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4.30.2005    |    Never cast out?
One of the more difficult aspects of Reformed faith for me is the perseverance of the saints, the "P" in TULIP. The theory is simple enough to state, and is supported in Scripture in John 6:37, where Jesus tells us
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
Now, any die-hard Arminians might be so bold as to suggest that this verse means that we will use our free will to "come to" Jesus. I might agree with them, except for that pesky context: All that the Father gives me will come to me. Arminians, of course, might dispute that God "gives" us to Jesus for salvation. But I believe that is what happens. At least I hope so.

Now, what does it mean for us to "perservere"? The English meaning of the word is straightforward, and is applied in this case with precision. If we are steadfast in Christ Jesus; if we cling to this Rock, though we may sway from side to side and sin, if we endure the trials and tribulations of what it means to love Christ, then we are assured by Jesus that we will be saved. From Mark 13:13
And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Now, I'm not persecuted for His name's sake. There's little risk of me being stoned or flogged for confessing Jesus as Lord. Leastways, not at my Baptist church or from most of the people I associate with. And then there's that business about taking pleasure in the things of this world. Which I do, far too much.

Ah, guilt, the balm for the Calvinist's soul. Guilt aside, I hope I am among the elect. I pray this is the case. I thank the Father, every day, for His gift of life to me. I cling to Jesus Christ as my Rock and my salvation. I sure hope I'm right. I'll know at the end, I suppose. For now, I do my best to at least pretend this is true.

The quandary remains -- can I endure by any force of my own will? Yes, and no. Yes, I will try to keep on the blessed path. No, without God's help, my will is of no use. It could never be sufficient. I am weak; a sinner. As are you who read this. God's help is promised in, among other places, 1 Peter 1:
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
By God's power. Not mine. Not yours.

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4.29.2005    |    Receive the good only?
Job, on being sore afflicted, rebukes his wife in Chapter 2:
9Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die." 10But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
The lesson here is one for all the ages. God is good, God is just, and God loves us. This does not mean that God is not also the author of that which we may call "evil." God created Satan, the accuser,the prince of lies, just as surely as He created us. The Book of Job gives ample testimony to this seeming contradiction.

Rare is the man who can accept with equanimity the bad along with the good. Who, having received setbacks in his life, hasn't at least thought to question God's wisdom, or shouted, if only with our inner voices, "Why me, oh Lord?" Or, as Job's wife suggests, "curse God." Which would result in Job's spiritual death.

Job is a difficult book, not least because of the suspicion that it was redacted to provide a happy ending for Job. Which those of us with a cynical bent are suspicious of. Too pat. In the world of the "real", Job would be left in misery; proving yet again that nice guys finish last.

That is, using "real" to mean the secular world. In the world that abides with Christ, we should have learned that sometimes suffering itself is the reward, the fire that purifies our faith as we suffer as our savior suffered. This is not the gospel of prosperity, of God always rewarding those who are faithful to Him with bigger and better worldly things. This is the gospel of the Cross. Without the Cross, there is no crown, no heaven.

This may be the more relevant lesson from Job.

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4.28.2005    |    The gift of life
The late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago put forward the "seamless garment of life" concept. It is a straightforward if apparently simple-minded approach to life at all stages. At its simplest, it was embodied in this statement:

All of life from conception until natural death is a seamless garment.
One may approach this philosophy in the socialist mode, and include blind pacifism as well as re-introducing the discredited social gospel.

According to a left-wing approach to this concept, at seamless-garment.org, the seamless garment includes saying "no" to abortion, capital punishment, war, poverty, and racism. In short, the left has politicized God's gift of life into a socialist manifesto. Thereby weakening its appeal.

Not that I think they are wrong about abortion or capital punishment. Or that I think that war is a good thing -- except when it's less bad than the alternatives to war. As for racism and poverty, well, they shall likely be with us always. The Christian must always strive to avoid racism, where racism should be defined as pre-judging another person, or taking action against, or granting favor to, another person strictly because of his race. I suspect that most so-called liberals would fail this last part of the definition.

What is central to considering life as a seamless garment is to simply remember that life, however poor, however much in pain, however futile or useless it may seem, is God's gift. It is not ours to take away. It is ours to nurture, to protect, until it is God's time to end it. It starts at conception. It ends at the natural death of the person.

[Sidebar: We all recognize that the meaning of "natural death" will vary from one person to the next, and as our medical science improves. Let common sense prevail. Let human dignity prevail.]

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4.27.2005    |    Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?
Along the lines of the prior post, where some unbelievers will laud Jesus as a great teacher, a holy man, everthing but what He is: the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. The title refers to a famous passage from C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity:
I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic---on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg---or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make the choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Somethings are really that simple. And yet have a depth to them beyond our imagining.

