad) to freedom in Canada, then British North America.  One of his owners had been a Southern Baptist deacon and a brutal man.  The former slave recalled the fact that this master had died.  Then the free man, a professing Christian, wrote that he did not know whether the deacon had gone to Heaven or to Hell, but that he did not want to share the same destination with this former master.  That sentiment makes sense to me, for the deacon’s actions belied his profession of Christian faith.

A good spiritual practice is to, by grace, seek to identify all hatred one has and to renounce it–give it up, stop feeding it.  If all of it will not depart immediately, at least the process has begun.  In such a case, one should trust God to deal with that which is too great a matter for one.

May more people renounce hatred and its vile fruits then glorify God together.

Let everything that has breath

praise the Lord.

Hallelujah!

–Psalm 150:6, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 18, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARC BOEGNER, ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY SAYERS, NOVELIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-third-sunday-of-easter-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Stumbling Blocks   4 comments

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Above:  Couples Dancing the Jitterbug, 1938

Photographer = Alan Fisher

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-134893

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The Collect:

O God, you direct our lives by your grace,

and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world.

Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 28:1-4

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

Luke 17:1-4

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Happy are the people who know the shout of triumph;

they walk, O Lord, in the light of your contenance.

In your name they rejoice all day long

and are exalted in your righteousness.

For you are the glory of their strength,

and in your favour you lift up our heads.

Truly the Lord is our shield;

the Holy One of Israel is our king.

–Psalm 89:15-18, Common Worship (2000)

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[Jesus] said to his disciples, “There are bound to be causes of stumbling; but woe betide the person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone round his neck than to cause the downfall of one of these little ones. So be on your guard. If your brother does wrong, reprove him; and if he repents, forgive him. Even if he wrongs you seven times in a day and comes back to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you are to forgive him.”

–Luke 17:1-4, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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Years ago I saw a cartoon on a church office door. A man was standing at the Pearly Gates of Heaven. St. Peter said to him,

No, that’s not a sin either. You must have worried yourself to death.

There are varieties of stumbling blocks.

One type is obsessing over activities which are not sinful. I have read of congregational leaders calling members to account for playing Bridge or hosting a dance at home in the 1800s. In the early 1990s a United Methodist minister told me about an experience he had had in the 1960s, when he was a pastor in rural Houston County, Georgia. Parents in the community, in an effort to provide safe activities for their children, had organized a series of Saturday night chaperoned dances at the fellowship hall of the local Methodist Church. One night a local Southern Baptist pastor made a scene outside as he complained loudly about the sinful dancing going on indoors. I suppose that he thought he was reproving people in the spirit of Luke 17, but his congregation fired him shortly thereafter. Many of the people in the Methodist fellowship hall that night, O reader, were his parishioners.

Obsessing over small fries which are not even sinful as if they are detracts one from actual sins.

Many people have long mistaken medical problems, such as addictions and dependencies, as moral failings, and therefore sins. Yet having a medical condition—a physical illness (including mental illness, which has organic causes)–is no sin. One should strive to fulfill one’s responsibility to be a better person—including not caving into certain cravings—of course, but having a problem of that sort is no sin.

Neither is acting according to or having a characteristic with which one is born and over which one has no control sinful. The option to do one thing or another is part of what makes some deeds sinful. Where there is option there is no sin, which is doing the wrong thing when one can do the right thing.

False prophecy is a sin. The Bible names many prophets who said that which was convenient and politically expedient and who led people astray. And I can think of some false prophets with ministerial titles and television shows in my own time. Many of the broadcast of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), where the hair is big and much of the furniture, in the words of someone I heard speak in the late 1990s, would fit in at a New Orleans bordello. (I assume that the metaphor had mostly to do with furniture in pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.)

One can also erect stumbling blocks of the excessively permissive variety. I refer not so much to peccadilloes (not that they do not matter) as to patterns and structures in society. Peccadilloes, which are bad and therefore require correction, constitute low-hanging fruit. The real challenge is to climb the tree. The Bible contains more material about money, the uses of it, and economic injustice (including the exploitation of people) than it does about sexual practices and proclivities. One should, then, hear more about economics than sexuality from the pulpit, but often reality is the other way around. Not reproving people complicit in economic exploitation constitutes a failure on one’s part. Allegations of engaging in class warfare aside, engaging in such reproof is the right thing to do.

