Archive for the ‘Gnosticism’ Tag

Schismatics and False Teachers   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART XVII

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2 John

3 John

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Second John and Third John date to circa 100 C.E.  The identification of the author is as “the Elder.”  The “Chosen Lady,” the audience of Second John may be that congregation.  On the other hand, the audience for Third John is plainly one Gaius, a friend of “the Elder.”

Much of the content of these brief epistles is consistent with that of First John.

The two churches faced different threats.

The church in Second John contended with schismatic missionaries and false teachers–possibly Gnostics, problematic in First John.  The advice to show those trouble-makers no hospitality was practical.  Missionaries and itinerant preachers relied on hospitality.

The threat of schism was of internal origin in Third John.  One Diotrephes, a leader in that congregation, liked having power.  Perhaps Diotrephes had a raging ego.  Or maybe he used his position of leadership to assuage an inferiority complex.  Either way, the result was detrimental to the congregation.

I have belonged to and been close to a number of congregations, mostly not of my choosing.  My father was a minister in The United Methodist Church.  He served rural congregations–usually a few simultaneously–in the South Georgia Conference.  Most of these congregations were small, conservative, and anti-intellectual.  When I grew up and exercised the option to choose where I wanted to attend church, I joined The Episcopal Church.  I have belonged to a series of Episcopal congregations.  All of them have been more progressive and intellectual than the congregations in and near which I grew up.

I have witnessed the petty politics of certain congregations.  I have known church leaders who thought of a given congregation as theirs, not God’s.  I have remained silent, for the sake of diplomacy, when asking an inconvenient question or speaking an objective, documented fact would cause people to look at me sideways and doubt my salvation.  I have felt out of place in most of the congregations in which I have been present.

Heresy is an important matter; it exists.  Yet much of what passes for orthodoxy is actually heretical, just as much of what passes for heresy is really orthodox.  We are all heretics, to some degree; only God is purely orthodox.  Also, everybody is somebody’s heretic.

The trick is to be mostly orthodox, not mostly heretical.  Orthodoxy must lead to orthopraxy if it is really to be orthodoxy.  As we think, we are.  As we think, we act.

Besides, salvation is by grace, not passing a canonical examination.  I would rather be loving than right.

Thank you for joining me, O reader, on this hike through the General Epistles.  I invite you to remain by my side, so to speak, as I move along to my next project, the Apocalypse of John (Revelation).

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF DAVID NITSCHMANN, SR., “FATHER NITSCHMANN,” MORAVIAN MISSIONARY; MELCHIOR NITSCHMANN, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND MARTYR, 1729; JOHANN NITSCHMANN, JR., MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND BISHOP; ANNA NITSCHMANN, MORAVIAN ELDRESS; AND DAVID NITSCHMANN, MISSIONARY AND FIRST BISHOP OF THE RENEWED MORAVIAN CHURCH

THE FEAST OF CYRIACUS SCHNEEGASS, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS XAVIER SEELOS, GERMAN-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK, U.S. NORTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND OPPONENT OF FUNDAMENTALISM

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH LOWERY, AFRICAN-AMERICAN UNITED METHODIST MINISTER AND CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER; “THE DEAN OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT”

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Posted October 5, 2021 by neatnik2009 in 2 John, 3 John

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Living as Children of God   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART XV

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1 John 3:1-4:6

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My children,

our love is not to be just words or mere talk,

but something real and active;

only by this can we be certain 

that we are children of the truth

and be able to quieten our conscience in his presence,

whatever accusations it may raise against us,

because God is greater than our conscience and he knows everything.

–1 John 3:18-20, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

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I refer you, O reader, to the previous post in this series for an explanation of 3:3-9.

 

Until about two years ago, I read 1 John 3:18-20, quietly acknowledged the the truth of those verses, and moved along.

Now I read them and stop in my tracks.

Bonny, my beloved, died on October 14, 2019.  Her manner of death was violent and preventable.  I tried to prevent it.  I prolonged Bonny’s life for years.  Finally, I could prolong it no more.

