Archive for the ‘Puritanism’ Tag

Deeds and Creeds II   Leave a comment

Above:   Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles, by Duccio di Buoninsegna

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fifth Sunday after Easter, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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May all our thoughts, O God, be guided by thy Word and ruled by thy Spirit:

that we may have among us the same mind which was in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 123

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Isaiah 56:6-8

James 1:22-27

John 16:22-33

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Grace is free, not cheap; it requires much of its recipients.  God, who loves us, redeems us, but we have responsibilities.  A partial list, compiled from the assigned readings, follows:

  1. To honor the Sabbath (Isaiah 56:6),
  2. To control one’s use of words and one’s temper (James 1:26),
  3. To help the less fortunate (James 1:27), and
  4. To keep oneself uncontaminated by the world (James 1:27).

Without falling into Puritanical and Pietistic excesses of rejecting “worldly amusements” such as playing checkers, playing chess, and reading great literature, keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world is difficult.  We do live in it, after all; of course it influences us.  Yet the world is not all bad.  We should accept the good and reject the bad.

Isaiah 56:6-8 pertains to those Gentiles who followed Yahweh.  We read that God accepted them as much as He did faithful Jews.  The operative standard in Isaiah 56, as in the Letter of James, is faithful conduct.  Deeds reveal creeds.

Talk is cheap and frequently deceptive.  What do our deeds reveal about what we really believe?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 14, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN AMOS COMENIUS, FATHER OF MODERN EDUCATION

THE FEAST OF THE CONSECRATION OF SAMUEL SEABURY, FIRST EPISCOPAL BISHOP

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ROMANIS, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Rich Irony   3 comments

Above:  Part of the Title Page of The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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There is a liturgical joke that highlights certain denominational differences.

In a county seat town somewhere in the United States of America, the First Baptist Church was hosting the annual community Thanksgiving service.  The local Episcopal priest was one of the participating ministers.  When the priest’s role in the service had come, the host pastor said,

Now Father Jones from the Episcopal church will lead us in one of his…written prayers.

Father Jones walked up to the pulpit and said,

Let us pray.  Our Father, which art in heaven….

I was thinking of that story, which could be true, even if it is not, because of an ironic written prayer I read on page 202, from the “Other Prayers for Worship” section of The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), from the mainline of U.S. Presbyterianism:

For Those Who Write Prayers

Almighty God:  you have no patience with solemn assemblies, or heaped-up prayers to be heard by men.  Forgive those who have written prayers for congregations.  Remind them that their foolish words will pass away, but that your word will last and be fulfilled, in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This prayer, indicating a traditionally Puritan Presbyterian hostility to written prayers and to prayer books, exists in the same volume as many written prayers for congregations to use.

I find this matter rather amusing and theologically alien to me, for I belong to The Episcopal Church, which has a rich and unapologetic record of written prayers–Books of Common Prayer, even–reaching back through the corridors of time to The Book of Common Prayer (1549) and deeper into the past, to missals and the Liturgy of the Hours, and before that, to The Didache.  If one does not approve of written prayers for congregational use, one can avoid them, but hopefully such a person will avoid the hypocrisy of writing or using a written prayer asking divine forgiveness for those who write prayers for congregational use.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 20, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PHILIP SCHAFF AND JOHN WILLIAMSON NEVIN, U.S. GERMAN REFORMED HISTORIANS, THEOLOGIANS, AND LITURGISTS

THE FEAST OF FRIEDRICH FUNCKE, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARY A. LATHBURY, U.S. METHODIST HYMN WRITER

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Good and Bad Fruit, Part III   1 comment

Above:  The Blind and Mute Man Possessed by Devils, by James Tissot

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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Genesis 39:1-21 or Isaiah 43:16-25

Psalm 20

1 Corinthians 8

Matthew 12:22-37

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The timeless principle behind St. Paul the Apostle’s advice regarding food sacrificed to false gods in 1 Corinthians 8 is that Christian believers must conduct themselves so as to glorify God and distinguish themselves from unbelievers.  This need not devolve into Puritanical-Pietistic serial contrariness, such as that regarding “worldly amusements,” but does entail drawing people to God, who ended the Babylonian Exile.

Our Lord and Savior’s critics in Matthew 12:22-37 could not deny his miracles, some of which they had witnessed.  They sought to discredit Jesus, though.  They accused him of performing miracles via the power of Satan, prompting Christ to announce the one unpardonable sin:  blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is actually quite simple to grasp.  When one cannot distinguish between good and evil, one has placed oneself outside the grasp of forgiveness.  One has rejected God.  One bears bad fruit.

There can be a fine line between telling the truth and committing the sin of judging others falsely.  One must be aware of one’s sinful nature, and therefore proceed cautiously and humbly.  Nevertheless, one has a duty to issue moral statements at times.  One simply must not pretend to know everything or more than one does, at least.