We humans exist chiefly to glorify and enjoy God forever. The Psalm speaks to that point from the Westminster Catechism. Forgiveness—something frequently difficult—is a vital part of approaching that goal—for both the one who pardons and he or she who receives the forgiveness. And so is appropriate reproof. Inappropriate reproof, however, does not help. May we, by grace, see through our blind spots and bad cultural programming to recognize that which is proper. Then may we affirm it and act accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 23, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DESIDERIUS/DIDIER OF VIENNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUIBERT OF GORZE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN BAPTIST ROSSI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS, SCIENTIST

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-8-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Excesses and Errors of Pietism   49 comments

Excesses and Errors of Pietism

Above:  The Last Page of My Draft of This Post

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I am an Episcopalian.  I used to identify more as an Anglican, but many Donatists in North America have taken that label for themselves.  So now I identify primarily as an Episcopalian and secondarily as an Anglican.  Yet I embrace the broad, inclusive meaning of Anglicanism, with its acceptance, tolerance, and collegiality.  And I like the Anglican spirit of unity in worship, not theological orthodoxy–whichever version of it a specific church party might seek to define as normative.  So my religion is sacramental, ritualistic, and warm-hearted, given to good works.  And my religion is quite intellectual, for the human brain is a great gift from God.

Given my spiritual and theological predilections, I bristle against the excesses and errors of Pietism.  On occasion my expressions of this sentiment have caused offense to some in my family and beyond it.  Sometimes people have accused me of judging.  No, my offense (not sin) was to hold and state a contrary opinion.  For that I offer no apology.  As I sign I have says,

FOR EVERY ACTION THERE IS AN EQUAL AND OPPOSITE CRITICISM.

I do not apologize for the fact of another person’s thin skin.

Yet Pietism is not all bad.  It emerged in European Lutheranism shortly after the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).  One Jakob Spener (1635-1705), responding to stale confessional orthodoxy, proposed six goals for Christian living:

  1. Individual Bible study;
  2. The practice of the priesthood of all believers;
  3. The priority of good works;
  4. The maintenance of charity amid theological controversy;
  5. The improved education and training of clergy; and
  6. The reform of preaching to fit the previous five goals.

Many Pietists, using slogans such as

LIFE VERSUS DOCTRINE

and

REALITY VERSUS THE APPEARANCE OF GODLINESS,

focused on a living faith–an excellent ideal.  And they engaged in many great charitable works which improved societies–also consistent with the best aspects of Christianity.

But excesses and errors developed early and spread abroad quickly.  They live today.

  1. Sometimes the focus on holy living has devolved into persnickety rules, such as prohibitions against playing cards or dancing.  The rejection of one form of stale orthodoxy–abstract theology–has led to another form of stale orthodoxy–legalism–really a heresy.  This also constitutes a purity code.  Jesus rejected purity codes of his day.
  2. The emphasis on regeneration (a term I have seen used so many ways that I have ceased to know what it means when someone uses it) reflects a basic flaw in Protestantism–too much emphasis on the individual and not enough on the faith community.
  3. This obsession with regeneration has led to a rejection of good liturgy, such as the church year, service books, and “smells and bells.”  I, as a ritualist, object to this error.  A stunted sacramental theology has hindered much of Protestantism, denying it the fullness it might have enjoyed and shared otherwise.
  4. The undervaluing of objective truth in favor of subjective experience has been unfortunate.  I, as one who values objective reality highly, take issue with excessive subjectivity.  In fact, I, as a history buff, like to apply universal, timeless ethical standards to historical figures.  Some tell me that I ought not to do this, but they are displaying excessive subjectivity.

Despite the historical origins of Pietism in late seventeenth-century European Lutheranism, I recognize a related mentality in the Puritanism (which rejected the priesthood of the believer in favor of a high view of the pastor as interpreter of the Bible) of the early-to-late 1600s.  As Professor Edmund S. Morgan wrote in The Puritan Family, Puritans emphasized rules of civil living

in order to convince themselves that they were sanctified.

