Church


Christianity Today discusses why Pope John Paul whipped himself, and offers an explanation from a Catholic perspective, and also includes Peter T. O’Brien‘s thoughts:

So how do Catholics explain self-flagellation, a practice so foreign to Protestants, let alone non-Christians? Several writers have defended the late pope. Writing for the National Catholic Register, Jimmy Akin faults a “pleasure-obsessed culture” for portraying the pope’s behavior as repulsive.

“Self-mortification teaches humility by making us recognize that there are things more important than our own pleasure,” Akin writes. “It teaches compassion by giving us a window into the sufferings of others—who don’t have a choice in whether they’re suffering. And it strengthens self-control. As well as (here’s the big one I’ve saved for last) encouraging us to follow the example of Our Lord, who made the central act of the Christian religion one of self-denial and (in his case) literal mortification to bring salvation to all mankind.”

Indeed, the pope believed suffering brought him closer to Christ, according to Oder. For precedent, the pope appealed to Colossians 1:24, where the apostle Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” With no parallel in the New Testament, this verse has vexed biblical commentators for centuries. Surveying the Old Testament apocalyptic literature, Peter O’Brien understands “what is lacking” to mean that God has appointed a measure of suffering before the end comes. Paul’s suffering on behalf of the Colossians, whom he never even met, helped to fill that gap. The suffering he endured for the sake of the gospel in his apostolic ministry united him with other Christians and even Christ himself, who suffered untold anguish on the Cross.

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Thus the Reformed spokesman at the Reformed-Anabaptist disputation in Zofingen (near Bern) agreed that they were “one in the chief points of the articles of faith” and differed on “externals.” But the Anabaptists insisted on enforcing the sole authority of Scripture even more consistently and on implementing the Reformed parallelism of the two sacraments by applying to baptism the same definition of “sign” that Zwingli had applied to the Lord’s Supper (and in his early thought also to baptism). In spite of being “one,” therefore, the two parties could not be united. Roman Catholic polemics, despite the preponderance of Protestant over Roman Catholic theologians in the ranks of the conflict against the Anabaptists, went on tracing the origins of Anabaptism to Luther, but Luther and Calvin both charged that the pope and the Anabaptists were essentially alike in their subjectivism, while the Anabaptists for their part charged that there was no difference between “the papists and the Lutherans” and that “the Lord’s Supper of the preachers” in the established churches, whether Reformed or Roman Catholic, was “false” and “perverted.”

–Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Vol. 4, Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700).

Menno Simons, an Anabaptist leader, writes, regarding persecution: “[The children of God] must in all misery, ignominy and trouble take upon themselves the pressing cross and must follow the rejected, outcast, bleeding and crucified Christ, as He Himself said: ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.'”

Furthermore, Menno notes: “Persecutions will not cease so long as there are righteous and unrighteous people on earth.”

How does persecution serve for our good?

  1. It keeps from inclining toward earthly ease, peace and prosperity which have so great a tendency to ruin and undo us before our God and to render us careless, refractory, lukewarm and drowsy.
  2. It makes us lay aside the sins which so easily beset us.
  3. It keeps us from fleeting thought.
  4. It puts us to a severe test, even such as Christ experienced.
  5. It gives us firmness of confidence, tranquility of patience and vehement ardor of prayer.

A long time pastor friend challenged me recently to take on the virtues of the Anabaptists, and even consider planting an Anabaptist church. He warned me that the road won’t be easy, that I would be a minority amongst Christian believers, and that I would be heavily persecuted. I wondered if he was being serious, since his suggestion sounded like one of those “do as I say, not as I do” moments–in contrast with all his many years of pastoral ministry. Nonetheless, giving his words some thought, I decided to revisit some Anabaptist heritage.

What does it mean to be Anabaptist? On February 24, 1527, Swiss and Swabian Baptists agreed on these seven articles of Anabaptist life (from Wilhelm Moeller’s History of the Christian Church: A.D.–1517-1648, Reformation and Counter-Reformation):

  1. Rejection of infant baptism: baptism presupposes penitence, belief, spiritual life and personal desire;
  2. Amongst the brethren the ban is enforced in the degrees of admonition prescribed in Matthew 18;
  3. In the breaking of bread in memory of the death of Christ the union of the brethren in the body of Christ, which takes place by baptism, is represented;
  4. The brethren sever themselves from all abominations, above all from the worship of the papists as well as from that of the anti-papists (the Reformation churches), both of which are “bondage of the flesh”
  5. The community chooses for itself pastors for purposes of instruction and admonition, for pronouncing the band and superintending the breaking of bread;
  6. The use of the sword is a divine ordinance, which is necessary for the world; but the “perfection of Christ” knows only the band, not the sword: Christians do not draw the sword, do not sit in judgment, and consequently do not accept any office of authority;
  7. Disciples of Christ abstain from the oath in every form.