My conscience has accused me since October 14, 2019.  Another voice in my head has countered my survivor’s guilt.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth.  I affirm the orthodox theology of the Holy Trinity, as it emerged during a few centuries of debate and ecumenical councils, as being as close to the objective reality of God as one can get.  Nevertheless, I suspect that the full nature of God exceeds human comprehension.  The orthodox theology of the Holy Trinity is poetry, not prose, so to speak.  The Holy Spirit–whatever the actual nature of it is–is the Spirit of truth.  The Spirit of truth tells me to stop blaming myself for Bonny’s death and for still having a pulse.  Part of me listens to that counsel.

 

The context of 1 John 4:1-6 is the schism in the germane Johannine community.  The Antichrists and false prophets “John” had in mind were Gnostics, who denied the Incarnation–and the rest of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  They deserved the criticism they received.

Gnosticism persists.  Heresies tend not to die.  No, they mutate, like viruses.  Some fade.  Others become more prominent and popular.  1 John 4:1-6 contains to speak to the present day, sadly.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 3, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 22:  THE NINETEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF GEORGE KENNEDY ALLEN BELL, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CHICHESTER

THE FEAST OF ALBERTO RAMENTO, PRIME BISHOP OF THE PHILIPPINE INDEPENDENT CHURCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT GERARD OF BROGNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF JOHN RALEIGH MOTT, U.S. METHODIST LAY EVANGELIST, AND ECUMENICAL PIONEER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM SCARLETT, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF MISSOURI, AND ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

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Posted October 3, 2021 by neatnik2009 in 1 John 3, 1 John 4

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Walking in the Light   Leave a comment

Above:  Ben Burton Park, Athens, Georgia, November 11, 2017

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART XIV

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1 John 1:1-2:29

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Circa 100 C.E., a disciple of St. John the Evangelist, writing as that apostle, addressed a Johannine Christian community.   That church had recently suffered a schism; Gnostics had broken away.

Gnosticism was problematic for several reasons.

  1. It understood knowing to be a saving deed.
  2. This allegedly salvific knowledge was a secret.  Therefore, Gnostics were self-appointed spiritual elites.
  3. Gnosticism understood all that was material to be evil.  This doctrine refuted the Incarnation and all the spin-off Christological doctrines–the Resurrection and the Atonement, in particular.  In Gnostic thought, Jesus only seemed to have a body, and another man occupied the cross intended for Christ.
  4. The cosmology and God-concept of Gnosticism were convoluted.  That, however, is a topic for another time and post.

The author of First John knew the Gospel of John well.  He wrote in Johannine terms.  The opening of First John imitated John 1:1-18.  The Johannine definition of eternal life as knowing God via Jesus carried over.  So did reserving the language of divine sonship for Jesus and referring to Christians as “children of God.”  One may also recognize the Johannine motif of indwelling, present in First John.

One who has read the General Epistles and who has a good memory of them may read 1 John 1:1-2:29 and detect themes covered elsewhere in the General Epistles.  Straighten up and fly right.  Good and evil are fighting in the world.  Do not give into evil, forbidden desires.  Live in mutuality.  Cling to Jesus.  Beware of false teachers.  These false teachers are Antichrists, for they deny Christ.

Sin is a major topic in First John, a subtle text.  Some of the subtleties are so subtle that one may easily miss them.  For the sake of clarity, I choose to cover part of 1 John 3, so for as it seems to contradict 1 John 1 and 2.

If we say we have no sin in us,

we are deceiving ourselves

and refusing to admit the truth;

but if we acknowledge our sins,

then God who is faithful and just

will forgive our sins and purify us

from everything that is wrong.

To say that we have never sinned

is to call God a liar

and to show that his word is not in us.

I am writing this, my children,

to stop you sinning;

but if anyone should sin,

we have an advocate with the Father,

Jesus Christ, who is just;

he is the sacrifice that takes our sins away,

but not only us,

but the whole world.

–1 John 1:8-2:2, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Consider the following passage, too, O reader:

Surely everyone who entertains this hope

must purify himself, must try to be pure as Christ.

Anyone who sins at all

breaks the law,

because to sin is to break the law.

Now you know that he appeared in order to abolish sin,

and that in him there is no sin;

and anyone who sins

has never seen him or known him.

