Archives For Christianity

johnabigailPart of the beauty of the ‘Letters of John and Abigail Adams’ is that every sentence suggests careful consideration.

There are sentences for example, where John cautions Abigail against openly sharing his letters for fear of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands. They reveal a husband and wife, both loving parents who are also very much the exemplary, one for the other, each for God.

‘Their mutual respect and adoration served as evidence that even in an age when women were unable to vote, there were nonetheless marriages in which wives and husbands were true intellectual and emotional equals.’ (History.com)

I picked this book up out of curiosity about its historical and theological significance. As I continue to casually read through them, I am more and more convinced about the gravity of their contents, context and the important message they carry to the world, not just Americans.

Part of a letter written to John in May, 1775, from Abigail, further clarifies my point :

‘The Lord will not cast off his people; neither will He forsake his inheritance. Great events are most certainly in the womb of futurity; and, if the present chastisements which we experience have a proper influence upon our conduct, the event will certainly be in our favour’[i].

The Adams family epistles have contemporary relevance. The most pertinent of which is that they challenge Christians to steer clear of anti-intellectualism. They encourage Christians to engage; to understand current events in light of the biblical texts, and move away from disengaging in informed debate, dismissing it uninteresting, convoluted and/or unnecessary.

Here are a people on the cusp of necessary conflict; a people not yet prepared for what they hope to avoid; a people who understand the danger of the mob; a people who acknowledge that they bear the burden of responsibilityand are God’s participants in necessary decisions that will require courage, faith, hope, prudence, calm justice and fierce mercy.

The same people who, under God, will stare down the supposed divine right of a king, and challenge his exercise of freedom without restraint.

The same people who will instead assert that under God all are created equal, and that authentic freedom can only come with the caveat of authentic responsibility.

One example is that both John and Abigail looked unfavourably on slavery, made clear by Abigail’s rebuke: ‘I wish most sincerely there was not a slave in the province. It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me— to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. You know my mind upon this subject.[ii]

Both husband and wife lived out their faith – not in a cloister, reserved pew or in pious appearances.

A constant in the letters are references to biblical texts. Used comfortably, they form an important part of the extraordinary exchange. It might not be so wrong to suggest that these letters read like small sermons, shared between a loving, overburdened husband, and his equally loving and overburdened bride.

Unfortunately, the letters are not without theological issues.

Gaps exist. Such as Abigail’s allusion to a form, of what Shirley Guthrie called, the ‘common heresy’ of Pelagianism (Christian Doctrine, 1994:127) – an ancient misinterpretation of God’s salvation, grace and the role of the responsive sinner.

‘God helps them that help themselves, as King Richard says; and if we can obtain the Divine aid by our own virtue, fortitude, and perseverance, we may be sure of relief.[iii]

In addition, I’m uncertain as to whether or not the countless references to ‘Providence’ are in fact veiled 18th Century Congregationalist references to the Holy Spirit. The context implies they are.

‘I pray for you all, and hope to be prayed for. Certainly there is a Providence; certainly we must depend upon Providence, or we fail; certainly the sincere prayers of good men avail much. But resignation is our duty in all events.[iv]

Nevertheless, reformed theology appears to dominate the politics, parenting philosophy, orthodoxy and sociology. Prayer and references to God’s care, wisdom, provision and guidance are ever-present.

This is not something that is the result of a cultural Christian appendage. To begin with Abigail Adams is openly critical of appearance only faith.

‘General John Burgoyne practices deceit on God himself, by assuming the appearance of great attention to religious worship, when every action of his life is totally abhorrent to all ideas of true religion, virtue, or common honesty.[v]

John affirms this in a similar way stating that:

 ‘The man who violates [destroys] private faith, cancels solemn obligations, whom neither honor nor conscience holds, shall never be knowingly trusted by me. Had I known, when I first voted for a Director of a Hospital, what I heard afterwards, when I was down, I would not have voted as I did. Open, barefaced immorality ought not to be so countenanced.[vi]

The Adams family epistles are unique in that they present an organic living relationship between husband and wife, grounded in God’s freedom. What has caught me by surprise is that God is not reduced to second place. Alongside great concerns, God is still in the forefront of their thoughts, and as a result a good deal of theology permeates the wisdom that informs their actions, wit and dialogue .

One thing grasps me as I read through these letters. That is the relevance they hand out to a contemporary audience still concerned with the matters of God, love, liberty and the caveat of responsibility.

