Archives For Church history

American author and Pastor, Greg Laurie’s interview with Alive Cooper is an insightful look into Christian life outside a cloistered Christian culture. The interview was uploaded to YouTube on the 18th of August. Cooper calls himself a prodigal son and gives some background on his life, including his abuse of cocaine, alcoholism, his 43 year old marriage, the Church and his return to Christ.

Though unrelated, the interview presents a stark contrast between Alice Cooper and bestselling ‘Christian’ author, Joshua Harris.

I related to it because I came to Christ through the broken, dark alleys of life. I found home through darkened lyrics, written by broken people, who reflected my own dysfunctional context. Whether they intended it or not (I certainly didn’t see it at the time), they were being used to point me to the foot of the cross.

Though I acknowledge that having a firm connection with other Christians (fellowship) is important to Christian discipleship, I never found the way home to Christ by trying to fit in with the first-row, Sunday-only-Christians, who seemed to always look past me and my dysfunctional context with contempt and fear.

Thank God that He does not dwell in temples made by man, but reaches for us in the richness of relationship, made known to us through His revelation in Jesus Christ; an act that He Himself being free from religion, freely initiates in order to dwell amongst us, so that we may be freed from bondage to sin; free for Him and free for others.

I hear that Biblical theme brought to life in this interview.

It’s another reminder that God, in His Son, through the Holy Spirit, is still at work in the world. The reminder that when the mainstream Church misses the point or fails to reflect this solid theological truth, God, in His sovereignty breaks through the clumsiness, pride and stale idolatry of some Christians, reminding us that the Church is His, not ours. It also reminds us that the Church must mature beyond its four walls, rediscovering the fact that its sustenance and continuation doesn’t rest in bricks and mortar, or immaculate attendance records, but on the providence of God, and His fatherly Lordship shown towards us in Jesus Christ.

As Cooper worded it, “I don’t think we accept Christ, I think we accept the fact that He accepted us“. He mentions the importance of hearing about God’s mercy and judgement. Stating that he needed to hear about both God’s grace and the reality of hell, which “isn’t a place where we get high with Jim Morrison“, but a real consequence of sin.

For me, Laurie’s interview with Cooper reflects the truth that life with God, begins with, God with us. This is a truth I passionately teach my own kids by bringing the relevance of the Christ into contact with the culture. Not in fear of it, or in subservience to the culture, but in critique of it. The kind of critique that coincides with the joy of recognizing where God is at work in the world, and learning from this how we, as Christians, can boldly be in the world, but not of it.

Cooper exemplifies the notion that any division between the secular and the sacred is ultimately false. As Karl Barth noted when talking about John Calvin’s theology, ‘the rule that history is life’s teacher is the light of which Calvin could view secular history as sacred history…History must be for us a school in which we learn to regulate our lives in the knowledge that from the creation of the world God has at all times [in freedom & sovereignty] ruled in his church’ and the world. [i]

Alice Cooper, like Johnny Cash, embodies the reason for why we shouldn’t limit the reach of God’s grace. For, ’the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 8:3).

The interview offers a correction of perception. One that involves grounded biblical theology which teaches us that trying to measure what constitutes the right to be called “Christian” is problematic. The criteria falls short, if it doesn’t first and foremost involve a commitment to Jesus Christ, which acknowledges both God’s fatherly Lordship, and triumph over sin. In sum, our response being secondary, it’s Christ’s performance that takes preeminence.

This is especially relevant when Joshua Harris’ public renouncing his faith, is contrasted with Alice Cooper’s public affirmation of his relationship with Christ. One can have a relationship with the Church, but not Jesus Christ. Going to Church, or parading Christian culture on our selves doesn’t make a person a Christian. Relationship with Christ does.

It’s amazing to witness encouragement for the Church coming from someone who’d not be welcome in some churches. The irony being where Harris would be welcomed, Cooper would be exiled. Yet, where Cooper still stands. Harris has walked away.

