At the risk of seeming a bit verbose, I humbly submit the following:
- Evil exists. In the classic Christian worldview, sin, death, disease, the devil, and the like, are real. All of humanity and all of creation is affected by this. There is not one aspect of life that has not been affected by what we in the church call “original sin.” Until Christ comes to restore all things, we should expect evil things to happen. Now, that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a pursuit of truth, justice, mercy, etc…, but we should be prepared to be disappointed if we are looking for “heaven on earth.” No political candidate or political system, no amount of lawmaking, court decisions, media awareness, dialogue, educational system, economic opportunity, or the like, will solve or eliminate the problem of evil. The purpose of government is to restrain evil, promote the good, and protect the life and property of its citizens. As Chesterton said, “Once abolish the God, and the government becomes god.” Looking to flawed people in a flawed system to fix a flawed world will always result in despair and disappointment. The ultimate solution to evil is found in a manger, a cross, and an empty tomb. However, we do have a duty to expose, confront, and at times, eliminate evil when it appears for the love of neighbor, especially from the “kingdom” that wields the sword (government).
- Worldviews matter. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? What should we do about it? Can you answer these questions in a coherent and systematic way, and by doing so, account for what is observed in the world? How you answer these questions will lead you to better understandings of things like natural law, justice, freedom, the purpose and role of government, etc…If we can’t agree on the answers to these questions, how can we agree on what things like truth, justice, or virtue are? If we have very different understandings and definitions of these words, our conversations will be nonsensical. If you believe that all of the world should be under the banner of Islam, your answers to these questions will be different than one who holds to classic Christianity, or secular progressivism for that matter. Beliefs have consequences, and not all beliefs or actions are equal or beneficial.
- We are living in an era of both transition and dissolution. For centuries, western civilization operated under certain assumptions about the universe, man, the rule of law, and the pursuit of truth and virtue. These assumptions, such as a created and rational universe, a fallen but redeemable humanity, and the pursuit of objective good and beauty, are no longer held by most, and in fact are under attack in some quarters, and have been for several generations. When this happens in a culture, there are “growing pains” or perhaps “death pains,” and a constant sense of anxiety and uncertainty. As communal beings, all us of crave a sense of “connectedness” and purpose. By removing the foundations, people fall and flail and lash out to try and grasp at something that makes sense and creates a form of cultural coherence. Because the west has emphasized a sort of “privatization” principle about anything important (keep your religion to yourself and only on Sundays), what used to unite communities is now a pariah. Rather than a common language, music, history, religion, virtue, calendar, etc…we now are supposed to find our identity in amorphous principles of “democracy,” “rights,” or “equality” without any sort of coherent worldview and culture. In fact, trying to create or preserve such a culture is considered “intolerant” or “bigoted” or (insert-prefix)-phobic. So we want the benefits of thousands of years of cumulative western civilization, but reject the reasons for that civilization. And we wonder why we are anxious, confused, and divided? Should we wonder why we can’t seem to confront the rise of “political Islam” or “Jihadists” in any systematic way?
- The good news is that this level of cultural chaos and volatility is simply unsustainable. Bad ideas, bad decisions, and bad philosophies will die, and the truth will have its day. However, it is certainly possible that things could get much worse before there is any sort of “revival” or cultural renewal. In history, this sometimes came because of significant war or complete economic collapse (often both). While we can remain hopeful and prayerful that we can avoid something of this magnitude, we need to honest and realistic about the challenges ahead. So let’s start working on our worldviews as we confront evil, pursue truth, and winsomely present that worldview and culture that made Western Civilization such a potent force for good.
And finally, remember that in the end, a broken world isn’t our final destination anyway, since we also believe in “the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come” (Nicene Creed).
(This post has now been updated with statements from the Assembly of Eastern Orthodox Bishops, Conservative Baptists of America, Church of the Nazarene, Evangelical Free Church of America, and Anglican Church in America).
As most of you are aware, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 decision to legalize same-sex marriage and force all 50 states to do the same. What follows is a collection official statements across the different traditions of Christianity, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelical/Protestant, who maintain a high view of Scripture, the living tradition, and “mere Christianity.” This is to demonstrate that the Christian consensus on the issues of life, marriage, and human flourishing will not and cannot change, and that any confusion on this issue is not because of the teachings of the church, but rather the “over-culture” trying to impose itself on the church. The teachings of the…
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(This post has now been updated with statements from the Assembly of Eastern Orthodox Bishops, Conservative Baptists of America, Church of the Nazarene, Evangelical Free Church of America, and Anglican Church in America).