[posted as a result of a post at Wittenberg Gate on Matthew 11:28-30, in which Dory cited the C.S. Lewis passage]

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4.26.2005    |    If not your faith, then what...
Will inform your decisionmaking as an elected official? In a poll taken by the reliably liberal and secular Washington Post-ABC News Poll, this question was posed to some members of the public:
Do you think a political leader should or should not rely on his or her religious beliefs in making policy decisions?
The result was unsurprising, with a majority (55%) saying, no, faith should not be relied on in making policy decisions.

Well, then, the religious nut writing here asks, if one doesn't reach down to one's faith for answers, what is your ultimate authority as to what is right and what is wrong? Atheists may insist on a variety of codes of behavior, ethical statements, and, who knows, even cite the Golden Rule (Matthew 22:39), although they of course would not consider this as coming from God in the Person of Jesus.

Well, an atheist has no anchor, unless he's a closet believer. For those of us out of that closet, who are believers in God, we may not agree on very many things, but, by God, we should believe that if there is a God, and He created the universe, then He is bigger than anything else. Then He is the ground of our being. Then He is the Author of that which we hold true. Then He is, with certitude, a better authority for what we should be doing in our lives.

So, what would be so wrong with using our faith as the basis for "making policy decisions?" Unless one viewed God and one's religious beliefs as ephemeral and unworthy, what better grounding could there be for policy decisions, or any other kinds of decisions? Short answer: none that I could imagine.

Speaking for myself, it would be an affront to my faith if I could, somehow, ignore what I hold true in my approach to quotidian matters. Not that I don't do this. It's what could otherwise be called my sinful nature. Why sinful? Because when I ignore God in my decisionmaking, this effects a separation between me and God. Which is another way of saying that I am sinning.

In short, why should we think it desirable for a political leader to sin, i.e. to ignore God, when he or she makes decisions? We should not.

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4.24.2005    |    ...but a soft, chewy center...
No, not a Tootsie Pop, but the new, unimproved, dean of the Church of the Fluffy Bunny in Washington DC. Otherwise known as the National Cathedral, a rather big, imposing pile of bricks in Northwest DC, where the wealthy white folk live. If they could afford real estate prices there.

The occasion is the installation of a new Episcopalian priest as dean of the Cathedral. I'm not sure what standing this particular priest has among the Episcopal hierarchy, but I assume it's some sort of an honor. I suppose we should be thankful that the Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III isn't a druid. But, he'd likely welcome a pagan to the altar to be his co-celebrant.

From the Washington Post story on the new dean's installation, we learn that "[w]hat is missing in this public discourse is a generous-spirited, open-minded, intellectually probing, compassionate Christian faith." Well, the Episcopalians are nothing if not "open-minded." It gets worse. Much worse. From the Post:
I believe," he [Lloyd] said from the flower-draped pulpit, "this cathedral is called to be a major voice of a faith that is firm at the center and soft at the edges . . . a faith that embraces ambiguity, that honors other faiths . . . a faith that insists that Christ's values be embodied in the social order."
Lloyd lied. He said that his faith is "firm at the center." Nonsense. It's soft and chewy. How else to describe what also took place at this installation of a supposedly Christian priest in a supposedly Christian church:
There were readings not only from the Bible but from the Koran and from the Torah, by a Muslim chaplain and a rabbi.
The Torah is cool, obviously. Although it's got that harsh God of vengeance thing going. Even so, Torah is one of the rocks on which our Christian faith is founded. So far so good. But the Koran? This is a book that denies Christ is the Son of God. Denies he died for our salvation. Specifically denies the very basis for our Christian faith.

I don't expect Jews or Muslims to worship as Christians. I do expect Christians to do so. Lloyd, by his presiding over a ceremony that "honors other faiths" thereby, in part, denies his own. A man may believe that Christ is our savior, or not. Once one believes, his path is set. This is non-negotiable. Call it names ("fundamentalist"), but don't deny its truth. Your center must be rock-solid, and based on redemption in Christ Jesus. Many things are negotiable. This is not if you wish to be a Christan.

Reach your own conclusions as to whether the new dean, and all who applaud his approach, are Christians or not.

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4.23.2005    |    Ut unum sint
"That They May Be One," Pope John Paul's 1995 encyclical, reminds Reformed Protestants of how far apart we and the Catholic Church have drifted from unity. Intended in a spirit of charity, the work contains much that any professing Christian must agree with. For example, who, confessing Christ as Lord, would dispute this about the Cross:
An anti-Christian outlook seeks to minimize the Cross, to empty it of its meaning, and to deny that in it man has the source of his new life. It claims that the Cross is unable to provide either vision or hope. Man, it says, is nothing but an earthly being, who must live as if God did not exist.
In this, as with many other things, I know that Reformed Protestants stand shoulder to shoulder with the Roman Church. We have, however, re-discovered the essential truths about how the Holy Spirit works His will through us. No, this is not another tiresome argument of faith as against works. It is also not just about much of the gaudy piety and idolatry (e.g. the worship of saints' relics), that has accumulated, like an encrustation of barnacles, on the Church of Rome. All of these things are subject for honest disagreement, of course, but are not the main obstacles to Christian unity.