I’m not suggesting Alice Cooper’s example is the answer to the Joshua Harris’ of the Church, but Alice Cooper’s example should make some Churches rethink their commitment to valuing appearances over substance; reputation over character.

I’m with lay preacher, A.W. Tozer, who brilliantly said:

‘I cannot speak for you, but I want to be among those who worship. I do not want just to be part of some great ecclesiastical machine where the Pastor turns the crank and the machine runs […] Can true worship be engineered and manipulated? […]  Engineers do many a great things in their fields, but no mere human force or direction can work the mysteries of God among men. If there is no wonder, no experience of mystery, our efforts to worship will be futile. There will be no worship without the Spirit’ [ii]

As Skillet’s John Cooper (no relation) told CBN recently: ‘we need to value truth over feeling’.

Joshua Harris, much the same as Rob Bell, are wake up calls for the Church. Falseness is too easy. False doctrine is too attractive. I think it’s fair enough to suggest that Harris became of product of his popularity, driven by worldly chuchian culture, not the koinonia; ecclesia; or haustafeln. I say churchian (for lack of a better word), because I don’t think the problem isn’t easily pinned on just one denomination. The problem is shared across denominations. It’s a mindset cemented in an apathy (if not ignorance) that has rejected the five solas of the Reformers, and put in their place the cheap grace of moral therapeutic deism.

I don’t think I’m alone in saying this, but I’d rather sit in a Skillet concert filled with long haired friends of Jesus all dressed in black, and ruminate on some of the theological depth coming out of the lyrics over coffee afterwards, than sit before a hipster, watching them mindlessly repeating the equivalent of bumper sticker theology, like some Instagram-perfect churches do. Don’t get me wrong. That platform has its place, but the Insta-perfect culture shouldn’t be the quintessential standard for what it means to be a Christian in the world, but not of it; someone who is led by the Spirit, not the culture.

As Keith Green and Corrie Ten Boom said in their own way, being connected with a genuine Christian community is important, but it’s just as equally important to remember that a perfect church attendance record doesn’t save us; “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than parking your car into a garage makes you a car; just as much as going to McDonalds doesn’t make you a hamburger.”

Alice Cooper, like others such as Brian ‘Head’ Welch of Korn, are an example for the Church. We mustn’t retreat back behind a closed, cushy cloister. The Church doesn’t need to. It just needs to drop the pretence of it’s own holiness, and let God’s holiness shine through the Churches honest presentation of the Gospel, and through the care for the community entrusted to it.

The Church, in the face of a culture determined to set the agenda, should aim to mature beyond the four walls and steeple it’s become known as being. For the Church, it cannot be a business, or business as usual. The Church is we-the-people, with Christ at the head. If only for the fact that we never know who’s listening.  The Church must end its navel gazing, and make a keener effort to rediscover the origins of Christian community, which begins, is maintained, and ends with Jesus Christ.

There’s a lot more to this Laurie-Cooper interview than meets the eye.

He who has hears let Him hear.

 


References:

[i] Barth, K. 1922. The Theology of John Calvin Eerdmans Press, (pp.2, 3 & 17)

[ii] Tozer, A.W 2009, Whatever Happened to Worship? Authentic Media (pp.11, 60-61)

Image credit: Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

Also published on Caldron Pool, 29th August, 2019

©Rod Lampard, 2019

 

The Catholic herald in the U.K. recently published an excellent article called The Australian church is in desperate trouble. Although I’m protestant, I stand in solidarity with most of what’s written.

Three things are worth highlighting and commenting on:

The first, it’s too simple to say that Australia was never a Christian country. Australia was founded on enlightenment ideals, WHICH have their foundation in an understanding and living “robust Christianity”.

It’s fairly clear from history about what happens when that foundation is either ignored or attempts or made to completely severe it. I think in Australia’s case its going to be a matter of, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”…People are already without hope, exhausted, and only happy when its “payday”.