As most of you are aware, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 decision to legalize same-sex marriage and force all 50 states to do the same. What follows is a collection official statements across the different traditions of Christianity, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelical/Protestant, who maintain a high view of Scripture, the living tradition, and “mere Christianity.” This is to demonstrate that the Christian consensus on the issues of life, marriage, and human flourishing will not and cannot change, and that any confusion on this issue is not because of the teachings of the church, but rather the “over-culture” trying to impose itself on the church. The teachings of the church are timeless, because they reflect the one who is timeless!
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops “Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.”
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod “A one-person majority of the U.S. Supreme Court got it wrong – again. Some 40 years ago, a similarly activist court legalized the killing of children in the womb. That decision has to date left a wake of some 55 million Americans dead. Today, the Court has imposed same-sex marriage upon the whole nation in a similar fashion. Five justices cannot determine natural or divine law. Now shall come the time of testing for Christians faithful to the Scriptures and the divine institution of marriage (Matthew 19:3–6), and indeed, a time of testing much more intense than what followed Roe v. Wade.”
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod “Lord God, we are grieved that an institution of our government has taken an action which undermines the precious institution of marriage in our country. More important, it is an action which takes a wonderful gift that you created and distorts it into something you, the Giver, never intended. We pray today for our country, asking that you would have mercy on a nation that has once again ignored your Word and will. We pray for our churches and schools, asking that you would give them courage, wisdom, and strength to continue to hold true to your teachings. And we ask that you would bless all the members of our synod with a continuing commitment to hold fast to the truth that you have taught us, no matter what kinds of pressure or temptations this sinful world places on us.”
North American Lutheran Church
Evangelical Lutheran Synod
Anglican Church in North America “The Archbishop and Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America have received the recent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States of America and are deeply grieved by the stark departure from God’s revealed order. We are concerned for the inevitable results from this action to change the legal understanding of marriage and family life.
While this decision grieves us, God’s truth and the goodness of the order established in creation have not been changed. The kingdom of God cannot be shaken. We pray with confidence that God will reveal his glory, love, goodness, and hope to the world through his Church as we seek to follow him in faith and obedience.”
Anglican Church in America
Russian Orthodox “Today’s Supreme Court ruling makes homosexual marriage legal in the United States. It should be made clear that under no circumstances will the Church recognize homosexual marriage, accord it the status of traditional marriage, or bless such unions. However, this is not to state that those who have entered into such a union have stepped beyond a line from which they cannot return. The Church has always strongly condemned heresies (such as Novatianism, Montanism, and Donatism) which deny the possibility of repentance for those having committed certain sins. It is crucial that our clergymen not shy away from the position of the Church as regards the sinfulness of homosexuality and other unnatural expressions of the God-given gift of human sexuality – but it is also crucial that such statements be made with love and with a corresponding invitation to repentance and reconciliation with the Church.”
Presbyterian Church in America
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Christian and Missionary Alliance
Southern Baptist Convention
Assemblies of God
National Association of Evangelicals
Council on Biblical Manhood and WomanhoodConservative Baptists of America
Evangelical Free Church of America
More to follow…
This Pentecost, it is worthwhile remembering one of the chief servants of the church who defended and helped establish the biblical teaching of the Holy Spirit.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have read this treatise twice, once in the older, Anglo-Catholic Victorian translation, and once (most recently) in this translation. This book is the classic exposition of why we can call the Holy Spirit ‘God’. St Basil begins with a liturgical complaint, which he deals with using all of his grammatical skills, then moves along to demonstrate through the Scriptures using logic as well as the life of the Church, why it is that we can call the Holy Spirit ‘God’ alongside God the Father and God the Son.
In today’s milieu, unless you’re a Oneness Pentecostal or a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness or a Christadelphian, the divinity of the Holy Spirit is practically a non-issue. And, in the decades since the Charismatic Renewal came upon mainline Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, the logic parsing and…
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As many of you may already be aware, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast this past Thursday, a tradition of U.S. presidents going back to President Eisenhower in the 1950’s. The Prayer Breakfast itself is a rather interesting subject on its own, since it seems to be a sort of pan-Christian, and perhaps even pan-religious group, with the Dali Lama receiving invites along with social gospel liberal evangelicals like Jim Wallis. In other words, it is a rather large tent with a variety of different Christian and even non-Christian groups represented. This means that to expect orthodox Christianity from it is a bit of a stretch. While it is true that historically Christians (especially evangelicals) have been the most prominent backers and speakers, there has always been a sort of pseudo-civic religion aspect to the entire experience. This also implies that in an era in which we worship pluralism (everyone is basically the same, which goes for religions also), and “tolerance” is the buzz-word of popular culture, orthodox Christians in the U.S. should not exactly be shocked when things are said and spoken there that either make little sense or are typical of the age in which we live.
