Archive for the ‘Andrew Chapel United Methodist Church Kathleen Georgia’ Tag

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   47 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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Finally, A Sincere Question!   3 comments

Above:  First Paragraph of the Shema in Hebrew

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Tobit 6:9-11; 7:1-15 (Revised English Bible):

When Tobias had entered Media and was already approaching Ecbatana, Raphael said to the youth,

Tobias, my friend.

He replied,

Yes.

Raphael said:

We must stay tonight with Raguel, who is a relative of yours.  He has a daughter named Sarah, but no other children, neither sons nor daughters.   You as her next of kin have the right to marry her and inherit the girl’s property….

As they entered Ecbatana Tobias said,

Azarias, my friend, take me straight to our kinsman Raguel.

So he took him to Raguel’s house, where they found him sitting by the courtyard gate.  They greeted him first, and he replied,

Greetings to you, my friends.  You are indeed welcome.

When he brought them into his house, he said to Edna his wife,

Is not this young man like my kinsman Tobit?

Edna questioned him,

Friends, where do you come from?

They answered,

We belong to the tribe of Naphtali, now in captivity at Nineveh.

She asked,

Do you know our kinsman Tobit?

They replied,

Yes, we do.

She said,

Is he well?

They answered,

He is alive and well

and Tobias added,

He is my father.

Raguel jumped up and, with tears in his eyes, he kissed him.

God bless you, my boy,

he said,

son of a good and upright father.  But what a calamity that so just and charitable a man has lost his sight!

He embraced Tobias his kinsman and wept; Edna his wife and their daughter Sarah also wept for Tobit.

Raguel slaughtered a ram from the flock and entertained them royally.  They bathed and then, after washing their hands, took their places at the meal.  Tobias said to Raphael,

Azarias, my friend, ask Raguel to give me Sarah my kinswoman.

Raguel overheard this and said to the young man:

Eat and drink tonight, and enjoy yourself. There is no one but yourself who should have my daughter Sarah; indeed, I ought not to give her anyone else, since you are my nearest kinsman.  However, I must reveal the truth to you, my son:  I have given her in marriage to seven of our kinsmen, and they all died on their wedding night.  My son, eat and drink now, and may the Lord deal kindly with you both.

Tobias answered,

I shall not eat again or drink until you have disposed of this business of mine.

Raguel said to him,

I shall do so:  I give her to you in accordance with the decree in the book of Moses, and Heaven itself has decreed that she shall be yours.  Take your kinswoman; from now on belong to her and she to you, from today she is yours for ever.  May all go well with you both this night, my son; may the Lord of heaven grant you mercy and peace.

Raguel called for Sarah and, when she came, he took her by the hand and gave her to Tobias with these words:

Receive my daughter as your wedded wife in accordance with the law, the decree written in the book of Moses; keep her and take her safely home to your father.  And may the God of heaven grant you prosperity and peace.

Then he sent for her mother and told her to fetch a roll of papyrus, and he wrote out and put his seal on a marriage contract giving Sarah to Tobias as his wife according to this decree.  After that they began to eat and drink.

Psalm 128 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they who fear the LORD,

and who follow in your ways!

2 You shall eat the fruit of your labor;

happiness and prosperity shall be yours.

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house,

your children like olive shoots round about your table.

4 The man who fears the LORD

shall thus be blessed.

The LORD bless you from Zion,

and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

May you live to see your children’s children;

may peace be upon Israel.

Mark 12:28-34 (Revised English Bible):

Then one of the scribes, who had been listening to these discussions and had observed how well Jesus answered, came forward and asked him,

Which is the first of all the commandments?

He answered,

The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel:  the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’   The second is this:  ‘You must love your neighbour as yourself.’  No other commandment is greater than these.

The scribe said to him,

Well said, Teacher.  You are right in saying that God is one and beside him there is no other.  And to love him with all your heart, all your understanding, and all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself–that means far more than any whole-offerings and sacrifices.