Top diagnostic indicators of a ministry moving into “slow deterioration” mode:

  1. Denial. The capacity of emperors to think they are making fashion statements is staggering. Gary Hamel has a wonderful line: success tends to be self correcting. The very process of being effective also tends to bring complacency, and when effectiveness goes down, we tend not to see it. (As Gary puts it: every successful organization is successful until it’s not. Companies pay him lots of money for these kind of observations.) If evangelistic fervor cools, or prayer decreases, or community lessens, or volunteerism fades, those of us at the center are sometimes the last to know.
  2. Loss of motivation. People do not lose motivation simply through age, or challenge, or even repetition. They lose motivation when they lose a sense that they are able to grow. People rarely plan vacations to spend two weeks sitting on the beach at the Dead Sea.
  3. Fewer people signing up to lead. My nephew is going through training to join the California Highway Patrol. Because he is based nearby, he sometimes spends weekends with us. The ordeal that CHiPs officers-to-be put up with is remarkable. Many of them do not make it through training. Those that do pay an enormous price of commitment. The very price he’s paying is part of what makes him value the badge. I can’t help but contrast this with leading in the church. Seminaries—and churches—will all-too-often take in any warm body that’s available. It is not higher salaries and longer sabbaticals that will draw people into serving the church—it’s a sense of urgent calling that demands a sacrifice and promises the opportunity to make a difference.
  4. Phoning it in. Funny how this one gets sensed by everyone around a person before it gets sensed by the phon-ee himself. Sermons get perfunctory; teams lose morale, planning gets second-rate effort, accountability for results diminishes; and there is a general collusion to not name the dynamic.
  5. Cynicism. When other ministries are being effective, instead of producing joy, it creates a sense of envy or a feeling of being threatened. Rather than seeking to learn from it, stagnant people will find some pretext for judging or dismissing it.
  6. Spending more time looking in the rearview mirror than out the windshield. More stories get told about how things once were than about what may yet be. Who wants to be watching the road when all that’s left is a dead end?

–John Ortberg, “Decline Is Never the Only Option.”

For a long time I have been convinced that I could take a person with a high school education, give him or her a six-month trade school training, and provide a pastor who would be satisfactory to any any discriminating American congregation. The curriculum would consist of four courses:

Course I: Creative Plagiarism. I would put you in touch with a wide range of excellent and inspirational talks, show you how to alter them just enough to obscure their origins, and get you a reputation for wit and wisdom.

Course II: Voice Control for Prayer and Counseling. We would develop your distinct style of Holy Joe intonation, acquiring the skill in resonance and modulation an unmistakable aura of sanctity.

Course III: Efficient Office Management. There is nothing that parishioners admire more in their pastors than the capacity to run a tight ship administratively. If we return al telephone calls within twenty-four hours, answer all letters within a week, distributing enough carbons to key people so that they know we are on top of things, and have just the right amount of clutter on our desks — not too much or we appear ineffient, not too little or we appear underemployed — we quickly get the reputation for efficiency that is far more important than anything that we actually do.

Course IV: Image Projection. Here we would master the half-dozen well-known and easily implemented devices that create the impression that we are terrifically busy and widely sought after for counsel by influential people in the community. A one-week refresher course each year would introduce new phrases that would convince our parishioners that we are bold innovators on the cutting edge of the megatrends and at the same time solidly rooted in all the traditional values of our sainted ancestors.

–Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: the Shape of Pastoral Integrity, 7, quoted by Matt Chandler at SBTS Chapel, November 12, 2009.

Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible. By M. Daniel Carroll R. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008. Paperback. 174 pages. $16.99.

In Christians at the Border, Daniel Carroll addresses a growing concern amongst lawmakers and citizens in the U.S. America is undergoing massive demographical changes with the influx of immigrants from Mexico. The Hispanic population is ever increasing all across the country, while the Latin American culture is growing more ubiquitous with its food, music, and media. But America as a whole has not been warm towards the growing Spanish-speaking population. The purpose of Carroll’s book is to begin informing Christians with the issues surrounding immigration.

Carroll is an Old Testament professor at Denver Seminary, born in Guatemala and educated in the United States. His bird-eye view of the two cultures—American and Latin-American, is helpful in presenting a fair view of the cultural dispositions on both sides: in his introduction, he explains why he prefers undocumented immigrants over illegal aliens with the reason being that the former is “a more just label and better represents the present reality” (22). His awareness allows him to avoid bias where possible, and defend views where necessary.

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