“There are about forty different calendar systems currently in use in the world. Some of these systems replicate astronomical cycles according to fixed rules, others are based on abstract, perpetually repeating cycles of no astronomical significance. Some carefully and redundantly enumerate every unit of passing time, others contain mystical ambiguities and metaphysical discontinuities. Some are codified in written laws while others are transmitted by oral tradition.
“The common theme of each system is the desire to organize the calendar to satisfy the needs and preoccupations of society. Besides simply serving the obvious practical purposes, this process of organization provides a sense, however illusory, of understanding and managing time itself. Thus calendars have provided the basis for planning agricultural, hunting, and migration cycles, for divination and prognostication, and for maintaining cycles of religious and civil events. Whatever their scientific sophistication, or lack thereof, calendars are essentially social covenants, not scientific measurements.” (George Grant and Gregory Wilbur, introduction to The Christian Almanac)
Archive for November 2010
“The relationship that has to exist between the church and the world is in the first place organic, moral, and spiritual in character. Christ – even now – is prophet, priest, and king; and by his Word and Spirit he persuasively impacts the entire world. Because of him there radiates from everyone who believes in him a renewing and sanctifying influence upon the family, society, state, occupation, business, art, science, and so forth. The spiritual life is meant to refashion the natural and moral life in its full depth and scope according to the laws of God. Along this organic path Christian truth and the Christian life are introduced into all the circles of the natural life, so that life in the household and the extended family is restored to honor, the wife (woman) is again viewed as the equal of the husband (man), the sciences and arts are Christianized, the level of the moral life is elevated, society and state are reformed, laws and institutions, morals and customs are made Christian.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 4.437)
A couple months ago, I wrote an introductory piece about the “collect” (a particular form of prayer) and promised shortly to post a number of these. This being the first Sunday in Advent, here is the first in a yearlong series of collects from Thomas Cranmer:
“Almighty God, give us grace, that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, (in the which thy son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;) that in the last day when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy ghost now and ever. Amen.”
Truism: the history of church-state relations is long and troubled. A variety of readings and some recent teaching on the subject, along with my current preaching series in Samuel, have led me to ask this question: if the priests in the Old Testament represent the church, and the kings the state, isn’t it significant that from the beginning the priests are subject to Yahweh’s prophet (the “great prophet” Moses) and that from the inception of the monarchy the kings, too, are subject to God’s prophets (notably Samuel)? Not that the prophets could coerce priests or kings, but they could (and did!) regularly call them to repentance in the strongest possible terms. And doesn’t that say something about how church-state relations should be configured? It is not that the church should rule the state, or the state the church, but rather that both should be subject to the Word of God in the mouth of His holy prophets.
“The family is the basic form of human community, combining civil and religious life under the leadership of a single patriarchal prophet, priest, and king.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 4.389)
“Unbelief is the sin that doth most easily beset us: there are remainders of it in the best; and it is at the bottom of our many sinful departures from God. Even those who can say, Lord, I believe, have reason to add, help my unbelief. Now, I say, it would be a special help against unbelief, to consider our baptism, especially our infant baptism. . . .