What is not subject to any kind of discourse, honest or otherwise, is when the Roman Church declares itself the owner of Christ. Others can not claim Christ as Lord, unless they acknowledge the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, that is, the Roman Catholic Pontiff. From the encyclical:
The [Second Vatican] Council states that the Church of Christ "subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him", and at the same time acknowledges that "many elements of sanctification and of truth can be found outside her visible structure. These elements, however, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, possess an inner dynamism towards Catholic unity".

It follows that these separated Churches and Communities, though we believe that they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and value in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church".
The "very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church." Nevermind that we Reformed think that our our foundation, sola gratia and the other four "solas" (Christus, scriptura, fide, Deo gloria) is given by God, not by falliable men.

Not that the Reformed churches are without sin on the Christian unity front. Just that you don't hear many churches claim to have the patent on Christ and our salvation through Him. The Roman Church does make such a claim. In this, they remain in error.

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4.22.2005    |    Song of Moses
Passover starts tomorrow, so I thought it would be appropriate to recall how mighty is our Lord. Passover celebrates an earlier salvation for His people Israel, presaging the later and fuller new covenant sealed by Jesus for all.

God, through His prophet Moses, has just led the Israelites to freedom in a most spectacular fashion: by drowning Pharaoh's armed forces (host). From Exodus 14, just the bare facts:
28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
Moses and the Israelites knew exactly how it was they got away; through Whose agency they were now free of Pharaoh's yoke. And they expressed it in a way that would resonate in any hymn-singing church today -- The Song of Moses, Exodus 15:
1 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying,

"I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider[a] he has thrown into the sea.
2 The LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father's God, and I will exalt him.
3 The LORD is a man of war;
the LORD is his name.
Note that the people knew it wasn't Moses' skills as a guide that brought them to freedom. It wasn't due to any particular merit on the part of individual Israelites. It was due wholly and solely to God.

The Passover lesson for Christians is just as valid as it is for Jews. We are rescued from bondage, both physical and spiritual, solely by God's might, and by God's grace. Through no agency of our own. Through no merit on our part. We are now freed from idolatry, and freed to worship God as His chosen people.

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4.21.2005    |    The Rule
The choice of the name Benedict by the new pope got me to take at look at the first Benedict, and the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB). Benedictines live by some rather strict rules, as even a casual perusal of the Rule of St. Benedict will reveal.

This is exceeding strange territory for a Reformed Protestant. The first thing that struck me was the awesome power invested in the Abbot (or Abbess for women religious). It's plain that the Abbot stands in for our Lord, and has much power over his flock of brothers. It is also plain that the Rule is a wordly attempt at perfection in the eyes of the Lord. This is not to condemn it; rather, to wonder how long this poor pilgrim would last among those who have truly supressed their egos.

There is also something faintly communistic about communal living under the Order of St. Benedict. No surprise there, given the very nature of the vowed life (vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience), but I suspect it is communistic with a great difference from the cult of personality of the neopagan Communists. The big difference? The Rule is grounded in Scripture.

For example, what could easily become just another hippie commune's rule on personal property is Chapter 34: Whether All Should Receive in Equal Measure What Is Necessary:
Let us follow the Scripture, "Distribution was made to each according as anyone had need" (Acts 4:35). By this we do not mean that there should be respecting of persons (which God forbid), but consideration for infirmities.
There is much to admire; much to be fearful of as it concentrates far too much power in the hands of one man, the Abbot. Additionally, for the Reformed mind, there is far too much direction on the life of the Spirit. What to pray, when to do so, strict rules all around which attempt to compass what should not be attempted, what can not be bound -- the love of God expressed through our prayers to Him.

All of this being said, however, does not change my admiration for men and women who can serve Christ in this way; totally committed to Him, albeit in some ways that I find not beneficial to the worship of God. But the Order of St. Benedict has been around almost 1500 years, so they must be doing something right.

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4.20.2005    |    Christian Carnival VXVI
That's 66, for Protestants who can't abide Roman numerals (that's a joke, people...). Pseudo-Polymath is hosting, and it's found here.

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   |    "nonconformism"
Consider this bit of wisdom from the new pope:

The obligation of the Christian is to recover the capacity for nonconformism.
This is provided in a rather snarky piece by E.J. Dionne, a reliably liberal voice on Catholic matters. Snarky how? Dionne continues to refer to Pope Benedict XVI as Ratzinger. But if I understand what happened yesterday in Rome, Joseph Ratzinger no longer exists. He is now Pope Benedict XVI. However much liberals might dislike that fact.