My children, do not let anyone lead you astray:

to live a holy life

is to be holy just as he is holy;

to lead a sinful life is to belong to the devil,

since the devil was a sinner from the beginning.

It was to undo all that the devil has done

that the Son of God appeared.

No one who as been begotten by God sins;

because God’s seed remains in him,

he cannot sin when he has been begotten by God.

–1 John 3:3-9, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

A superficial reading of the two passages leads one to conclude that they contradict each other.  Yet a close reading reveals the logical progression.  Jesus destroys sin.  Therefore, to the extent one is in Christ, one cannot sin.  To the extent one is in tune with God, one cannot sin.  In the original context of First John, the second passage does not argue for the sinlessness of Christians.  Rather, 3:9 is:

…the strongest, most principles denial that sinfulness could ever be reckoned a birth certificate of godliness.

–C. Clifton Black, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XII (1998), 413

The author of First John was apparently arguing against false teachers who held that there was a warrant for sin in the Christian life.  This false teaching continued to cause confusion in the germane Johannine community after the schism.

Perhaps paraphrasing 1 John 3:9, outside of the original context, helps:

To the extent that one is in Christ, one is not and cannot be a slave to sin.

The light of Christ dispels the darkness of evil, in other words.  May we–individually and collectively–live our lives in the light (1 John 1:7).

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 2, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PETRUS HERBERT, GERMAN MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMNODIST

THE FEAST OF CARL DOVING, NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JAMES ALLEN, ENGLISH INGHAMITE THEN GLASITE/SANDEMANIAN HYMN WRITER; AND HIS GREAT-NEPHEW, OSWALD ALLEN, ENGLISH GLASITE/SANDEMANIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA ANNA KRATOCHWIL, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND MARTYR, 1942

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Donatism of a Sort, Part III   Leave a comment

Above: St. Augustine Arguing with Donatists, by Charles-André van Loo

Image in the Public Domain

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For Tuesday in Holy Week, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty and Everlasting God, grant us grace so to contemplate the passion of our Lord,

that we may find therein forgiveness for our sins;

through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 159-160

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Lamentations 3:1-7, 18-33

Psalm 32

Ephesians 2:13-22

Mark 15:1-39

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The imagery in Lamentations 3 (usually about going into the Babylonian Exile) and Psalm 32 (really about confessing sin, receiving forgiveness, and returning to God) fits with the suffering of Jesus in Mark 15:1-39.  One result of that suffering, we read in Ephesians 2:13-22, is the breaking down of hostility between Jews and Gentiles.  Jesus is the peace, we read.  He is the means of reconciliation, we read.

I got the memo; I read Ephesians 2:13-22.  I also marked, learned, and inwardly digested the text.  However, many people, including a plethora of my fellow Christians, have not read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested Ephesians 2:13-22.  Anti-Semitism has been a sin within the Church since the founding of the Church.

Likewise, among Gentiles, erecting and maintaining walls of hostility has been a long-standing practice.  Donatism (in the broad sense of that word) has been around for a very long time.

As Edmond Browning, a previous Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, insisted, there are 

no outsiders

in Christ.  Many professing Christians have yet to receive that menu.  According to doctrinal purity tests from my right, I am impure–a heretic, probably one damned to Hell.  My alleged offenses, according to some who have spoken to me in person and/or sent emails, include thinking too much and asking too many questions.

Salvation is not a matter of winning Theological Twenty Questions.  Salvation is not a matter of knowledge, as in Gnosticism.  Orthodoxy in theology is not a saving work.  Salvation is a matter of grace.  This grace is at work in Single Predestination and in free will.  We have free will because of grace, after all.

And Donatism is not a virtue.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PEPIN OF LANDEN, SAINT ITTA OF METZ, THEIR RELATIONS, SAINTS AMAND, AUSTREGISILUS, AND SULPICIUS II BOURGES, FAITHFUL CHRISTIANS ACROSS GENERATIONAL LINES

THE FEAST OF EMILY GREENE BALCH, U.S. QUAKER SOCIOLOGIST, ECONOMIST, AND PEACE ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF JULIA CHESTER EMERY, UPHOLDER OF MISSIONS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP II OF MOSCOW, METROPOLITAN OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA, AND MARTYR, 1569

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JONES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MUSICIAN

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A Question of Balance   Leave a comment

Above:  Balance Scale

Photographer = Andreas Praefcke

Image in the Public Domain

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[Jesus] called the people to him and said, “Listen, and understand.  What goes into the mouth does not make anyone unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean.”