“When we are tempted to distrust God, to question his good-will, and to think hardly of him, then let us recollect the covenant of grace, and our baptism, the seal thereof. Consider [that] by baptism we were admitted into covenant relations. God did then make over himself to us, to be our God; and take us to himself, to be his people; and shall we then ever distrust him? Relation is a great encouragement to dependence. See Ps. xxi. 2. My refuge, my fortress, my God, and then follows, in him will I trust; compare Ps. xviii. 2. As, by baptism, God hath hold of us when we depart from him, so, by baptism, we have hold of God when he seems to withdraw from us. . . . Use this as an anchor of the soul in every storm; and whatever happens, keep hold of thy covenant relation to God: even then, when he seems to forsake, yet (as Christ upon the cross) maintain this post against all the assaults of Satan, that he is my God; my God for all this; and happy the people whose God is the Lord.” (Matthew Henry, A Treatise on Baptism)
“Let us help ourselves and use those whom it pleases God to give us, but let us realise that they are testimonies and pledges of God’s goodness and of the paternal care that he has for us, and that we must always look above them. So when we have people who, we recognise, are helpful to us, let us be aware that they are like the hands of God, so that we will definitely sense that he wants to be our Father. Then when he removes from us what he has given us, this attitude will cause us always to look to him. So let us learn also to be so grounded on a good conscience that we will expect nothing except from the good will of God. So when we live on this basis, even when we become very weak again, when we are all but dead, there will certainly always be something to revive us.” (John Calvin, Sermons on 2 Samuel, translated by Douglas Kelly)
A beautiful example of Trinitarian hymnody from the Reformation period:
Lord, keep us steadfast in thy Word
And curb the Turks’ and papists’ sword
Who Jesus Christ thine only Son
Fain would tumble from off thy throne.
Proof of thy might, Lord Christ, afford,
For thou of all the lords art Lord;
Thine own poor Christendom defend
That it may praise thee without end.
God Holy Ghost, who comfort art,
Give to thy folk on earth one heart;
Stand by us breathing our last breath,
Lead us to life straight out of death.
(Martin Luther, 1541)
“A religious fellowship in which the differentiating relations between Father, Son, and Spirit had ceased to shape ritual and theology would no longer be the church, no matter how otherwise dedicated it was to one or another Christian value or slogan.” (Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, vol. 1)
I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what’s wrong with my generation. Recently I discovered a most unlikely ally in Mark Ames, who wrote an online piece bitterly decrying Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.” The root of Ames’s bitterness is summarized in this paragraph:
“I’ve come to the conclusion that this has been the Great Dream of my generation: to position ourselves in such a way that we’re beyond mockery. To not look stupid. That’s the biggest crime of all – looking stupid. That’s why they’ve turned Stewart into a demigod, because he knows how to make the other guys look really stupid, and if you’re on the same team as Stewart, you’re on the safe side of the mockery, rather than dangerously vulnerable to mockery.”
Bells went off when I read this. The constant difficulty one faces when dealing with the “post-everythings” of my generation is that they mock (in ways ranging from skilled to imbecilic) all things concerning which they are “post,” but it’s well-nigh impossible to pin them down on what they stand for, because they stand for something only so long as it’s something concerning which the in-crowd of mockers is not yet laughingly “post.” We’re a generation defined by ridicule, but we’re impotent to present anything constructive, because as soon as something is constructed, someone starts laughing at it, and we’re petrified of identification with anything the scoffer-elites are laughing at. We’re neutered by our own fear; there is no other word for it. We’re cowards who can’t withstand the faintest breeze of mockery. Which is crippling, for the simple reason that nothing today – absolutely nothing – is beyond the reach of pillorying. Tell me one serious thing Jon Stewart can’t make look foolish. I defy you. I mean, the guy is freaking good at it.
It so happened that around the time I read Ames’s post, I also read this from Psalm 69:
“For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me. When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach. When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them. I am the talk of those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.”
Let us be clear. Jon Stewart & Co. would laugh at Jesus, if He were walking around today. They would laugh at Abraham if he were alive, and Moses, and David, and the prophets and apostles. They laugh, and will continue to laugh, at every believer whose heart is poured out in this psalm. They laugh because they don’t believe in anything enough to stand for it. That kind of belief, after all, requires courage. It requires conviction bloody but unbowed. It requires iron in the soul. It requires sacrifice. It requires one to embrace looking like a fool; it requires one to accept misunderstanding, rolling eyes, mockery, and scorn. It requires everything one despairs to find among post-everythings.
My hat is off to Ames. He and I wouldn’t agree on much politically, I suspect; but we could raise a glass together to all those who have understood, even in this generation, that “to move the world you must have a place to stand.”