The point, however, is not to carp on the ankle-biters, but rather to focus on Benedict and his approach to his faith. We Protestants might disagree mightily with some of the central tenets of Roman Catholic dogma (especially salvation through the sacraments and through works). We also, however, must agree with other core teachings of the Church, and also freely acknowledge our debt to the Church for keeping Christ's flame alive for two millenia. On the business of nonconformism, we should be in solid agreement.

To truly be Christian, I was taught, and know from Scripture, and now know through personal experience, is to be a stranger in man's world. To not be conformed to this world is a necessary condition for entering Jesus' kingdom. He has told us in direct terms, "My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36)." It should come as no surprise that nonconformity is an essential ingredient for salvation.

Now, the hard part. In what ways should a Christian, Catholic or otherwise, nonconform? Benedict XVI has one set of answers, and those answers are rooted in RC dogma and traditions. We Protestants have a different take on what it takes, and I apologize for using the term "Protestant" as though there was only a single branch of the Reformed faith.

My answer to this question is that once we have received God's grace (a big "if", actually), then it will come naturally. If you need the Cliff's Notes version, just read the Gospels. If you don't have time to read the Gospels, just read John, chapter 3. If you don't have time for the whole chapter, just read John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

It's simple, isn't it? And insanely hard to live by in this world.

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   |    Ugly people
One of my guilty pleasures is watching the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) series, most especially the one set in Miami. This past Monday night's show included a "dating" service, a/k/a upscale whorehouse, in which potential male clients were accepted or rejected on the basis of their outward appearance. In other words, a stand-in for how much of the world judges others.

We all do this, to some degree or another. Make instant decisions about a person based on how they look. The best we can hope to do, I believe, is to get past any such first impressions, and deal with the person behind the façade. For many of us, we never actually get to do this, having made irrevocable decisions based on those critical first impressions.

So, why care about this? After all, there are many people you will meet in the world around you who may actually be less than they first appear. Just as there surely are many who are more. Well, the point is not to obtain a good average at judging others. The point is to attempt to get past judging others at all.

As with most things, we have some guidance from the Author. He tells us, in the first book of Samuel, one difference between us and the One Who made us in His image:
...the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
Now, here's the kicker, just in case any of us think that we're off the hook because we are, after all, not the Lord. Matthew 5:48:

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This is clearly our goal. That we fall short is not surprising. That we must keep on trying is our lifelong duty if we are to follow Him.

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4.19.2005    |    "dictatorship of relativism"
You've got to hand it to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the late pope's enforcer of orthodoxy in the Catholic Church. The phrase was part of a homily he delivered before the cardinals went into closed door session to choose the next pope. While especially relevant for matters of faith, the phrase may also easily be applied to many spheres of modern life, which has seen moral relativism and individual ego become the lodestars.

The problem for liberals generally, and for Catholics who wish their church would, somehow, become less Catholic, is that Cardinal Ratzinger speaks with clarity on what he believes his faith requires. Since he is also the guy in charge of orthodoxy for the Roman Catholic Church, he isn't merely voicing another opinion; his words have the weight of the Church behind them. From the Washington Post, an extract:
"To have a clear faith according to the church's creed is today often labeled fundamentalism," he told the cardinals and the congregation packed into St. Peter's Basilica. "While relativism, letting ourselves be carried away by any wind of doctrine, appears as the only appropriate attitude for the today's times. A dictatorship of relativism is established that recognizes nothing definite and leaves only one's own ego and one's own desires as the final measure."

The church has been shaken by "numerous ideological currents," Ratzinger said. "The boat has been unanchored by these waves, thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, up to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and on and on.

"An adult faith does not follow the waves of fashion and the latest novelty," he concluded.
The left wing of the Catholic Church is already up in arms against this ecclesiastic clarity, as it has been for years and years. The message for Catholics is clear. The message for non-Catholic Christians should be just as clear. When you lose your anchor, you are cast adrift. This is a danger in politics and other things of this world. In matters of faith, it may place your very soul in danger.

Update: Welcome to your new office, and may God bless you in all your endeavors, Pope Benedict XVI -- the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

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4.18.2005    |    Human agency?
No, not some new federal department or bureau. Rather, the way some things get done in the here and now with the help of the Holy Spirit. The context is the assembly of cardinals whose task is to select the next Pope. As usual, Michael Novak at NRO has as good a take on this very Catholic event as any writer.

The key quotation from his piece is advice given to him some years ago:
"The Holy Spirit will do nothing except through human agency and human work. So somebody better get busy and start organizing things."
A fuller explanation of the role of the Holy Spirit at the conclave is provided by this paragraph by Mr. Novak:
And so, when Catholics speak of the "Holy Spirit" playing a role in the conclave, don't try to imagine a puppeteer pulling strings. The better image is that of the novelist, creating free, living, breathing, conflicted characters who make choices, and in doing so tell with these choices a magnificent story of liberty. The novelist who plays puppeteer convinces few readers that his characters are real. Real artistry lies in creating characters who are free, and who act from within the depths of their own liberty. So it is with the Artistry of the Holy Spirit in the theater of the conclaves down the centuries — a free God, Who chooses to be honored by the flawed efforts of free humans to respond to Him in their own liberty.
The notion of human free agency can be a very difficult concept for Calvinists, and requires us to mentally separate the gift of God's grace and salvation from strictly human events. This is what I say is the reality. The Catholics, when they choose a leader, are neither more or less under the wings of the Holy Spirit than any assembly of men engaged in what they believe to be God's business here on earth.