Showing that the worship of money is the real contender for ”who’s to blame, for that lack of hope and unhappiness” spotlight, not Christianity.

The second, some churches have made some serious errors of judgement and even become accomplices in crimes against some young people entrusted to their care. No thinking, loving Christian would ever say that those church communities haven’t sinned and or that now their sin (as the Bible warns us in Numbers 32:23) isn’t finding them out.

That’s what’s been good about the Royal Commission. It’s a refining and a reminder to keep vigilant when it comes to protecting the young. Hence the large amount of “no” voters arguing against “safe schools” and saying “no” to SSM.

Why create a new stolen generation, because it ”seemed like a good idea at the time”? Why allow a system where abuse is too easy to hide behind a veil of tolerance, fear and politics?

Some Christians are rightly held accountable for their failure to stand up and speak out against child sexual abuse. That reverberates throughout the Church universal.

Yet, when the Church, who learning from their mistakes and the sins of others in their communities, decide to act and stand up, then speak out against what they see as potential abuse and potential for abuse, they’re called, intolerant, bigoted, unloving and worse.

It’s inconsistent and vile to say to the Church that they were wrong for not speaking out then, only to turn and tell the Church they should be silent now. The Church must rise to the challenges of life, in grace, truth and the light of Christ.

The third, it’s not the end of Christianity if it is forced into the shadows of Australian life, politics and society. Nor is it the end of Christianity, if it is silenced at the order of political correctness and enforced by the slaves of the bureaucratic caste who, through a false doctrine, indoctrinate them, and pay their cheques.

The end of Christianity, is, as it was with its beginning, centred in God’s triumph in and through Jesus Christ. The alpha and omega is not centred in temporal, abstract human power or human triumphalism (both inside and outside the Church). God, in Jesus Christ, has the final word.

Time to dust off Augustine’s City of God & Tertullian’s Apology. Our Christian forebears; our brothers and sisters in Africa, China, India; those who lived under Soviet rule and those brothers and sisters who suffer in the Middle East, already outline what our response should look like, they lived and live through much, much worse.

As the article concludes:

“For gold to be purified, it must be first tested in the furnace. Perhaps this is what is happening to Catholicism in Australia.
But the Church doesn’t end with the furnace; it ends in hope.
Last Sunday, which was the last of the liturgical year, we celebrated the feast of Christ the King. The Church in Australia will face the new year as the Church will do across the world – not with a sigh of relief, but with confidence that the battle is already won.” [i]

Jesus is victor!

#bewaretheauctioneers


References:

[i] Catholic Herald, The Australian church is in desperate trouble Sourced 2nd December 2017  

Happy Reformation Day!

While we mark this very important event, it’s equally important to remember that the Church did not begin in 1517.

Christians have a deep and valuable history, one that includes the wisdom and passion for Christ, of our Catholic brothers and sisters.

We may find disagreement, but we find solidarity at the foot of the cross and at the door of the empty tomb.

The day has as much to do with the Roman Catholics as it does Protestants. Reformation day reminds us of the importance of Anselm of Canterbury’s (1033-1109) motto, faith seeks understanding; contemplation of God is ‘faith in search of understanding’ (fides quaerens intellectum).

‘I seek not, O Lord, to search out Thy depth, but I desire in some measure to understand Thy truth, which my heart believeth and loveth. Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand.’ [i]

Martin Luther lived out Anselm’s standard. I would even say with confidence, Luther breathed Anselm’s prayer. His voice and work is buttressed by it. The 95 theses may never have driven its points into the consciousness of the world, beyond the door the theses was nailed to, without it.

Without Anselm’s ‘faith seeks understanding’ the idols and the corruption of Luther’s age would have stood without challenge, and carried on without change. Luther was a man who applied faith in search of understanding. Not in order to believe, but in order to understand.