–Matthew 15:10-11, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

I remember a single-cell cartoon depicting a man standing before St. Simon Peter at the Pearly Gates.  The caption reads,

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

Recently I have renewed my interest in Scandinavian-American Lutheran history.  I have therefore been reading in that field.  These volumes have covered topics including Pietism, complete with its condemnation of indulging appetites and engaging in “worldly amusements,” such as dancing, drinking tea, playing cards, playing chess, attending plays, attending fairs and circuses, and reading works of fiction.  I have remembered an old joke:

Q:  Why don’t fundamentalists have sex standing up?

A:  It might lead to dancing.

Pietism and Puritanism are two unfortunate -isms that overlap with regard to denunciations of “worldly amusements.”  Pietism, which originated within Lutheranism then spread beyond it, dates to the 1600s, as a reaction against excessively abstract theology in preaching.  Pietism rejects the definition of the church as the assembly of hose called by both word and sacraments and redefines the church as the gathering of the spiritually reborn.  Pietism also de-emphasizes doctrine and stresses deeds–many of them laudible acts of charity and general decency and honest piety.  Unfortunately, Pietism also bends toward legalism and de-emphasizes the sacraments and rituals (referring scornfully to “externals”), tends toward serial contrarianism with regard to “the world,” and is Donatistic.  A Pietist contrasts deeds and doctrines.  I rebut that deeds reveal doctrines.  As we think, so we are.  That which we are inside cannot help but be evident outside.

I affirm the following statements:

  1. What we do matters.
  2. What we do not do matters.
  3. What we believe (give intellectual assent to) matters.
  4. None of the above can save any of us from the consequences of our sins.
  5. Faithful response to God is vital.
  6. Legalism is spiritually detrimental.
  7. Salvation is a gift.  It is free, not cheap.

The allegation of works-based righteousness is a cudgel many Protestants use against Roman Catholicism.  This reality indicates a misapprehension of Roman Catholic theology.  Yes, many Roman Catholics have a sense of works-based righteousness, but so do many Protestants.  I, who grew up a United Methodist in the South Georgia Conference, recall some children’s sermons delivered by laypeople whose theology included works-based righteousness.  I know well that the doctrinal standards of that denomination reject works-based righteousness.  For many Protestants of various theological categories affirming orthodoxy becomes a means of salvation.  Salvation from damnation therefore becomes a matter of knowledge.  This is an error–a sort of Gnosticism, to be precise.  Furthermore, an obsession with personal peccadilloes becomes an excuse for giving short shrift to or ignoring collective responsibility for societal and social ills.  So yes, one might cheat one’s employees and oppose policies that would penalize one for doing so and prevent one from doing so, but one rarely uses profanity and never cheats on one’s spouse.  The Bible says more about the exploitation of people than about sexual activities, however, so such a one needs to rethink one’s priorities.  Anyhow, even the most moral life, measured by kindness, cannot save one from damnation.

In both Judaism and Christianity the law of love is paramount.  So, O reader, leave the world better than you found it.  God will save it, but your faithful response is to act positively.  Also, go ahead and enjoy your life.  Enjoy a good dance, if you wish.  Watch movies, from harmless popcorn flicks to profound art films.  (Italian Neorealism has enriched my life recently.)  Why not relish a well-written novel or short story?  Lose yourself in a symphony or other work of great music.

Finally, brothers, let your minds be filled with everything that is true, everything that is honourable, everything that is upright and pure, everything that we love and admire–and whatever is good and praiseworthy.