–page 5

Unfortunately, some of these rules were quite strict–down to punishing people for humming or singing to themselves in public on Sunday and making church attendance mandatory.  But, as Roger Williams observed correctly, the only sincere prayer is the one a person offers sincerely.

I recognize excesses of Pietism in wrong-headed obsessions with “worldliness” and “worldly amusements.”  Some examples follow:

  1. In the 1870s the pastor and Session of Central Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, Georgia, carried out a “reign of terror” (a term from page 18 of the 1979 church history), excommunicating about half of the congregation.   The excommunicated had danced or played bridge or hosted a dance at home.  Deacon Frank Block, who published an eighteen-page defense of himself, had done the latter.  The pastor left under a cloud of controversy in December 1878 and the congregation took years to heal.
  2. Over a decade ago I heard a history professor at Georgia Southern University–a good liberal Episcopalian forced into home schooling by the local school system’s problems–speak of awkward moments at gatherings of the local home schooling association.  One other parent, for example, forbade her child(ren) to play soccer because the sport was “too worldly.”  The professor shook his head in dismay.
  3. The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), founded in 1880, had liberalized by 1910.  Finally it resolved officially that any man who wore a necktie to church was not violating Biblical standards.  So, in 1910 and 1911, the Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma) separated.  Its leaders cited doctrinal drift and church “worldliness” as justifications for the schism.
  4. Gene Pollett (who told me the following story in the 1990s) served as the pastor of Andrew Chapel Methodist Church, Kathleen, Georgia, in the 1960s.  There was little for the youth of the community to do on Saturday nights, so parents from various churches agreed to chaperone a weekly dance held at the fellowship hall of Andrew Chapel.  One Saturday night a local Southern Baptist minister made a scene, confronting Gene and complaining about the sinful dancing taking place inside.  Unfortunately for that preacher, some portion of his congregation was present at the dance and heard his rant.  That Baptist congregation was seeking a new pastor shortly thereafter.

I know that some might beat me about the theological head and neck with Romans 14 and that others might merely suggest that I read it.  I have read it–many times, in fact.  And I have read other Pauline passages regarding one’s activities in relation to “weaker members,” as the texts refer to them.  My lifestyle is quiet and basic.  It is free of scandalous behaviors.  Yet I know that some “weaker members” might not understand even my simple lifestyle as I do.  I have decided, however, that I will try to live a good life because that is the right thing to do.  I have vowed to leave my corner of the world better than I found it because that is what I ought to do.  And I will not permit the potential confusion on the part of others to limit my choices.  If I were to do so, I would do little or nothing.  And then what good would I be in this world?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 3, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR CARL LICHTENBERGER, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, NOVELIST

THE FEAST OF JIMMY LAWRENCE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF PRUDENCE CRANDALL, EDUCATOR

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Amended on September 5, 2013

Amended on October 18, 2013

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ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bowker, John, ed.  The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1997.  I find this volume quite useful during my ongoing quest to understand the content of religious claims objectively.

Melton, J. Gordon.  Encyclopedia of American Religions.  4h. Ed.  Detroit, MI:  Gale Research, Inc., 1993.  This is a crucial reference work in my library.

Morgan, Edmund S.  The Puritan Family:  Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England.  2d.  Ed.  New York, NY:  Harper & Row, 1966.  Morgan was an expert of Puritanism.

Precht, Fred L., ed.  Lutheran Worship:  History and Practice.  St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 1993.  This work includes a strong Confessional Lutheran (Missouri Synod) critique of Pietism.  I agree with parts of that critique and disagree with others, for I am not a Confessional Lutheran–or even a Lutheran, although I could be a Lutheran under certain circumstances.

Smith, John Robert.  The Church That Stayed:  The Life and Times of Central Presbyterian Church in the Heart of Atlanta, 1858-1978.  Atlanta, GA:  The Atlanta Historical Society, 1979.  O, the treasures one finds at thrift stores!

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