One of my problems with the Catholic faith is that it places far too much emphasis on human agency. And far too little on the supreme sovereignty of God. The conclave of cardinals likely includes many who "act justly and [to] love mercy and [to] walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). But that does not change their status with respect to He Who Is. They are fallen sinners, just as I am. And you.

God works His will through us 24/7, we never close, all the time, everywhere, on everyone. Just that, as with all such things, our human agency is limited to things of this world. Which the selection of the next pope most assuredly is -- God is watching, and for certain knows the outcome. And, for His own reasons, unknown to us, which He will not explain to us. For now.

So, you ask, what is the Calvinist take on free will? Quite different from the Catholics as regards salvation. Quite similar on worldly matters. The Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646 says it about as well as it can be said. On wfree will, here is what we hold true:
I. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil.

II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which is good and well-pleasing to God; but yet mutably, so that he might fall from it.

III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

IV. When God converts a sinner and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so as that, by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.

V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutable free to good alone, in the state of glory only.
As for how many of the cardinals are in that state of glory, it's not for me, or any human, to say. That's strictly God's business. For the sake of my brother Christians, I hope it is a sufficiency to elect a pope such as John Paul.

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4.17.2005    |    Mouth-frothing left
That would be Frank Rich (no relation, God be thanked), who was demoted to the op-ed page of the Gray Lady. Bill Safire left, and they replaced him with this? Well, it is the New York Times. In today's marvel, Rich froths and at the mouth like the rabid lefty he is.

The target of his (very) selective lefty radar is, of course, the Hammer -- Tom DeLay. I hold no brief, either for, or against DeLay. He's a politico, and a very, very effective one at that. He must be, to raise such anger. Not that I would excuse the junkets or nepotism; it's common enough among our elected representatives. Rich makes this point, but then tells us exactly why he's got it in for poor old Tom:
Democratic malefactors like Jim Wright and L.B.J.'s old fixer Bobby Baker didn't wear the Bible on their sleeves.
Rich goes on and on and on about some hypocritical movers and shakers, and pins their wrongdoing where it most assuredly does not belong -- on religion. To the extent that DeLay "wear[s] the Bible" on his sleeve, it's escaped me. That Tom DeLay is a practicing Christian there is no doubt. So am I. The key word here is "practicing." We are all trying to get it right, and, mostly, failing. Because we are Christians, and not perfect.

Frank Rich is not a Christian, and he's far from perfect. But somehow he appears to believe that those who confess Jesus as Lord are, somehow, expected to be perfect as Jesus was perfect. And this is classic left-wing religion bashing: setting an impossible standard for those of faith, and then lambasting them when they fail.

Shows how little he understands about us. Shows that he is a card-carrying member of the hate-Christianity club. Unless of course the Christians in question are liberation theology types, a/k/a communists. Then they're more than ok.

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4.16.2005    |    Good Pope, Bad Pope
If it weren't so tiresome and predictable, the laments of Catholic "dissidents" would be amusing. Here are folks who for cultural and other reasons consider themselves to be Roman Catholic, yet have grave problems with what it means to be a Roman Catholic. What is also as predictable as hot weather in July in Miami Beach are the stories that festoon the liberal, secular, mainstream media about a "church in conflict" whenever a new pope is about to be chosen.

The occasion of John Paul's death provides a great jumping off point for those who dissent from the Church's teachings and dogmas, for the simple reason that John Paul was too faithful to those eternal truths. Now, before I go any further, please understand that as a Reformed Protestant, I am not one to defend the Catholic Church's teachings on many things. What I can, and as a matter of intellectual integrity, must do, is affirm that the Church does, in fact, put forward its teachings and dogmas in fairly clear fashion.

Today's front page article in the Washington Post is typical of the genre of "good pope, bad pope" argumentation. John Paul is lauded for his (generally) anti-war stands, and for any time he has been remotely critical of nasty old capitalism. Here he is the "good pope." But, oh, when he stands firm in the gap on protecting unborn life, and against homosexual behavior, and against the ordination of women, watch out. Worse than this, he was firm against "liberation theology", recognizing it for what it was -- a stalking horse for communist would-be dictators. Bad pope. Bad, bad pope -- didn't JP realize that we are now in the 21st century? How dare he stand against the currents of modernity?