–Philippians 4:8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

The “worldly” in “worldly amusements” is not necessarily negative.  Yes, one should avoid much that one can find to amuse oneself, but many of the options are laudable.  Playing chess is beneficial for one’s mind.  Antioxidents in tea are good for us.  Idle hands are not necessarily the Devil’s workshop, for we need to rest and play as well as work.  God has given us life;  may we enjoy it and thank God frequently.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 9, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR; FATHER OF MARKUS BARTH, SWISS LUTHERAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF GEORG FRIEDRICH HELLSTROM, DUTCH-GERMAN MORAVIAN MUSICIAN, COMPOWER, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER FOURIER, “THE GOOD PRIEST OF MATTAINCOURT;” AND SAINT ALIX LE CLERC, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF NOTRE DAME OF CANONESSES REGULAR OF SAINT AUGUSTINE

THE FEAST OF SAINT WALTER CISZEK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST AND POLITICAL PRISONER

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Orthodoxy, Heresy, and Compassion   1 comment

Job and His Alleged Friends

Above:   Job and His Alleged Friends

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, our eternal redeemer, by the presence of your Spirit you renew and direct our hearts.

Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgment.

Inspire us for a holy life here, and bring us to the joy of the resurrection,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Job 20:1-11 (Monday)

Job 21:1, 17-34 (Tuesday)

Psalm 123 (Both Days)

2 Peter 1:16-21 (Monday)

2 John 1-13 (Tuesday)

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Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy,

for we have had more than enough of contempt.

–Psalm 123:4, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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With friends such as Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, who needs enemies?  In Job 19:22 the main character laments:

Why do you hound me down like God,

will you never have enough of my flesh?

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

in response to Bildad.  Then Zophar echoes Bildad in arguing that Job must have sinned and therefore deserve his suffering.  Job replies in part:

So what sense is there in your empty consolation?

What nonsense are your answers!

–Job 21:34, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Refraining from blaming victims is a good start, is it not?  Compassion is a virtue, and tough love is different from abuse.

Turning to the readings from the New Testament, we find defenses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of Christian orthodoxy, which was in the early phase of development in the first and second centuries of the Common Era.  The Gospel, consistent with the Hebrew Prophets, comes with eyewitnesses (most of whom had died by the late first century C.E.), we read.  The text of 2 John adds a criticism of Gnostics or proto-Gnostics, who denied the Incarnation.  Indeed, many Gnostic texts have survived and are available in English-language translations.  They are baffling and non-canonical.  Their non-canonical status is appropriate, given that Gnosticism and Christianity are mutually incompatible.

Interestingly, the author of 2 John never accuses these deniers of the Incarnation of being cruel or otherwise mean.  No, they are simply wrong and dangerous, he argues.  One can be compassionate and theologically mistaken just as surely as one can be theologically correct and lacking in compassion.  One can also, of course, lack both compassion and theological correctness.  The optimum state is to be theologically correct and compassionate, is it not?

That leads to another, practical matter.  One might have compassion yet channel it in a way or ways that prove harmful at worst or not helpful at best.  One might read the Book of Job in such a way as to interpret the motivations of the literary characters of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to be positive–to stage a spiritual intervention.  Yet the theological position of that book (in its final, composite form) is that their orthodoxy was actually heresy.  If one proceeds from a false assumption, one should not be surprised when arriving at an erroneous conclusion.

Each of us is correct in much and erroneous in much else.  May we, by grace, grow in orthodoxy (as God defines it) and effective compassion.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-27-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Obeying or Resisting the Will of God   1 comment

Abimelech

Above:  Abimelech

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Creator God, you prepare a new way in the wilderness,

and your grace waters our desert.

Open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing you are doing,

that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love

given to all through 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 29

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The Assigned Readings:

Judges 9:7-15

Psalm 20

1 John 2:18-28

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Now I know that the LORD has given deliverance to his king;

from his heavenly sanctuary he responds to him,

sending his mighty power which always saves.

Some draw attention to their chariots, some to their horses,

 but for our part we draw attention to the LORD, our God.

They crumble and fall,

but we will rise and continue on our way.

The LORD had delivered the king;

he answers us when we call.

–Psalm 20:7-10, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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Psalm 20 contains a monarchical perspective, but Judges 9 does not.  In Judges 9 we read of Abimelech, son of Gideon (Jerubbabel).  We learn of Abimelech’s three-year-long local reign at Shechem, of his violent rise to power, and of his violent demise.  The text makes plain that Abimelech’s reign was contrary to the will of God and that of God was supposed to be the only king of the Israelites.  The thematic link of Samuel’s warning in 1 Samuel 8 is obvious.

