All Saint’s & All Soul’s

There are a number of good articles out there for understanding All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), Reformation Day, and All Saint’s Day. Here are one, two, three excellent ones that will make you wrestle with the issues.

All Saint’s Day is Nov. 1st, a day dedicated to remembering all the Christian martyrs. It’s appropriate to give thanks for the seed that went into the ground and grew us up. Too often Protestants treat All Saint’s like another gaudy Roman Catholic addition to the calendar. Ironically, it’s an antidote to the Rococofied celebrations for a different saint taking place every five minutes in the city of seven hills. Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on Halloween, the eve of All Saint’s precisely because it was the time to celebrate and continue the church’s victory over Satan, sin and death. None of his Theses rejected All Saint’s, just the covetous superstition of indulgences that marked it at that time.

Any church or group of churches recovering a sense of history and true catholicity has to be discerning. What should we recover, leave alone, repent of, or consider for a while before we employ? Bible study and more Bible study is called for. If you like All Saint’s Day (and I think you should), you should reject (with equal joy!) the following day, November 2, All Soul’s Day. In 1048, Saint Odilo, the Abbot of Cluny, had a vision (derision?) of the saints suffering in purgatory. His vision directed him to perform masses on behalf of said dead, thus freeing them from purgatory. By the end of the 13th century, All Soul’s was a staple in the Western church until Luther lit the match on Oct. 31, 1517 that blew up the idolatry of the church.

Rapping for Christ

Thanks to Tim Bayly for posting this video. The problem with doing Scriptural content in pop culture forms is that the forms lend themselves to sinful tendencies. These are not necessary tendencies, but we should never divorce form and content since any good piece of art marries the two fluently. I’m writing from Seattle where it’s hard to find an alternative band that doesn’t whine and complain, and not just with their lyrics–postures, mopey faces and black eyeliner. Christians, largely clueless about what any of this means, think, “I know, people love this stuff, let’s take out the profanity, stick in some Bible words, and voila: gigs at the mega-church.” But pouting and whining doesn’t become disciples, much less worship leaders, of Jesus. Neither does bravado, the signature of rap and much hip hop.

Thankfully, Shai Linne is a shining exception. The lyrics are biblical, the performance isn’t self-centered, and despite the performance element (applause etc), he is aware of the temptation of the setting to forget God amidst the lights and glitter. The clear and bold preaching is consistent with his song. Praise God for this guy.

Meritorious Relics

It is well known that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses protesting the sale of indulgences and other scandalous habits. Less known is the connection of indulgences to relics (which continue to be venerated to this day).

For no theological reason but in the interest of advertising, the Church associated the dispensing of the merits of the saints with visitation upon the relics of the saints. Popes frequently specified precisely how much benefit could be derived from viewing each holy bone. Every relic of the saints in Halle, for example, was endowed by Pope Leo X with an indulgence for the reduction of purgatory by four thousand years. The greatest storehouse for such treasures was Rome. Here in the crypt of St. Callistus forty popes were buried and 76,000 martyrs. Rome had a piece of Moses’ burning bush and three hundred particles of the Holy Innocents. Rome had the portrait of Christ in the napkin of St. Veronica. Rome had the chains of St. Paul and the scissors with which Emperor Domitian clipped the hair of St. John.  Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther

Rome has repented of selling indulgences, but do the relics play any role in the attraction to Roman churches? Judging by the chains, glass, presentation, security and promotion of them, of course. Catholics still shell out in donation because of these and the superstitious reverence given them.

The Reformation was a great recovery of the second commandment which forbids worship of anything physical on the earth. In case we weren’t sure, Moses sinks this one deep: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex. 20:4-5). Just in case some religious shaman might find an acceptable artifact to worship, he uses the all inclusive “in heaven, the earth beneath, or water under the earth.” Anything. And if we wonder what worship is, he forbids the most common way: “You shall not bow down.” So the issue isn’t only what is going on in your heart; bodies matter, and bowing down in a setting of worship is worship, idolatrous explanations aside.

Indulgences are an embarrassment to Rome and they should be. But what is just as important and generationally significant is the institutional commitment of both Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy to image veneration. The second commandment is crystal clear and the consequences are severe.