Some of the usual suspects are cited in this Post article; two priests who were basically fired as Catholic theologians because, well, they may be brilliant theologians, but they were apparently not meeting the Catholic Church's standards for such. One of them, the prolix author and liberal theologian Hans Kung noted:
"Many people are now hoping for a pope who will seriously free up the log-jam of reforms" and "have the courage to make a new start."
Note how it takes courage to "make a new start." Perhaps John Paul showed courage by resisting trendiness? It's possible, don't you think?

Again, I hold no brief for much of Catholic dogma although there is much I affirm as being solidly biblical (and hence true). I also personally find Catholic piety to be, well, not my cup of java. And that Marian thing...But I'm Protestant. I never claim to be Catholic when I criticize the Church. My advice to Catholics who would prefer women priests, abortion on demand, full rights and privileges, including ordination, for practicing homosexuals? Join the Episcopal Church or Unitarians.

Rev. Augustine DiNoia, an American priest who is the second-ranking official in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, summed it up rather nicely:
"In theology as in softball," DiNoia said, "you can't play the game if you don't agree on the rules."
Dissent can be a good thing, and those who claim that dissent is ignored in the Roman Catholic Church have perhaps not been paying close attention to what John Paul did and did not do over his long tenure. Loyal dissent does not mean that your point of view is accepted. Just that it is heard.

Those who feel that dissenters such as Hans Kung have been trampled on, well, you are wrong. It's one thing to publish your point of view, which the liberals have been doing for decades. It's quite another to expect to have the Church endorse what it disagrees with by granting you its imprimatur. Kung and others are free to publish; just not with the Church's blessing.

Once again, the Church is eternal, and John Paul attempted to retain what he viewed as eternal truths. Truths not subject to a politically correct litmus test; truths that don't sway and bend with the winds. Those who do not accept those truths, keep on trying to change the Church -- or leave. If one stays Roman Catholic because of the belief that the Roman Church is the one true church -- well, I know you are wrong, but hey, everyone's entitled to their opinion. On the other hand, if you believe it to be the one true church and thus blessed by the Holy Spirit, then why would you think that the Holy Spirit needs to accomodate Himself to modern trends?

Just asking.

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4.15.2005    |    Pay them willingly?
Taxes, that is. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Romans 13 was likely a redaction, inserted to please the Roman authorities and get the heat off of the nascent Church. Here in the secular world, we pay taxes willingly in the United States, for the most part because we fear the repercussions if we do not.

All that being said, I also claim that Romans 13 is every bit as much part of the inerrent word of God as the rest of the Book. Redaction or not, and in it we have God, through His scribe, instructing us in the matter of the authorities and their tax levies:
Romans 13: 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
One can only hope that our authorities are worthy of honor. When they are not, as is often the case, it's also our Christian duty to replace them. The good news, pun intended, is that here in America we can do that without the sword.

Bottom line (couldn't resist): pay your taxes, and understand that your true reward comes not in the here and now, but with God's judgment in the end.

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4.14.2005    |    Brevity is the soul of the soul
One of my flaws as a writer is that I tend towards being prolix. In my career, I also tended to talk too much. Over the years, however, I learned the wisdom of the adage, "less is more." I also learned, the hard way, that it is ever so much easier to write many words than to write few words on any given topic.

My writing today may not be much better, but I do at least try to use fewer words. All along, I ignored some rather specific pieces of guidance from God on the subject of words, and I wish I had taken them to heart a lot sooner than I did. The first is from our Lord, and is blunt:
Let what you say be simply "Yes" or "No"; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:37)
This is in the context of not swearing falsely, but seems rather good advice all around. Just imagine if everyone spoke the plain truth, no embellishment. Think of all the politicians, lawyers, and salesmen who'd be out of work. Not to mention quite a few pundits, and, who knows, a preacher or two.

The second piece of guidance concerns words used in prayer, and in Matthew 6:7, Jesus warns us to "not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words." In this, the Lord restates advice given by His Father to the Preacher, who tells us in Ecclesiastes 5:2:
Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.
Think on this the next time you sit through some unending liturgy or sermon, and, with charity, pray that the author of too many words will take this advice to heart.

Myself not excluded.

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4.12.2005    |    Why share the gospel?
For those of us who might be called tulipheads, the question of the great commission sneaks in. Well, if you're really a Calvinist, it won't matter, will it, if you preach the Gospel to the unbelievers. Why even bother? A person is either saved by God's free grace, or not. Nothing we can do about it, is there?

This is, on the surface, an impossible question. On the surface. After all, one might think, if we're considering limited atonement, then the person you're preaching the Gospel to is either saved already, or won't be. Who am I, or you, to attempt to sway God's predestined choice of the elect?

My answer is that this is the wrong question. We are not attempting to change God's mind; that's impossible. God doesn't "change His mind" the way we mortals do. He reveals tiny, tiny portions of His infinite mind to us; we may preceive that He's changed His mind, but that's just on us. Not Him.