1 John we find a letter to a congregation recovering from a traumatic schism.  The schismatics were probably Gnostics, based on internal evidence from the document.  The author, who was possibly St. John the Evangelist, advised his audience to remain strong in Christian faith and to continue to reject teachings of antichrists (note the plural form of the word, O reader), who reject Christ.  Gnostics seem like probable antichrists in this context, given their theological position that Jesus was not really incarnate and therefore could not have died on the cross.  That which is material, they said, is evil.  They taught, therefore, that Jesus was a phantom.  So much for Christianity!  There is no Christianity without the Incarnation and all that followed it in the earthly life of Jesus.

The thematic glue for this day’s assigned readings is the will of God–specifically, acting in accordance with it or contrary to it.  Stating that one should act according to the will of God is easy, but discerning that will can be difficult.  Many people who have claimed to know the divine will have acted such that their deeds have belied their protestations of righteousness.  I make no pretense of knowing the mind of God better than anyone else, but I affirm some helpful principles.  These include:

  1. Love you neighbor as you love yourself.
  2. Respect the image of God in all other people actively.
  3. Act toward others as you want them to behave toward you.
  4. Follow Jesus.
  5. Refrain from attempting to domesticate him and/or his message.
  6. If you must err, do so on the side of compassion, not fear or hatred.

Stating those principles is easier than practicing them, I realize, but one need not rely on one’s own power to live righteously in one’s society; grace abounds.  May God deliver each of us from all that stands between us and righteousness.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS COTTERILL, ENGLISH PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN CALABRIA, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE POOR SERVANTS AND THE POOR WOMEN SERVANTS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH MOHR, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/devotion-for-tuesday-after-the-fifth-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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More Questions Than Answers   1 comment

Question Mark

Above:  A Question Mark

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and merciful God,

we implore you to hear the prayers of your people.

Be our strong defense against all harm and danger,

that we may live and grow in faith and hope,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Lamentations 1:16-22 (Thursday)

Lamentations 2:1-12 (Friday)

Lamentations 2:18-22 (Saturday)

Psalm 30 (All Days)

2 Corinthians 7:2-16 (Thursday)

2 Corinthians 8:1-7 (Friday)

Luke 4:31-37 (Saturday)

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Weeping may spend the night,

but joy comes in the morning.

While I felt secure I said,

“I shall never be disturbed.

You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”

Then You hid your face,

and I was filled with fear.

–Psalm 30:6-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition (1996) defines theodicy as

A vindication of God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil.

Defenses of divine goodness and justice also occur in the context of misfortune attributed to God’s judgment of sinful people.  It is present in the readings from Lamentations and in Psalm 30, for example.  The anonymous authors of Lamentations wept over sins, wrote bitterly that the foe had triumphed, and thought that God had acted as a foe.  Yet the book ends:

Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself,

And let us come back;

Renew our days as of old!

–Lamentations 5:22b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The titular character in the Book of Job says of God:

He may well slay me; I may have no hope;

Yet I will argue my case before Him.

In this too is my salvation:

That no impious man can come into His presence.

–Job 13:15-16, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Modern translations of the Bible, with some exceptions, depart from the King James rendering, which is:

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him….,

which comes from a marginal note in the Masoretic Text.  Saying

I may have no hope

differs from uttering

yet I will trust in him,

at least superficially.  The first translation fits Job 13:15 better than does the second rendering, but pressing the lawsuit against God indicates some hope of victory.

But I know that my Vindicator lives;

In the end He will testify on earth–

This, after my skin will have been peeled off.

But I would behold God while still in my flesh.

I myself, not another, would behold Him;

Would see with my own eyes:

My heart pines within me.

–Job 19:25-27, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Job, in that passage, speaks of a divine hearing within his lifetime.  During that proceeding a defender (presumably not a relative, since his sons had died and his surviving kinsmen had abandoned him) will speak on his behalf.  The translation of this passage from The Jerusalem Bible gets more to the point, for it has an Avenger, not a Vindicator.  These rendering differ from the familiar King James text, which George Frederick Handel set to music in The Messiah (1742) as a reference to Jesus:

For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth….