Evangelicals are far from setting up icons, and yet the need to recover the centrality of Word as the magisterial reformers began to do is dire. Take the content of so much modern praise music, for example, and see how it measures up to any Psalm or other song written in the Bible. Worship consisting of words isn’t the goal, but rather worship of the Word with words that accurately describe him. Only biblical literacy and Christ-centered worship can fuel the next reformation.

Sexual Suicide

Peter Jones’ book The God of Sex is a must read for those who would understand the close relationship between religion and sexuality, and the necessary connection between non-Christian thought and what Paul calls porneia–homosexuality, pedophilia, fornication, adultery, bestiality, polyamory, polygamy and the end of male/female distinctions.  Sexual destruction (“liberation”) is at the top of Obama’s agenda for American society, the new civil rights as they’re known. Rhetoric is everything in these debates with anyone outside the pan-sexual fan club being grouped together with Nazis and fascists–homophobes, you know. It is therefore doubly important to see the agenda for what it is.

Sociologist Anne Hendershott writes about the politics of deviancy and shows how deviancy is no justified. She mentions an example in Conyers, Georgia, where a large number of very young teenagers were engaging in promiscuous sexual behaviors–some with more than one hundred partners, a behavior that led to a syphilis epidemic in the upscale suburb. The response from some women’s groups and sociologists was, to say the least, shocking. Deborah Toman, a research scientist and director of the Adolescent Sexuality Project at Wellesley College, suggested that “girls are entitled to their own sexual desire or sexual pleasure and that ‘good’ girls or ‘nice’ girls are depriving themselves of a full life.” This “full life,” which includes syphilis, is also a new, liberating day of pornography–with equally disastrous results.

This example is one among thousands that could be cited for the mayhem that is ensuing from the sexual revelution of the 1960s. In one sense we can be thankful that the tree has budded and brought forth rotten fruit. Now it is arguing for the right to chop off limbs at will and to teach other people’s children to do the same.

Calvin on the Active and Passive Obedience of Christ

From a sermon on Ephesians 1:7-10:

It is true that the whole life of our Lord Jesus Christ has become our ransom, for the obedience which he yielded in this world to God his Father was to make amends for Adam’s offense and for all the iniquities for which we are in debt. But St. Paul speaks her expressly of his blood, because we are obliged to resort to his death and passion as to the sacrifice which has power to blot out all our sins. and for that reason, God has set forth in types under the law that men could not be reconciled to him except by that means.

Rooted Wisdom

Arthur F. Holmes does great work describing the changes in understanding education from classical humanism to modern science in his chapter “Francis Bacon: Modern Science and the Uses of Knowledge” in Building the Christian Academy.

So did Bacon succeed in uniting contemplation and action more closely than before? He connects them by making the creation mandate and the relief of human need the means by which learning should glorify God. The connection is not intrinsic to the sciences involved, but extrinsic; not an internal relationship that flows from their very nature but something external to them, an overall “add on” intended by God. It is a kind of “value-added” intended by God. It is a kind of “value-added” education, in which the value of learning is in science’s “practical” applications, not primarily in wisdom for its own sake, nor in transmitting a heritage of values that help shape character, nor in tracing the unity of truth and developing a world and life view. The focus in on what you can do with education in tangible, visible, this-life ways. It is not so much the liberal arts as the new mechanical arts, what we now know as technology and applied science, that are important for that is where power is most evident. Bacon, of course, did not intend the wholly utilitarian approach to education that the Industrial Revolution introduced, but intended to combine the new science with an improved humanistic education, thereby wedding wisdom to scientific discovery.

I’ve not read the Novum Organum yet, but if Holmes is right, it’s easy to see how Bacon’s view led to utilitarianism, which like pragmatism, is fine except that it doesn’t work. Contrast this “extrinisic” view of wisdom to that of the book of Proverbs where wisdom is as practical as avoiding cash advances and rotating your tires. Wisdom is not esoteric information, but broad enough to include skill and craftmanship. Bezalel was an artist filled with wisdom.