The real question is, "is my preaching the good news to unbelievers part of God's plan?" So, at the risk of oversimplification, my answer to this is "yes, oh very yes." I will assume that God wants me to spread the word about the Word as best I'm able. I must assume that this is part of who we are, and those to whom Christ has been revealed as savior are obligated to share Him.

Could I be wrong? Of course. The worst that happens? I'll really annoy some folks who, for God's reasons, just simply can not tune in to the messsage. The best that could happen? I might, just might, be helping to fulfill God's plan for His elect.

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4.10.2005    |    How to go to hell
It's quite simple, really. We've all grown up with the notion that all of our sins may be forgiven, and that God's mercy is infinite. All one must do is ask. It turns out that there is just a little more to it than that. There is one sin that is so heinous as to condemn you to hell.

The sin? Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. What, you ask? Isn't the Holy Spirit the Comforter, the bringer of God's grace to us? Well, yes, but when you curse Him, you are saying, to God Himself in the here and now, "go away, I don't need your stinking grace!" And its off to gehenna with ye.

For those who don't accept the notion of a literal hell, to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to announce, in no uncertain terms, that you and He are separate. Which is as good a definition of hell as there is.

The authority for this is found in Jesus' words from Luke 12:10:
And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
The context is Jesus' warning against hypocrisy, and the notion that we fall into this unforgiveable sin when we may think we are doing God's will but know, deep down, that we are not. As usual, one can't improve on the words of our Lord (Luke 12:1-3):
1 "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.
The message? Examine your hearts; root out the lies that you may not even be aware you are telling yourself about how faithful you have been. What's really painful is the certain knowledge that you are the only person on the planet who can know with certainty what is in your heart, and make any needed corrections.

Oh, just in case you and I need help, wouldn't you know there's a handy user's manual to loving God: the Bible.

Note: With apologies to my pastor, this is my take on the sermon he delivered this morning. Pastor Smith noted that he usually doesn't preach on hell, but that this just had to be said...and he used Luke 12 as his authority. Glad he did.

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4.08.2005    |    A Protestant View
The spectacle of the Pope's funeral in Rome is both awe inspiring and, frankly, vulgar. John Paul was a great man, a man who walked in the way of the Fisherman...to a point. I seriously doubt that Jesus would have been much at home in the Vatican palaces, with the billions and billions of dollars worth of furnishings, servants, glittering possessions. On the other hand, the millions of Catholics who love these trappings of power seem to not want to turn the clock back to the Church's origins in the catacombs of Rome. Too damp, and it's hard to keep the red wines at the proper temperature, don't you know.

Among some evangelicals, I've heard the Church of Rome referred to as the Whore of Babylon; a perversion of the Christian faith. Most Protestants are more circumspect; they may think that all of this pageantry and immense wealth in the service of the church's headquarters (as against helping the poor) is whoredom, they just don't say so out loud. After all, it's not their church now, is it?

And yet the Catholic Church isn't just the gaudy display of unchristian wealth and unbiblical pomp and circumstance. It is Franciscan friars doing God's work; Dominicans teaching and ministering to the poorest of the poor; and dozens and dozens of other religious orders doing God's work all over the globe. I'd like to think that John Paul might have preferred the simple robes of the Franciscan, but that the greater good was served by sitting in the gilded throne at the Vatican.

As for the Catholic Church not being my church, well, yes, it is -- we are all brothers in Christ. Which is why it pains me to see such a vainglorious display of wealth to honor a man who would likely have preferred to wear a simple robe and sandals as he walked in the path of our Lord.

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4.06.2005    |    Darfur Accountability Act
This fairly modest piece of legislation is a good start, although the entities to which it would assign responsibilities are not likely to be effective. The Darfur Accountability Act, does, however, call genocide in Sudan by its proper name.

Very few mainstream media heavies seem to have noticed that an Arab government is pursuing a course of genocide. One of the exceptions is Nicholas Kristof of the Times, who could be called the conscience of the MSM on the matter of Darfur. Today, he once again reminds us that it is not sufficient to simply call what is happening genocide. It is necessary to take action.

Now, Kristof is a classic liberal, multilateralist, and the entities that the Darfur Accountability Act calls upon to do something do not have a good track record. To say the least. These are the worse-than-useless United Nations Security Council, and the Grand Collective of Thugs and Muggers, a/k/a the African Union. So, one might argue that it's better to do nothing than something that is bound to fail. On the other hand, it's possible that if the United States and its European allies banded together to actually enforce UN Security Council resolutions, who knows, some innocent lives just might be saved.

This is what we did in Iraq, if memory serves. While most of the rest of the world yelled and screamed about big bad unilateral United States, we actually got rid of one of the most heinous regimes on the face of the earth. Should we, could we, do the same thing in Sudan? Doubtful. Thanks to the efforts of Bush 41 and Clinton, our military has been shredded, and can barely subdue some ragtag insurgents in Iraq. But how much military force might it take to get the Sudan Arabs to stop supporting genocide? Perhaps some bombs delivered to the right addresses? Perhaps enforcing, with brutal efficiency, a no-fly zone and shooting down all aircraft we don't authorize to be in the area? Even with our weakened military, these things could be done. And think of the message we would send to the murderers in Khartoum.