Luther wasn’t advocating revolution. In the end he was bound to this thing we call The Reformation.The momentum that he sparked swept him up in the inevitable conflicts it ignited. Conflicts that arise wherever corruption and power is challenged.

This movement took him to places both dark and full of light. He struggled with depression, justifiably feared for his life. And while this doesn’t excuse his well-known rants against Jewish non-believers, often referred to by opponents as his antisemitism, they were given in old age. By that time he was a seasoned intellectual who saw more than he had ever anticipated.

500 years ago a monk stood before the Goliaths of his day. He spoke with a degree of innocence, believing the authorities would hear and receive. Authorities who read the same bible he read; who were supposed to be guided by same words Anselm spoke.

Luther wasn’t naive to think his challenge would convict those above him. His disgust at the corruption he saw in Rome surrounding the Church of the early 1500s came from a fire within that only God could birth.

And birth it He did. The Reformation was a refining fire. Today, it’s candle still burns, equally reminding humanity of the gift of faith and reason. The nail banged into the wood of the church door in Wittenburg challenges us today to check each step, to discern if what we are being taught matches with the wisdom and revelation testified to us in the Biblical text. To ‘destroy arguments and bring every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ.’ (1 Cor.10:4-5, ESV)

From political extremes to the cults of modern liberalism, to the pressure to read everything in life through a Marxist, Social Darwinist, or ultra-conservative lens, The Reformation speaks to us today.

One place this is heard is through the life and thought of Jacques Ellul. Ellul was a French theologian who is better known for his work in philosophy than theology. He was a student of Karl Barth and a leader in the French resistance during World War Two. He worked alongside Christians and communists, and witnessed the curious subjection of the former to the latter.

As a Christian well schooled in Marxism, Ellul was not a fan of Christian Marxism. He opposed those who advocated a commonality between Christianity and Communism, and he laid a barrage of criticism in the direction of liberation theologians, who he saw as inconsistent and hypocritical. They rightly questioned the excesses of capitalist democracies, but  ‘they didn’t [and still don’t] question socialist or Communist dictatorships.’ (Jesus & Marx, 1988:59) [ii]

Ellul’s broadside against liberation theology reflects the spirit of The Reformation. He regards liberation theology as ‘a tool of propaganda’ (1988:60). However well-intentioned liberation theology may be, its path results in ‘syncretism, and dizzying intellectual acrobats, where Jesus is tortured to make Him fit into confining categories. This is an adulterated faith. Christians who followed this path either twisted scripture or forgot it.’  (1988 pp.48-52).[iii]

‘Situating everything in Marxism is intellectual terrorism.’ (1988 pp. 22-26) [iv]

The final part of this broadside is the theological bomb Elull throws into the masses of blind conformists:

‘Arrogant and impudent accusations that the Church has always sided with the powerful and supported the state and the ruling classes amount to abominable historical lies. Accepting the Marxist lie about the Church in this fashion implies that the Church has always been a perfectly unified whole, exercising a single function with just one doctrine!’
(Jesus & Marx, 1988:49) [v]

Among other examples throughout Church history, The Reformation smashes the assumption that the Church has always sided with the powerful and supported the State. It is single-handedly corrected by a monk, who inspired a back-to-basics change, as he spoke truth in love before an establishment who threatened his life and showed him nothing but contempt.

 


References:

[i] St. Anselm. The Devotions of Saint Anselm (p. 3). Waxkeep Publishing.

[ii] Ellul, J. 1988 Jesus and Marx, Wipf & Stock Publishers

[iii] ibid

[iv] ibid

[v] ibid

friedrich-schleiermacherReading the sermons of Friedrich Schleiermacher from two hundred years ago doesn’t happen without its challenges. It’s particularly challenging when it involves a dated English translation from a Prussian great-grandson of the enlightenment age, who was also a Pastor, romantic and continental theologian.

I’ve resigned myself to pursue this based on the fact that when these challenges are measured on the scales of hedonic calculus, the benefit out ways the cost.