I also find this development interesting in application to church culture. Churches that live and die, or that think they live and die, by technology are tempted to think that “power” is revealed and harnessed in the embrace and employment of technology, a mistake which swaps the engine for the paint and leaves the most important things neglected. Opposite, the Luddites are usually suspicious of science and technology, and like the Scholastics left with their inane and self-consuming debates, end up a dying breed. Wedding wisdom to scientific disovery can only be done by seeing the agreement of faithfulness and ingenuity in education and indeed in all work. Creativity and discovery are Reformational fruits driven by sovereign grace.

Personal Cosmos

Gene Veith in God at Work:

Our usual view of God is that He is not part of the external world outside ourselves. He is either “far above” the everyday world or He is “inside us.” The world, we assume, runs pretty much on its own. The truth is, God does indeed transcend His creation, but He also governs it. “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything,” says the apostle Paul. “He is not actually far from each one of us, for ‘in him we live and move and have our being'” (Acts 17:25-28).

It’s odd that the places we confine God to are the places where we do not encounter him, or do not encounter him very clearly. Far above us is hardly a place interact (“Can you hear me?!”), and inside of us alongside all sorts of doubts, conflicts and sins is often more confusing than not. God is no doubt found in the cosmos and the conscience since He rules and sustains everywhere, but seeing his authorship in the events of life (what is funnier than a Nobel Peace Prize given for great ambitions?) and  artistry everywhere (witness smooth and shiny horse chestnuts falling all over my yard while various rodents play catch with them) means you can actually interact with Him in real life. He is telling a story about the salvation of the world and as His characters we get to choose how we will play the role He has assigned.

A Power Let Loose

Commenting on Colossians 1, NT Wright says

‘The gospel’, for Paul, is an announcement, a proclamation, whose importance lies in the truth of its content. It is not, primarily, either an invitation or a technique for changing people’s lives. It is a command to be obeyed and a power let loose in the world (cf. Rom. 1:16-17), which cannot be reduced to terms of the persuasiveness or even the conviction of the messenger. It works of itself to overthrow falsehood.

This is so refreshing. Of course the gospel does change lives–it changes everything–but it is not an impotent invitation. It is a clarion call to a world alienated from God to come home.

Go for the Chocolate Cake

G.K. Chesterton once said that thin monks might be holy, but fat monks are humble; to be fat is to be laughed at and that is a more wholesome experience for the soul of man.

Few people see humility in a fat man, but they do see a lot more. Food and eating seem to to be a very religious endeavor in our society. I can hardly pick up a newspaper or magazine and not read a dietary recommendation that doesn’t have a moral overtone. You should eat this and not that, you know, because studies have shown that eating bark is good for you. What is always left unstated is just how good for you something is, such as how much longer it will make you live. Something tells me that if consuming all sorts of other supplements and a Spartan diet objectively gave hordes of people longer life, we’d be offering it like a polio vaccine.

In The Gospel of Food, Barry Glassner writes about the rise of “natural” and “organic” products, or at least those that bear the labels. He gives a lengthy critique of just how falsely those labels can be achieved (more on this perhaps another time), and how people adjust their taste buds to conform to what they value.

In experiments where people are told they have been given those types of foods, they tend to rate them as tasting better, even when the researchers actually give them conventionally grown foods. Psychologists call this “expectancy confirmation.” The term refers to our tendency to find ways to fit experiences into the preconceptions we bring to them–something we do often with food.

And what have recent values caused us to confirm? The famous French Paradox points out that the French consume what Americans think will kill them, yet have similar rates of heart attack. Glassner cites a study done by Paul Rozin, a psychologist from UPenn where 1241 people from France, Japan, Belgium and the US reported their attitudes toward food. The French associated “celebration” with chocolate cake while Americans chose “guilt.” Heavy cream evoked “unhealthy” from the Americans and “whipped” from the French.

What’s worse, or better, according to another study conducted at Tufts University, people who enjoy a meal get more out it physiologically. Swedish and Thai women were fed a dish that the Swedes judged too spicy, and conversely, both groups were fed a hamburger meal disliked by the Thai. In both cases, the group that preferred the taste of the meal absorbed more iron. A third experiment was conducted where everyone was given a nutritious but sticky, savorless paste and neither group absorbed much iron.

How much does enjoyment, not to mentioned gratitude, have to do with health? Apparently a lot more than we think. Now, I need to go and I expect my protein and somewhat fatty lunch will do wonders for my whole being.