Ego and social conditioning can warp one’s perspective.  I know this from harrowing historical-theological reading, such as theological defenses of chattel slavery then Jim Crow laws.  (I refer to primary sources.)  The desire to preserve one’s self-image has long led to perfidy, active and passive.

I am not immune from the negative influences of ego and social conditioning, the latter of which is not inherently all bad.  I too must pray for forgiveness for my moral blind spots.  I do so while seeking to recognize the image of God in others, especially those quite different from me.  I do so while acknowledging the obvious:  the Bible orders us hundreds of times to care for strangers.  I do so while seeking to define my ethics according to the standard of the Golden Rule.  In doing so I find that I must call violations of the Golden Rule what they are.  Therefore, people who support those violations of the Golden Rule are on the wrong side of it.  Yet they need not be.

May we bear good fruit for the glory of God.  May we, like Joseph in Genesis 39, do what is correct, especially when that is difficult and has negative consequences–in the case, incarceration.  May we bear good fruit for the glory of God, in all circumstances, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 27, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS GALLAUDET AND HENRY WINTER SYLE, EPISCOPAL PRIESTS AND EDUCATORS OF THE DEAF

THE FEAST OF SAINT AMADEUS OF CLERMONT, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK; AND HIS SON, SAINT AMADEUS OF LAUSANNE, FRENCH-SWISS ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC BARBERI, ROMAN CATHOLIC APOSTLE TO ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF HENRIETTE LUISE VAN HAYN, GERMAN MORAVIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/08/27/devotion-for-proper-17-year-a-humes/

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The Law of Mercy   1 comment

Above:  Judah and Tamar, by the School of Rembrandt van Rijn

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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Genesis 38:1-26 or Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm 18:31-36, 43-50

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Matthew 12:1-21

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Temple prostitution, in the background in Genesis 38, might be background for 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 also.  If it is, the reading becomes deeper than it is otherwise.  If to engage in sexual relations with a pagan prostitute is to unite with the deity the prostitute serves, idolatry becomes an issue.  Christians are supposed to function as part of the body of Christ, therefore visiting a pagan temple prostitute is worse than visiting a prostitute in general.

Speaking of Genesis 38, it is another of those different stories we find frequently in the Hebrew Bible.  It remains a proverbial hot potato.  When must a father-in-law sire his grandsons?  When the laws governing levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) dictate.  The text does not condemn Tamar for her deceit either, for the narrative makes plain that it was the option left open to her.

In June 1996 my father became the pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church in northern Appling County, Georgia, U.S.A.  One of the adult Sunday School classes was reading the Book of Genesis a chapter at a time.  One week the teacher announced that the class would not discuss Chapter 38 (although they had apparently discussed Chapter 37 the previous week), but would talk about Chapter 39 instead.  I wonder if the teacher also skipped the rape of Dinah and the subsequent bloodbath in Chapter 34.  Probably, yes.

When passages of scripture make us that uncomfortable, we should study them.  We should study all of the Bible, of course, but double down on the parts that cause us to squirm.

God is strong, mighty, loving, and trustworthy, we read.  Sometimes mercy on some takes the form of judgment on others.  After all, judgment on oppressors does help the oppressed, does it not?

Much occurs theologically in Matthew 12:1-21, but the major point is that mercy overrides Sabbath laws.  We read that some labor was mandatory on the Sabbath, especially for priests.  So yes, we read Jesus announce, the hungry may pluck grain and the man with the withered hand may receive healing, not just rudimentary first aid.

In the Gospel of Matthew one of the points drilled into the text was that Jesus did not seek to destroy the Law of Moses.  No, he presented his interpretation as correct and in opposition to the interpretations of his critics.  Jesus stood within the context of Judaism, not against it.  For example, the Mishnah, published in 200 C.E. (about 170 years after the crucifixion of Jesus), listed 39 types of labor prohibited on the Sabbath.  Plucking food was not one of them.  Christ’s opponents in Chapter 12:1-21 were, to use an anachronistic expression, more Catholic than the Pope.

The Sabbath, in the Law of Moses, was about liberation.  Slaves in Egypt received no days off, so a day off was a mark of freedom.  Besides, science and experience have taught us the necessity of down time.  Much of my Christian tradition has reacted against leisure (especially “worldly amusements,” a bane of Pietism and Puritanism) and insisted that idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.  Nevertheless, science and experience have affirmed the necessity of a certain amount of idleness.

Judaism, at its best, is not legalistic; neither is Christianity.  Yet legalistic Jews and Christians exist.  A healthy attitude is to seek to respond to God faithfully, without becoming lost in the thicket of laws, without failing to see the forest for the trees, without mistaking culturally specific examples for timeless principles, without shooting cannon balls at gnats, and without forgetting mercy.

And while one is doing that, one should read the scriptural passages that make one squirm in one’s seat.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/devotion-for-proper-16-year-a-humes/

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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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