Braintree, 19 August, 1774:

Did ever any kingdom or state regain its liberty, when once it was invaded, without bloodshed? I cannot think of it without horror.
Yet we are told that all the misfortunes of Sparta were occasioned by their too great solicitude for present tranquillity, and, from an excessive love of peace, they neglected the means of making it sure and lasting.[vii]
– Abigail Adams.

History forgotten is history repeated.


References: (Not otherwise linked)

[i] Adams, J & Adams, A. 2012. The Letters of John and Abigail Adams (Kindle Ed). Start Publishing LLC, 7th May , 1775

[ii] Ibid, 24th September , 1774

[iii] Ibid, 16th September , 1775 & John Adam’s agrees with this. See letter 62. 1st October, 1775

[iv] Ibid, John Adams, 8th May , 1775

[v] Ibid, Letter 55. 25th July, 1775

[vi] Ibid, Letter 72. 23rd October, 1775

[vii] Ibid, Letter 13. 19th August, 1774

Image: Abigail and John Adams (Source)

Of all the points of parallel relevance the past has with modern society, there are sometimes moments when historical parallels between past and present collide.

This nexus isn’t always clear or easy to acknowledge. The past may be misappropriated and misrepresented; hyped up to buttress a political agenda.

Key players manipulate the material in order to provoke a response, carefully steering reactions in a particular direction for political gain.

Throughout history the Christian Church has come up against this, battling forces within and without. Along the halls of Church History can be found the graffiti of false prophets, corrupt leaders, anti-Christs, and, the more surreptitious, pseudo-christs.

There have, for example, been a number of notorious examples of cults, false prophecies and dates given asserted to be the exact return of Jesus Christ and the end of days.

Like freedom, truth has to be fought for. Like freedom, the greatest threat to truth is the corruption of it.

One of the great positives of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, is that he provides an insight into the secularized church mindset. The, politically necessary fake-it-to-maintain-it, surface only profession of, in Machiavelli’s context, faith in Jesus Christ in order to maintain status, power, control and influence over the people.

‘There is nothing more important than appearing religious. In general people judge more by appearances than first-hand experience , because everyone gets to see you but hardly anyone deals with you directly. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few have experience of who you really are, and those few won’t have the courage to stand up to the majority opinion underwritten by the authority of the state.’ [i]

Social media provides the most poignant example of where a nexus between past and present exists. Just as Machiavelli, half mockingly describes politicians and the socio-political mix of his time, for a good majority, appearance is placed over substance.

Seeming to be something, or be doing something is part of the rule of the day. Today, it’s correct, politically incorrect, label is “virtue signalling”.

The nexus isn’t easy to see because it’s feared. Learning from the past empowers responsible action in the present. When allowed to speak freely, the truth of the past secures the future.

Either the truth of the nexus is too close for comfort, or what confronts us isn’t in line with political narratives that shape, and seek to shape, the way people think, act and speak.

Ideas that are deified, demanding an absolute pledge of allegiance to those, who by blurred distinctions, coerce the surrender of tried and trusted systems that ensure basic civic freedoms. Those who bind truth to lies with threats to deny those civic freedoms under the guise of treason.

God’s Word as law, given in grace is supplanted. Man’s word as law, given to enslave, is enthroned. Chiseled into existence with the arrogant proclamation, “God is dead”. This jubilant euphoria at man triumphant; God conquered, is, however, short lived.

The great evil committed in the Garden, now cemented in the creeds of an incorporated and thought-to-be newfound lordlessness. The regression towards a pre-Christ primal atheism strikes a devastating blow against humanity.Those this side of all of histories examples, say with lament, “man is dead”.

Human lords are divided,

‘no longer able so unambiguously to distinguish the light of Lucifer from the light of God […] Humankind has got what it wants; it has become creator, source of life, fountain head of the knowledge of good and evil […] it is the lord of its own world.’ [ii].

This was the case in Germany throughout the 1930’s: “To the good Nazi not even God stands before Hitler” [iii] Humanity becomes the source of good and evil; ‘living out of it’s own resources'[iv] in a rejection of God’s grace. The fickle motion of whim, feeling, and lust, combined with a reasoned insanity. Humanity strikes a devastating blow against itself.

Examples of this can be seen in how some modern proponents utilize Religion or ideology to justify their rejection of God’s Lordship in Jesus Christ. Via claims to superior, “inside” knowledge or the Darwinian excuse that the strong determine the treatment (mistreatment) of the weak.