Enter President Barack Obama, who professes a form of Christianity, was raised in an Islamic madrassa for a time in Indonesia, and seems to be aligned with the typical academic “elite” view of social gospel Christianity that is professed in Ivy League divinity schools and the like. When you create the environment above with President Obama and mix them together, you get statements like this:
“Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ…” Barack Obama, National Prayer Breakfast, 2015
Now this statement followed a listing of a litany of crimes committed by Islamic hardline groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and the like. Because of this context, it seems (however rightly or wrongly) that Obama is comparing ISIS and Boko Haram to the medieval crusaders as some sort of “corruptive” equivalence. Not surprisingly, the response from the blogopshere and talk radio was swift. Some of this response was of course a bit over the top and full of “red meat” for certain constitutes. This “shock” really shouldn’t be much of one, since this sort of thinking has been dominant in post-Enlightenment and anti-Christian circles (and even some Christian ones) since 18th century France and in Protestant polemics against Rome. And this is key, as Obama’s comment’s here seem to simply come out of the typical historical and sociological ignorance that is reflected in popular culture:
Part of the problem here is that the president knows little, perhaps nothing, about the Crusades or the Inquisition. He is not alone in that, of course. Medieval historians have long lamented the gulf between fact and popular perceptions when it comes to these events. The Crusades were not brutal wars of colonial oppression or zealous attempts to spread Christianity by the sword. The First Crusade was called in 1095 by Pope Urban II in response to desperate appeals from the Christians of the Middle East, who had lately been conquered and continued to be persecuted by the Turks. And these were only the latest in more than four centuries of attacks on Christian peoples by Muslim powers. At some point Christianity as a faith and as a culture had to defend itself or else be subsumed by Islam. The work of the Crusader, who put his life at risk and underwent enormous expense, was to save Christian people and restore Christian lands. This was no perversion of Christianity. Christ had commanded his followers to be like the Good Samaritan, hurrying to bind up the wounds of their brother who had been robbed and beaten. This was the same Christ who said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” That is how Crusaders honestly saw themselves following their Christian faith.
– Dr. Thomas F. Madden, St. Louis University, Medieval History department
ABC News quotes a different Crusades historian in addition to Madden:
(Thomas) Asbridge said he doesn’t have a problem with the president reminding the world that the Christian Church “advocated violence, and at times even encouraged its adherents to engage in warfare” but to suggest a causal link between ISIS and the distant medieval phenomenon of the Crusades is “grounded in the manipulation and misrepresentation of historical evidence.”
Of course we could add quotes about the Crusades in general from other historians and sociologists of religion, many of whom have been quoted on this site (See here and here). The point here is that in spite of the good work done by many, the Crusades still remain as one of the most woefully misunderstood events in the history of the world (the Inquisition a close second). When the presumed leader of the western world, while dealing with an almost weekly account of some act done by ISIS or Boko Haram, seems to use historical ignorance to make some sort of relativistic statement about religion, we have work to do.
As this Christmastide begins to end with the last two days of Christmas, listening to the last two parts of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (if you already haven’t done so) is a great way to finish the season. This being said, here are the last two albums (and some runners-up for your consideration) for days 11 and 12 of Christmastide.
Day 11 (Jan. 4th): Dream Season: The Christmas Harp, Yolanda Kondonassis. This album is a favorite for members of my family (my wife and son), and contains some beautiful music. It does have a rather interesting “vibe” when the percussion accompanist plays along, but overall the quality is quite good, especially considering Kondonassis is one of the world’s great harpists. The harp has always been associated with “heavenly” or “ancient” music, so having an album of such music for the end of Christmastide is more than appropriate. You can purchase the album here, and a couple of the selections are available on YouTube as part of a different collection (same recording however):
Day 12 (Jan. 5th): A Festival of Carols in Brass, Philadelphia Brass Ensemble. To complete our survey of excellent Christmas music, this collection is a bit of a modern classic. This is festive brass to the max, with mostly straightforward arrangements of the vast majority of what most people think are the “normal” carols and hymns of Christmastide. The playing is uniformly of a high quality, and the atmosphere is “festive” in a good way. While free on YouTube, this is a great addition to your physical collection as well.