The cynics will note that if Sudan had lots of oil, that would be a different matter. The Christian view is that it does not matter. The strong must always protect the weak when they are able. We should take dramatic action to stop the slaughter in Darfur. Kristof brings this home:
President Bush and other world leaders are honoring John Paul II in a way that completely misunderstands his message. We pay him no tribute if we lower our flags to half-staff and send a grand presidential delegation to his funeral, when at the same time we avert our eyes as villagers are slaughtered and mutilated in the genocide unfolding in Darfur.

The message of the pope's ministry was about standing up to evil, not about holding grand funerals.
He is absolutely correct on this point. The Christian is obligated to protect the weak against evil when he can. We do the most honor to the memory of great men such as JPII not by pageantry but by actually doing something.

Passing the Darfur Accountability Act would be a good start.

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4.05.2005    |    JPII - A great difficulty
John Paul II was a mighty man, although he suffered from one great difficulty -- he was a faithful disciple of Christ. Being Catholic and faithful to his church, JPII was, indeed, a modern rock, a Peter, beaten about by the tides of trendy and destructive forces. What would be amusing, if it did not show the failure of so many of the so-called faithful, is the way in which those who both claim to be Catholic, and who profess to admire the man, do not admire all of his teachings.

The term can be called "cafeteria Catholics", those who choose which elements of Catholic teachings and dogmas that they will, or will not follow. Those who celebrate "liberation theology" come immediately to mind -- they love to talk of the Beatitudes, but don't dwell (or even mention) the coming of Jesus in glory to judge the living and the dead. Judge? That's such a harsh term...

JPII would have none of this Marxist manifesto wrapped up in a communion wafer. He is judgmental as a churchman should be about such hijacking of the Christian faith, and this gets him in trouble with the trendies. But JPII knew that his sole mission was a soul mission -- He was about saving souls through Christ Jesus, and in the traditional Catholic manner.

An example of a liberal (but not radical by any means) Catholic is Thomas Cahill, author of a variety of interesting if overstretched theses about civilization. As in, "How the Irish Saved Civilization." In today's New York Times, he confronts the notion that JPII will "destroy" the Roman Church:
Sadly, John Paul II represented a different tradition, one of aggressive papalism. Whereas John XXIII endeavored simply to show the validity of church teaching rather than to issue condemnations, John Paul II was an enthusiastic condemner. Yes, he will surely be remembered as one of the few great political figures of our age, a man of physical and moral courage more responsible than any other for bringing down the oppressive, antihuman Communism of Eastern Europe. But he was not a great religious figure. How could he be? He may, in time to come, be credited with destroying his church.
Get it? He "was not a great religious figure." Why? Because he stood in the gap against modernity? Because he insisted on eternal verities for his flock? Because he refused to compromise on the Gospel?

All of the above. John Paul II was a rock in an age of shifting sands.

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4.03.2005    |    A Christian Lion
A sad yet joyous day. John Paul II, a Christian lion, has started his eternal life.

This man wore the shoes of the Fisherman. He walked in Jesus' path, in righteousness and with love for all. There is nothing more to say, except rest in peace with the Lord, John Paul. Would that we all could follow in your example.

About this site and the author

Welcome. My name is John Luke Rich, (very) struggling Christian. The focus here is Christianity in its many varieties, its fussing and feuding, how it impacts our lives and our society, with detours to consider it with other faiths (or lack thereof).

Call this blog my way of evangelizing on the internet.

Putting it differently, we're only here on this earth a short time. It's the rest of eternity that we should be most concerned about. Call it the care and feeding of our souls.

I was born Jewish, and born again in Christ Jesus over thirty years ago. First as a Roman Catholic; now a Calvinist by persuasion and a Baptist by denomination. But I'm hardly a poster boy for doctrinal rigidity.

I believe that Scripture is the rock on which all Christian churches must stand -- or sink if they are not so grounded. I believe that we are saved by faith, but hardly in a vacuum. That faith is a gift from God, through no agency on our part -- although we sometimes turn a deaf ear and choose to ignore God's knocking on the door.

To be Christian is to evangelize. Those who think it not their part to evangelize perhaps haven't truly understood what our Lord told us in Matthew 28. We must preach the Gospel as best we are able. Using words if necessary.

Though my faith waxes and wanes, it never seems to go away. Sometimes I wish it would, to give me some peace of mind. But then, Jesus never said that walking with Him was going to be easy...

Final note: I also blog as Jack Rich on cultural, political and other things over at Wrong Side of the Tracks

Thanks for stopping by.