Helmut Gollwitzer, in response to the so-called, reasoned insanity, of ‘Kristallnacht’ (Night of broken glass/crystal) preached:

”Those who cannot admit their guilt before God can no longer do so before men and women. Then begins the insanity of persecution that seeks to make the other person into the devil in order to make themselves into a god. Where repentance stops, inhumanity begins; there all common bonds shatter even while one tries to strengthen them through tenacious self-justification and self-pardon’ [v]
– (November 1938, Berlin, Sermon: ‘About Kristallnacht’ )

In the progressive quest to work for God, or alternatively ignore God, we find elements which seek emancipation from God.

Consequently, the biblical promise of a ‘newness of life’ (Romans 6:4) is replaced with a mystical fog or a reason induced cold pragmatism. Most often affirmed by an esoteric elitism who, hiding behind entitlement, choice, nature and good intentions, hypocritically end up forcing a tyrannical ‘denial of life’ upon humanity.

Ultimately, the charade is found wanting and sinful humanity is once again reminded of its tendency to parade darkness behind a veil of light.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot apprehend that which can only be given to us.

Humanity remains unfree in the ignorance and futility of its quest to be free from the Creator, who has and still does, have a right to His creation. By enforcing His right the Creator appears as powerless. In mercy, He lowers Himself in order to raise us up.

‘Freedom to be for God is not a freedom which we have taken, but a freedom which God has given to us in His mercy’ [vi]

Our lack of  sensitivity and response to God’s approach i.e.: our lack of ‘receptivity to revelation through gratitude and humble recognition’[vii], leads to a rejection of God and His freedom.

Humanity is triumphant only because God triumphed! Without God, nothing. For ‘God gives of God’s own life, of God’s Spirit. Human beings do not live as human beings apart from God’s Spirit.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation & Fall p.79)

“Extract us from sin, He Who dwells in the heavens
as the sun sets, call to those who pass through fire and water
Next Year in Jerusalem.” (source)


References:

[i] Machiavelli, N. 1532, The Prince Penguin Classics, 2011, (p.71)

[ii] Bonhoeffer, D. DBW 3:Creation & Fall

[iii] Julien Bryan, Henry Luce & Louis de Rochermont, 1939. March Of Time: Inside Nazi Germany

[iv] Bonhoeffer, D. DBW 3: Creation and Fall

[v] Gollwitzer, H. 1938 in Stroud, D. (ed.) 2013 Preaching in Hitler’s shadow: Sermons of resistance, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.120

[vi] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics I.II Hendrickson Publishers p.260

[vii] ibid, 1938

YouTube: Jerusalem (Swedish Band): ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ from the album ‘Prophet‘, 1993

Image: United States Holocaust Museum, Kristallnacht

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Wings stretch and earth darkens.

From West to East, wrists to wood
From the river of bitter vinegar, to where it merges with blood from the north.

South past open flesh,
.                        before which mockery stood.

To where pierced feet meet;
.                        on branch intersecting branch;
.                        where branch kills the vine,
.                        and the vine is laid to rest.

All within the borders
.            of an empire, and an empire’s hornets’ nest.

To where silent spaces are professionally sealed
For fear of blind and impassioned zeal.

Before the scarlet X.
That marks the scarlet spot;

To the place where men and women,
.                  embalm the unforgettable
.                  with a burial cloth.

Look to the place forged by Light;
.       to the heart of where the darkened,
.       once received their sight.

To where the sudden presence of the messenger
disturbed the guards and the still of night.

There you’ll find that death
.         and boulder was no match for Light from Uncreated Light.

There the fire-born, who stands inside this broken enclave.
turns to humanity and sets its gaze.

“From God comes His own humiliation.
This; God’s self-limitation, now become your exaltation.

This unforgettable vertical collision,
lifts the now forgiven.

Therefore, rise as you are raised.

For I tell you the truth, He is Risen!”


(©RL2017)

‘In the person of Jesus Christ, in the death of the Son of God on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. God allowed this humiliation to come upon Himself and this exaltation to be the lot of the other, humanity […] God could not be more glorious as God than in this inconceivable humiliation of Himself to humanity, and the no less inconceivable exaltation of humanity to Himself.’ 