I’m familiar with Schleiermacher, not so familiar with his work. I know of him. Have been drenched in Karl Barth’s quirky disappearing fondness for him as a teacher of neo-Protestantism, and joined in Barth’s reprimand of the pietism and liberalism which framed Schleiermacher’s theology.

Schleiermacher was raised in the Moravian church. Like most Christian movements, Moravianism, as nurtured into existence by Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf, was founded on solid biblical ground. It then moved towards extremes, finally finding its unique place in the Church Universal through much needed reform.

What stood out about the Moravians was their love of music, Christology and missiology. Their heavy focus on finding Jesus Christ at the centre of Church doctrine and a zeal for missions was equal to the zeal of a long existing list of Catholic missionaries.

Christology was also where the early Moravians almost found themselves shipwrecked. The excesses and early charismatic enthusiasms manifested themselves in their worship which bordered on the absurd. Such as the over-the-top mysticism infused language about Christ’s atoning blood.

“For seven years these Brethren took leave of their senses, and allowed their feelings to lead them on in the paths of insensate folly […] Since the year 1734,” he [Count Zinzendorf] said, “the atoning sacrifice of Jesus became our only testimony and our one means of salvation.” But now he carried this doctrine to excess. Again the cause was his use of the Lot. As long as Zinzendorf used his own mental powers, he was able to make his “Blood and Wounds Theology” a power for good; but as soon as he bade good-bye to his intellect he made his doctrine a laughing-stock and a scandal’[i]

Though the excesses of Moravian theology ended, Moravian theology didn’t. They humbly learnt from these mistakes and moved forward:

‘On this subject the historians have mostly been in the wrong. Some have suppressed the facts. This is dishonest. Others have exaggerated, and spoken as if the excesses lasted for two or three generations. This is wicked. The sober truth is exactly as described in these pages. The best judgment was passed by the godly Bishop Spangenherg. “At that time,” he said, “the spirit of Christ did not rule in our hearts; and that was the real cause of all our foolery.” Full well the Brethren realized their mistake, and honestly they took its lessons to heart. They learned to place more trust in the Bible, and less in their own unbridled feelings. They learned afresh the value of discipline, and of an organised system of government. They became more guarded in their language, more Scriptural in their doctrine, and more practical in their preaching.’[ii]

Further filling out the situation of Schleiermacher’s relationship with Moravian theology, Joseph Hutton tells us,

‘Though he differed from the Brethren [Moravians] in theology, he felt himself at one with them in religion.’[iii]

Schleiermacher left Moravian orthodoxy behind.

‘He called himself a “Moravian of the higher order”; and by that phrase he probably meant that he had the Brethren’s faith in Christ, but rejected their orthodox theology.’[iv]

Having a clearer view of Schleiermacher’s context eases the challenges of reading his work. He had a ‘scientific frame of mind, and also a passionate devotion to Christ […] The great object of Schleiermacher’s life was to reconcile science and religion.’[v]

Hutton points out, ‘of all the religious leaders in Germany, Schleiermacher was the greatest since Luther.’[vi]

In the reading I’ve done so far, it’s Moravian theology, this scientific frame of mind and his desire to reconcile science and religion that provides the key for hearing Schleiermacher in his context.

I’m curious about what we can learn from Schleiermacher. Curious about how much influence the Moravian Church had on his theology.  Keen to see how that early learning impacted his future learning and I’m interested in seeing, with a Barth’s crisp caution in mind, what Schleiermacher has to say to the socio-political and theological milieu today.


Sources:

[i] Hutton. J.E, 2014, History of the Moravian Church Heraklion Press. Kindle Edition. (pp.190 & p.189)

[ii] Ibid, p. 195.

[iii] Ibid, p. 295.

[iv] Ibid, p. 295.

[v] Ibid, pp. 295 & 294.

[vi] Ibid, p. 294.

Image: source