We who claim to follow God ought to proceed carefully when defending God.  First, God does not require the defenses which mere mortals provide.  Second, many human defenses of God depict God erroneously, as either a warm fuzzy on one hand or a cosmic bully or thug on the other hand.  Often our attempts to justify God to ourselves and others obstruct a healthy relationship with God and dissuade others from following God.  We need to question inadequate God concepts.

The God of Luke 4:31-37, who, through Jesus, delivers people from illnesses allegedly caused by demonic possession is the same God who has blessings and woes just two chapters later (Luke 6:20-26).  This is the same God who encourages repentance–the act of turning around or changing one’s mind.  Apologizing for one’s sins is a fine thing to do, but repentance must follow it if one is to follow God.

I do not pretend to have worked out all or even most of the answers to difficult and uncomfortable questions regarding God and human-divine relationships.  No, I acknowledge that my doubts and unanswered questions in these realms outnumber my answers.  Furthermore, some of my answers are certainly wrong.  I am, however, comfortable with this reality.  I can repent of my errors, by grace, and progress spiritually.  Besides, knowledge is not the path to salvation, as in Gnosticism.  No, grace is the path to salvation.  God has the answers.  That is fine with me.  I remain inquisitive, however, for the journey itself has much merit.

I pray that my conduct of my spiritual journey will encourage others in their pilgrimages with God and prompt others to begin, not have a negative affect on anyone.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES VILLIERS SANFORD, COMPOSER, ORGANIST, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES HENRY BRENT, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK

THE FEAST OF JOHN MARRIOTT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT RUPERT OF SALZBURG, APOSTLE OF BAVARIA AND AUSTRIA

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-8-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Apostasy and Idolatry   1 comment

Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Above:  Map of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Beloved God, from you come all things that are good.

Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right,

and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 2:14-22 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 2:23-37 (Friday)

Jeremiah 6:1-10 (Saturday)

Psalm 80:7-15 (All Days)

Colossians 2:16-23 (Thursday)

Philippians 2:14-18; 3:1-4a (Friday)

John 7:40-52 (Saturday)

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Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

–Psalm 80:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The reading for these three days overlap nicely, focusing on the themes of idolatry and apostasy.  To commit apostasy is to fall away from grace.  (Thus grace is not irresistible.  Strict Calvinism is therefore mistaken about that fifth of the TULIP formula.  I am also dubious of the Perseverance of the Saints, which relates to Irresistible Grace.)  An idol is anything which takes the place of God in one’s life.  Thus an idol might be a false deity, an activity, or even a sacred text.  Function in one’s life determines that thing’s status relative to idolatry.  Among the most popular idols is the Bible, which is supposed to function instead as an icon–through which people see God.  But, if one treats it as an idol, that is what it is for that person.

The lessons from Jeremiah condemn idolatry which has led to national apostasy, evident in ill-advised alliances with foreign, predatory empires.

What then do you gain by going to Egypt,

to drink the waters of the Nile?

or what do you gain by going to Assyria,

to drink the waters of the Euphrates?

Your wickedness will punish you,

and your apostasies will convict you.

Know and see that it is evil and bitter

for you to forsake the LORD your God;

the fear of me is not in you,

says the LORD GOD of hosts.

–Jeremiah 2:18-19, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

From the gloom of Jeremiah 2 and 6 we turn to the Pauline tradition, which emphasizes Christ crucified and resurrected.  St. Paul the Apostle rejects, among other things, Gnostic asceticism, a form of Jewish ritualism, and the practice of worshiping angels as methods as obtaining the spiritual upper hand.  Christ is sufficient, the ever-Jewish Paul tells us through the ages.

I understand the Apostle’s objection to Gnosticism, with its reliance on secret knowledge and belief that matter is evil.  If salvation comes from having secret knowledge, as Gnostics insisted, the death and resurrection of Jesus were pointless.  In fact, in Gnostic thought, he did not die because he was not even corporeal, for, in Gnosticism, he could not have had a body, a body being material and therefore evil.  Thus Gnosticism was not Christian.  The exclusion of Gnostic texts from the Bible was not, as some “documentaries” on the History Channel claim, a conspiracy of Church leaders to suppress truth and crush dissent.  No, it was a proper course of action.