-(Karl Barth, CD. II:1 pp.662-664)

gresham-1923-rl2016


Sources:

Machen. J.G. 1923 Christianity & Liberalism

Murrell, B. 2006 The Sun Sword Trilogy: Quest for the Sun Gem,  Random House (p.207)

Sin Shake Sin , 2015 Lunatics & Slaves from the Lunatics & Slaves

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“The Christian faith is a singing faith” – Cliff Barrows

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Notes:

The Cliff Barrows Memorial website: https://cliffbarrowsmemorial.org/

On World refugee day, four things stand out. Not one of them is the lack of Western compassion, ”Western racism/intolerance” or supposed problems caused by ”Christianity”:

1. The geographical locations from where refugees are coming
2. The ideological, cultural, social, theological and political reasons of those geographical locations.
3. Where they are seeking to go to for refuge – such as the ”Christian” West.
Number 4 on the list is a lot more complex:

It includes the refusal of Western leaders to acknowledge the real reasons for why refugees are being driven out of their homelands, even when the problems from those geographical locations begin to have a negative impact on the people in their own countries.

Surely that denial is primarily for diplomatic reasons. In other words they are not reasons based solely on the premise of tolerance, but reasons based on fear. For example: are they fears based on the fear of confrontation; the fear of “offending” those from which our oil dependent economies heavily rely upon?

This leads to questions we in the West should be asking ourselves:

Do refugees see something special about the West, that a good portion of those in the West continue to ignore, and some, even reject?
Do refugees see, what those in the West who attack the very foundations of Western society, refuse to see?
How can we best serve refugees if Western leaders refuse to acknowledge the real source of those problems? Are we not just importing the problems; doing nothing to solve the cause of those problems because the best policy is silence?
By not speaking out against the very thing that refugees are fleeing from, such as the loss of freedoms – inability to speak out (among other things) – are are we not doing a great disservice to refugees?

The answer is “yes” on all counts.

Let me be clear: refugees are not the problem, what is driving refugees from their homelands is. The West should have the courage to face this humanitarian disaster, and employ that same courage to honestly face and speak about the causes of it.

Ignoring the problem/s are bound to lead to the West importing the problem/s. All of which enters by way of naive compassion and political point scoring through an appearance of niceness, which disguises the real cause for the sake of an appalling strategy of appeasement.

Think about it. If the West fails to to be an assertive, but gracious, light in the darkness, following a costly discipleship based on the very foundations that has guided and challenged it’s moral compass for centuries, it will surely be consumed by a darkness very similar to the one that 63 million people are seeking to flee from.

Feel good hashtags fail.

Instead of posting a hashtag on social media, (which is only the equivalent of showing off to each other how anti-racist and not-phobic most of us are) on world refugee day, we should sit back, refuse to feed the feel-good hype and genuinely reflect on what’s really going on and why.

 

Refugees


Further reading:

Refugee crisis: Where are all these people coming from and why? 

Image: 2016 figures are suggested to be at 65 million people displaced. The origins haven’t shifted, although the number of refugees has increased.

 

A loving neinHidden away, near to the middle of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship[i],’ rests a three page essay on marriage called ‘Woman.’

Why Bonhoeffer named this chapter so specifically is a mystery.  My best guess here is that he was looking to the growing ease by which society has sold and objectified sex.

The chapter is an analysis of Jesus’ views on marriage, divorce and sexual immortality; or as Bonhoeffer states, ‘sexual irregularities’ (p.85). The texts referred to are Matthew 5.27-32, 1 Cor. 6:13-15 & Gal 5:24, and forms part of his larger discussion on ‘The Sermon on The Mount.’

What he means by ‘sexual irregularities’ is clarified by his reference to the Greek word πορνεια. Translated this reads as porneia, meaning, “unchastity”, unlawful sexual acts. It is linked to a metaphor for idolatry, but means sexual immorality, such as incest […et.al]. (An important side note: porneia is also linked, but does not mean adultery. This is because adultery is a separate word – μοιχεια; moicheia.)’[ii]

Although separate from the state, Christianity is in part political. The Church is never apolitical. It is this primarily because of its acknowledgement and proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. At its beginning everything is brought under the mercy and judgement in Christ’s Lordship. Theology is its starting point in a reliable critique of all ideology; whether left or right, up or down, what God has communicated through His Word stands to confront and lovingly correct human ignorance and arrogance.

As a result, the church has never been politically fashionable. When it becomes so, it is likely to no longer be a Christian Church, having surrendered to a politics of displacement, where people are ruled by human lords as if they were Lordless. It is a Church no longer speaking out from a position of the acknowledgement and proclamation of Jesus Christ as its Lord.

Underpinning the importance of Bonhoeffer’s discourse is the issue of identity. Our identity in Christ overrules and overcomes any identifying with the fallen nature. No one can be other than a Christian, if that Christian claims to follow Christ. Prefixes like ‘gay Christian, on-fire Christian, etc’ are distractions, they don’t pin well to those who bear the crucifix. Such is the cost of discipleship.

