I know a lot of bloggers have drawn attention to it already, but just in case it’s slipped anyone’s net, I thought I’d add my own link:
A.N. Wilson, the famous biographer and notorious religious sceptic, who wrote biographies of Jesus and Paul with the express intention of demonstrating that Christianity is on an untenable foundation, has become a Christian. He wrote about his re-discovery of the Christian faith in a column in the Daily Mail. Here are a couple of excerpts:
My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known – not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in the light of the Resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die.
The Easter story answers their questions about the spiritual aspects of humanity. It changes people’s lives because it helps us understand that we, like Jesus, are born as spiritual beings.
Historians of Roman and Jewish law have argued at length about the details of Jesus’s trial – and just how historical the Gospel accounts are.
Anyone who believes in the truth must heed the fine points that such scholars unearth. But at this distance of time, there is never going to be historical evidence one way or the other that could dissolve or sustain faith.
Of course, only hard evidence will satisfy the secularists, but over time and after repeated readings of the story, I’ve been convinced without it.
This tells you something about the power of the Gospel: the birth of faith through the “repeated readings of the story”. It also tells you about the potentially wonderful evidentiary power of people living their lives as Christians, “riends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in the light of the Resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die”.
Not that apologetics and dealing with the challenges of the sceptics is a waste of time or futile. Only it must remain in its proper place: as a kind of winsome bulldozer, clearing away the outer defences that prevent people from even hearing the Gospel in the first place. But the message of the resurrection is in itself sufficient.
On the evening of the first Easter, Jesus appeared to His disciples after they had heard the report of the women from the tomb, after Peter had witnessed the empty tomb, and immediately after Cleopas and the other disciple had returned from Emmaus to tell of their encounter with the Risen Lord. Yet, when He appeared, they doubted and were filled with fear. How did Jesus deal with their doubt and fear? By simply pointing to the reality of the resurrection: showing His hands and feet pierced for the world, and eating some fish to demonstrate that He was indeed alive. And they believed, and fear was replaced by joy.
And those two signs are still being offered to us: Christ who died for us, Christ who was raised for us. In those two facts, the fate of all humanity – and of every human being – is decided. And those two facts alone can overcome doubt and fear with faith.
I am working on my eternal project, a Master’s Thesis on the Porvoo Common Statement (PCS). On re-reading the Statement, I noticed anew the following definition of the Church’s apostolicity:
Apostolic tradition in the Church means continuity in the permanent characteristics of the Church of the apostles: witness to the apostolic faith, proclamation and fresh interpretation of the Gospel, celebration of baptism and the eucharist, the transmission of ministerial responsibilities, communion in prayer, love, joy and suffering, service to the sick and needy, unity among the local churches and sharing the gifts which the Lord has given to each. (para 36)
This is striking stuff. The basic message is this: the church is apostolic inasmuch (or insofar…?) as it does what the apostles were sent to do.
This is quite distinct from the understanding of apostolicity, which sees the Church as recipient of gifts through the apostles to her. In the context of the PCS, this is in partly a result of the necessity to re-interpret the episcopacy in a way that can encompass Anglican and Lutheran views as well as the burden of history, and part of a much broader tendency within the modern ecumenical movement.
It just seems to me to be a tragically narrow and (despite the best of christological intentions) geocentric understanding. To be apostolic is to do stuff, rather than to be something. How tiresome, how laborious.
Is this perhaps another corollary of Vatican II’s re-definition of the eucharistic sacrifice, and the broader re-conception of the Church as the people, rather than the hierarchy? After all, since Vatican II, it’s been explicit that at the Mass, the whole congregation sacrifices the Immaculate Victim, not only through the priest but with him. In a similar way, in PCS, the whole church does apostolic things, not only through the apostles (i.e. the office of the apostles in the Church today) but with them.
It’s also interesting to see that works of mercy and human care are also subsumed under the heading ‘apostolic’. Would be pernickety to quote Acts 6 to argue against this identification?
I’m posting the content of today’s newsletter from the ProLife Alliance (UK). In my previous post I referred to apathy. Well, here’s an opportunity for simple action. The episode expires by the end of today, so if you want to see it, you need to hurry.
‘Hunter’: A Shameless BBC misrepresentation
January 28, 2009
The BBC shamelessly misrepresented the pro-life movement last week with its crime drama “Hunter” (broadcast on BBC1: 18th and 19th Jan 2009). The two part drama was about a pro-life group that kidnaps two children and threatens to kill them if a pro-life video about abortion is not aired on national television.
View the second part here: (particularly 50 seconds into the program)
– NB: it will only briefly be available for viewing, so view it now if possible.
The BBC has a moral duty to present a fair and balanced view of groups campaigning peacefully for the human rights of unborn children. However, this series demonstrates how biased the BBC can be, by blatantly portraying pro-life campaigners as kidnappers and murderers. This is crude and vicious propaganda: a ’blood libel’ aimed at those who, in the real world, are trying to protect both children and their parents.
By permitting this bizarre and slanderous drama to be televised, the BBC risks tarnishing the image of a peaceful and democratic movement. Would we expect to see a similar storyline about pro-abortionists kidnapping and threatening to murder children to advance their cause? The BBC risks abusing its neutral position to promote the liberal status quo.