As for rituals (especially Jewish ones), I approach the text from Colossians differently than do the authors of some of the commentaries I consulted.  A high proportion of these writers were Presbyterians with little use for ritual.  Their paragraphs screamed between the lines “This is why I am not a Papist!”  I, as an Episcopalian, know the value of ritual and of approaching it properly.  It should be an icon, not an idol, although it functions as the latter for many people.  But so does the Bible, and I do not heap scorn on that sacred anthology either.

Apostasy, a theme from the Jeremiah readings, recurs in John 7.  Temple officials accuse some Temple policemen of it for refusing to arrest Jesus, who had impressed them.  These officials also accuse Nicodemus of the same offense.  I realize that much of the Gospel of John reflects late first-century C.E. Jewish Christian invective, for Jewish Christians had found themselves marginalized within Judaism.  Nevertheless, the stories in John 7:40-52 have the ring of truth, for fearful people in positions of power have attempted to retain it in many places and at numerous times.

Idols come in many varieties, shapes, sizes, and ages.  As I have written in this post, function in one’s life determines status relative to idolatry in that life.  Among the more common idols is attachment to the status quo ante, especially if one benefits from it.  Thus we become upset when God does something we do not expect.  This might threaten just our sense of order (hardly a minor issue), but also our identity (also a major consideration) and socio-economic-political or socio-economic standing (of which we tend to be quite protective).  But when was religion supposed to function as a defense against God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

THE FEAST OF BAYARD RUSTIN, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-22-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Judges and Galatians, Part III: Gentiles and Fidelity   1 comment

samson-statue

Above:  Statue of Samson

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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 everlasting 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:

Judges 14:1-20 (July 14)

Judges 15:1-16:3 (July 15)

Judges 16:4-30 (July 16)

Psalm 103 (Morning–July 14)

Psalm 5 (Morning–July 15)

Psalm 42 (Morning–July 16)

Psalms 117 and 139 (Evening–July 14)

Psalms 84 and 29 (Evening–July 15)

Psalms 102 and 133 (Evening–July 16)

Galatians 3:1-22 (July 14)

Galatians 3:23-4:11 (July 15)

Galatians 4:12-31 (July 16)

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Some Related Posts:

Galatians 3-4:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/first-sunday-after-christmas-years-a-b-and-c/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/devotion-for-january-19-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/week-of-proper-22-thursday-friday-and-saturday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/proper-7-year-c/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/week-of-proper-23-monday-year-2/

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Samson boasted of his own strength, gave God no credit much of the time, and had bad taste in women.  His first love pleased him.  She was, according to the Alexandrian Greek text of Judges 14:1,

…the right one in his eyes.

She was also a Gentile.

The full view of Gentiles in the Hebrew Scriptures is not

Jews good, Gentiles bad.

Rahab the prostitute recognized Yahweh as God, so the Israelite forces spared her and her family.  Later in the Bible, Ruth, a Moabite, became an ancestor of King David.  Both women were, according to the beginning of Matthew 1, ancestors of Jesus.  The reality that most Gentiles would continue in their traditions led to the command for Jews to choose life partners faithful to God.

The Law of Moses defined that fidelity for a long time.  The Law, in Pauline theology, was like a house slave responsible for raising children.  No matter how capable that disciplinarian was, the children outgrew their need for him or her.  And Jesus, in whom there is no longer a distinction between Jew or Greek, has fulfilled the Law.

I do not pretend to understand all the implications of the previous statement, but that is fine.  Reliance on knowledge for salvation is Gnosticism, a grave heresy.  Rather, I accept readily the limits of my understanding and leave the details to God, who does grasp them.

I do know at least one thing, however:  seeking companionship of various forms with people who are faithful to God remains crucial.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 7, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICTRICIUS OF ROUEN, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR AND ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIXTUS II, BISHOP OF ROME, AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF JOHN MASON NEALE, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERHOOD OF SAINT MARGARET

THE FEAST OF MARION HATCHETT, LITURGIST AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/devotion-for-july-14-15-and-16-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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