It is in the valley of God’s gracious decisiveness that a Christian’s identity is forged. Our identity is in Christ, transformed by the hand that chooses to reach for humanity, at cost. Like Karl Barth, Bonhoeffer calls those who would hear the good news to align their lives with the God who in Jesus Christ made a way for us to align with Him. This authentic allegiance is costly, still it is the imperative and indicative; it is what and who a Christian is called to, if they are to be a Christian in word, deed and attitude.

According to Bonhoeffer:

this ‘adherence to Jesus allows no free rein to desire unless it be accompanied by love. To follow Jesus means self-renunciation and absolute adherence to him, and therefore a will dominated by lust can never be allowed to do what it likes.’ (p.83)

Bonhoeffer is drawing from an, ‘all or nothing’ idealism, but he does so under the light by which God’s grace frames our finite and future existence. On the surface the influence of Kant’s ethical absolutism might be seen to be clouding Bonhoeffer’s conclusions. However, a closer look at the text shows that, although present, Kant’s ethical absolutism barely colours what Bonhoeffer is truly getting at.

Bonhoeffer moves beyond the existential towards God’s purpose for marriage.

Stating, ‘the disciple’s exclusive adherence to Christ extends even to married life. Christian marriage is marked by discipline and self-denial. Christ is the Lord even of marriage. There is of course a difference between the Christian and the bourgeois conception of marriage, but Christianity does not therefore depreciate marriage, it sanctifies it […] purity or chastity is safeguarded amongst those who follow Jesus and share his life.’ (pp. 84)

Bonhoeffer conceded that although Jesus’ commands regarding sexual sin are clear, His voice on marriage is not. They are, however, clearer than at first they might appear.

‘Instead of ‘abolishing marriage, Jesus sets it on a firmer base. Choosing to sanctify it through faith’ (p.84). ‘Jesus also approves of absolute celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. But he lays down no definite programme for his disciples, whether of celibacy or of marriage, only he delivers them from the perils of sexual irregularity inside or outside of the married life.’ (p. 85)

The point being that Jesus chooses ‘to liberate marriage from selfish, evil desire, and to consecrate it to the service of love, which is possible only in a life of discipleship.’ (p.84)

Highlighted here are the words: Christ is the Lord even of marriage…[the health and beauty of] purity or chastity is safeguarded amongst those who follow Jesus and share his life.

In the Pre-Constantinian era, the early Church tells us that pride is the enemy of grace. When it comes to Jesus Christ, any attempt to make our word His own, is an attempt to dethrone Him.  It misrepresents grace, does violence to the science of theology and hinders healthy democratic dialogue. Like recent examples on social media have shown. Particularly when the words, ‘Jesus said, “Don’t Judge,” were turned into a passive aggressive whip statement, used flippantly against Christians.

Pride and love are polar opposites. Where love is conscripted into the cause of pride, love is lost. Where pride becomes part of a person’s identity, there is no room for Christ. Where pride pushes for normalisation and blind acceptance of sexual irregularities, pride revels in disunity. Where pride wins and is then raised up to be the quintessential example of love, the beauty of true love, especially and uniquely shared between a man and a woman; a woman and a man, is overshadowed. Pride cannot be compatible with marriage because love is not compatible with pride.

The penultimate result of an allegiance to pride is that, man for woman and woman for man; both reconciled under God, are no longer seen to be uniquely reconciled to one another. It then follows that a normalisation of separation and estrangement will only encourage each to act against the other. Under the careful rule of human overlords, who search through any and all dissent for offense, the end result is a passively violent, gender segregation. One unleashed upon the world through unfettered misandry and misogyny, made law under the “feel-good” disguise of tolerance and equality. Enslaving men and women to a renewed, but subtle, hatred of each other. Forcing apart that which was long ago ordained and reconciled by God. Here the chains of an inhumane past, picked up and rattled by activists, ring loudly in our ears, ‘stick to your own kind, and never the two shall meet.’

The Church, if it is to be a Christian church, in its discipleship, must answer in two ways. First, with a firm, reasoned, loving ‘no.’ And second, with,

‘ Choose this day who you will serve […] as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
(Joshua 24:14-15, ESV)

 

Notes:

[i] Bonhoeffer, D. 1937 Discipleship/The Cost of Discipleship SCM Classics

[ii] Green, J.B & McKnight, S. 1992 Dictionary of Jesus & The Gospels, IVP