Issues Etc., keeping to a persistent theme, has been featuring a series of interviews on the subject of abortion, specifically on the moral facts (yes, I mean that) of abortion and on ways to argue about (i.e. against) abortion. They are excellent and well worth listening to.
It has bothered me for some time that, in contrast to many of their US counterparts, European Christians tend in general to be incredibly impassive when it comes to abortion. Whether because of a misconceived privatisation of morality or mere lethargy, the pro-life movement in this country (UK) and seemingly elsewhere in Western Europe, a pretty well kept secret. I hold myself as a textbook example of a Christian to whom abortion is an abhorrent crime and sin, yet do very little about it in practice.
My thinking on this was sharpened a notch listening to Melvin Bragg and guests discuss the life and thinking of Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau, often credited with the articulation of the concept of civil disobedience, made the crucial observation that to be opposed to something creates an obligation to oppose it. It’s no good just deploring it in the privacy of one’s home.
So throw away your WWJD bracelet and replace it with WWYD (what will YOU do?). Luther in the Freedom of the Christian reminds us that while God doesn’t require our services, our neighbour does. The more defenceless the neighbour, the greater the need, as in the Good Samaritan. And who is more defenceless than the unborn?
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
It has been heartening to see the way the Eighth Commandment has been applied to Barack Obama’s little stumble over the oath of office. One commentator on the BBC‘s Today Programme even suggested that it was his oratorical genius that led to the mistake.
I can’t help wondering what the reaction had been if it had been Obama’s predecessor. Does the Eighth Commandment apply to all, or only to polished orators?
Next Sunday is the Second Sunday after the Epiphany. The readings in the three-year lectionary, Series B are 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (the calling of Samuel), 1 Cor 6:12-20 (flee from sexual immorality) and John 1:43-51 (the calling of Philip and Nathanael). Which got my blood boiling.
Here’s a preview of part of the sermon I’m writing for this Sunday. I’m so narked that I’m letting off some steam here. Perhaps I’ll sound more measured in the pulpit as a result.
I am told that there is a Lutheran professor of theology who tells his students that unless a seminarian or pastor thinks he can preach a better sermon than the one he is listening to, he has no business to be in the ministry. No doubt he is exaggerating to make a point—at least I hope so. I do wonder, however, how many seminarians or pastors have looked up the readings for a given Sunday and thought that they would have been able to come up with a better lectionary than the one in front of them. Arguably, this Sunday’s lessons are a case in point.
Normally, the lectionary is constructed along these lines: the Gospel text is chosen according to the time of the church year so that, for example, on Christmas morning the Gospel will focus on the incarnation of the Son of God. Then the Old Testament reading is selected to complement the Gospel, so that on Christmas morning you might have an Old Testament prophecy of the coming of the Christ. Finally, the Epistle reading is added. Sometimes, the Epistle is also related to the theme of the Sunday; at other times, the Epistle readings over a period of consecutive Sundays take the congregation right through a whole book, regardless of the themes of those Sundays.
Now, given this principle, let me ask you: What Old Testament passage came to mind when you listened to Jesus’ words at the end of today’s Gospel: “Truly, truly I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Let me give you a clue: it has something to do with an epiphany or appearance of God to a person, involving angels of God ascending and descending.
That’s right: Jacob’s ladder. Not the calling of Samuel. After all, we are in Epiphany season, which focuses on the epiphany, manifestation of the Son of God among us. Important a theme as the calling of disciples is—and today’s Gospel does teach us about that, too—within the church year there is a proper time and place for that. John’s point in recording the calling of Philip and Nathanael was not to tell us about disciples or discipleship. He wrote what he wrote in order to tell us about Jesus, about who Jesus is.
Not only that, but it turns out that the three-year lectionary favoured by the publishers of the Lutheran Service Book has not managed to include Jacob’s ladder at all, in three years’ worth of OT readings.
The phrase “praying the Catechism” is at least as old as Luther’s writings on the subject. I don’t know if the following contribution to the subject is original, but I haven’t come across it before.
The Catechism (in the narrower sense: The Commandments, Creed and Lord’s Prayer) can be prayed very simply and very quickly by praying the Lord’s Prayer. Conversely, the Lord’s Prayer is merely a summary of the Catechism – and thus can form the basis of an extended prayer life.
The Lord’s Prayer is simply the rest of the Catechism in prayer form. Let me demonstrate:
1st petition: Our Father who art in heaven
1st commandment: I am the Lord your God
2nd pet: Hallowed be Thy name
2nd comm: Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God
3rd pet: Thy kingdom come
3rd comm: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy
4th pet: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
4th-10th comm: Love your neighbour as yourself
5th pet: Give us this day our daily bread
1st article: I believe in God … the maker of heaven & earth
6th pet: And forgive us our trespasses…
2nd art: And in Jesus Christ … was crucified, died … and rose again
7th pet: And lead us not into temptation but deliver…
3rd art: And in the Holy Spirit
This becomes even clearer when we read the Commandments and the Creed through the lense of the Small Catechism.
In Spain the best upper sets do it,
Lithuanians and Letts do it,
Let’s do it, let’s start a blog.
The Dutch in old Amsterdam do it,
Not to mention the Finns,
Folks in Siam do it,
Think of Siamese twins.
Some Argentines without means do it,
People say in Boston even beans do it,
Let’s do it, let’s start a blog.