When Jesus saw how thoughtfully he answered, he said to him,

You are not far from the kingdom of God.

After that nobody dared put any more questions to him.

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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THE SHEMA

Hear, Israel:  the LORD is our God, the LORD our one God; and you must love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments which I give you this day are to be remembered and taken to heart; repeat them to your children, and speak to them both indoors and out of doors, when you lie down and when you get up.  Bind them as a sign on your hand and wear them as a pendant on your forehead; write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

–Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (Revised English Bible)

The recent arc of the Markan narrative in the lectionary has been one of Jesus fielding insincere questions.  But, at the end of this part of the story, a scribe asks an intelligent and sincere question:  What is the greatest commandment.  This man receives a reply unlike the one Jesus had for the Sadducees just a few verses ago:  “You are so far from the truth!”  In this case, Jesus quotes the Shema, a duly famous part of the Law of Moses, and amends it:  We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  The scribe agrees with the answer, and Jesus says that the man is near to the kingdom of God.  Did the scribe complete the journey?  The texts are silent on that point, but I hope the answer is affirmative.

Too often certain people and institutions who claim the Christian label become caught up in legalism and call this holiness.  For example, the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) began in the 1800s as a Restorationist body claiming the Bible alone as its source of authority in matters of doctrine and practice.  For a while men were not allowed to wear neckties to church; the denomination was that strict.  The Anderson, Indiana, group liberalized by 1910-1911, when it permitted men to wear neckties to church.  This was one issue that prompted the Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma) to break away; it opposed neckties.  (My source = Encyclopedia of American Religions)

In the 1960s, in rural Kathleen, Georgia, parents began to offer a regular Saturday night chaperoned dance at the fellowship hall of Andrew Chapel Methodist Church.  This was an event for local youth, so they would have something positive to do on the weekend.  One night, the pastor of a local Baptist church made an unfortunate scene at one of these dances when he complained loudly about all the allegedly sinful dancing taking place indoors.  Some of his parishioners were at that dance, and that pastor had to seek other employment shortly thereafter.  (My source = the United Methodist minister who had served as pastor of Andrew Chapel in the 1960s)

These are just two examples of what has happened when people seeking to obey God become so lost in the trees that they lose sight of the forest.  If we will focus on loving people as ourselves, for example, many details will fall into place.  It is laudable to love the Bible, but not to seek permission for every minute detail (such as whether it is proper to wear a necktie) in its pages.  And the denunciation of all dancing as sinful is an old saw, one that ought to die.

As Jesus reiterated, we need to love God fully.  After all, God loves us.  The Book of Tobit tells a fictional story of that love.  After the events of the previous excerpt from Tobit, the elderly blind man sends his son to Ectabana, in Media, to visit a family friend with whom Tobit had deposited money.  (Tobit and Anna needed the money now.)  The archangel Raphael, disguised as Azarias, a kinsman of Tobias, accompanies Tobit’s son to Ecbatana and helps ensure the successful match-making between Tobias and Sarah.  The divine healing of Sarah then Tobit is about to commence in the narrative.

The scriptures say that God wants to be gracious to us.  May we respond favorably to God and extend grace to others, as we have opportunity.  Yesterday I had the chance to be extraordinarily kind to a student experiencing a medical situation.  It will not derail her progress in my course; I will not permit it to do so.  I mention this for one reason:  Everything I have learned from my formative years tells me that my decision was the only proper one.  So, when the opportunity to function as an agent of grace presented itself, I never considered doing anything else.  Yes, I broke rules to do this, but God has broken rules in order to extend grace to many of us again and again.  I have learned the meaning of the words of Jesus:

Go and do likewise.

All praise to the God of mercy!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 16, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET OF SCOTLAND, QUEEN

THE FEAST OF SAINT GIUSEPPE MOSCATI, PHYSICIAN

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/week-of-proper-4-thursday-year-1/

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