As always, any feedback on this series is welcome. I hope all of you enjoyed at least a few selections from “Music for Christmastide.” Here are some runners-up as a bonus below:
Joy to the World (Royal Philharmonic/London Symphony)
Classical Christmas (Lumiere String Quartet)
Songs of Angels (Robert Shaw Chorus)
Christmas Carols (Andrew Parrot, Taverner Consort)
A String Quartet Christmas (Arturo Delmoni)
O Come All Ye Faithful (King’s College)
Carols from Trinity (Choir of Trinity College)
The Glorious Sound of Christmas (Ormandy, Philadelphia Orchestra)
(Part 5 of 6 for Music of Christmastide)
As we continue in the New Year, the last few days of Christmastide are upon us. If you are listening to the Bach Christmas Oratorio, now would be a good time to acquaint yourselves with parts 5 and 6 (involving the visit of the Magi).
Day 9 (Jan. 2nd): “Salvation is Created” (and other works) by Pavel Tchesnokov. While originally intended as a communion hymn, this work is very appropriate for Christmastide, and is often done, either by a symphonic band or choir (even men’s choir). Why is this work appropriate? One, it is one of the most beautiful simple choral works one can hear, the text is beautiful, and it is a good introduction to the huge output of Russian Orthodox choral music in the years before communism. In fact, Tchesnokov wrote hundreds of sacred works, but most were suppressed or hidden because of the Soviet authorities. Here is the text and a video:
Salvation is made in the midst of the earth, O God. Alleluia
Day 19 (Jan. 3rd): Christmas Organ Music (performed by Kevin Bowyer). This is a fantastic album with the “king of instruments” playing a variety of familiar Christmas melodies, along with some compositions that might be unfamiliar. A hidden gem is Brahms’ “Es ist ein ros’ Entsprungen” (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming), in which he looks back towards Bach after a career of late Romantic classicism. The album is relatively cheap and can be found for download here. The entire album is also free on YouTube!
The first 6 days have been filled mostly with actual “thorough-composed” works for Christmastide, such as Cantatas for church, oratorios, and the like. For these next two days, I have selected 2 albums that are more “collections” or “compilations” of carols, done in a tasteful way. Of course, you should still be listening to the Bach Christmas Oratorio throughout the 12 days!
Day 7 (Dec. 31st): Noels & Carols From The Olde World, by Apollo’s Fire. This album is extremely charming, with some great takes on tunes such as “Fum, Fum, Fum,” “I Saw Three Ships,” and many others. This entire album is actually free on YouTube thanks to Apollo’s Fire, one of the great American period instrument ensembles, based in Cleveland. If you don’t know their work, now is as good of time as any, starting with this evocative album.
Day 8 (Jan. 1st): Christmas Star: Carols for the Christmas Season, Rutter and the Cambridge Singers. This album is beautifully done, even if it is a bit of your typical “warm and fuzzy choir” album. Some of the arrangements are quite good, especially the Baroque-ish take on “Joy to the World” in the style of Handel, and “O Come All Ye Faithful” is quite powerful. If you like Christmas carols, and/or the English choral tradition, you can sing along with much of this album, as my wife and I did on an 8 hour car trip one Christmastide. These arrangements are exceedingly popular in the English speaking world, especially at orchestra Christmas concerts (been there done that). The entire album is fairly inexpensive and can purchased here. Below is the aforementioned “Joy to the World” which is probably my favorite arrangement of that hymn/carol.
Special Note (Bonus listening): January 1st is also the Holy Name Day and Circumcision of Jesus in the Church Calendar, and J.S. Bach wrote an outstanding cantata (of course) to celebrate this day: BWV 190, “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied.” Here is a translation, and enjoy the festive trumpets!
Day 5 (Dec. 29th): “Von Himmel Hoch,” by Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn’s chief claim to fame for Christmas music is the tune for “Hark the Herald,” but this cantata, heavily influenced by Bach, is much more intentional on his part. In fact, the “Hark” tune actually comes from a secular cantata! Most English speaking Christians know “Von Himmel Hoch” as “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” and/or, “Welcome to Earth, O Noble Guest,” found in most Lutheran (and some Anglican) hymnals.
“From heaven above to earth I come
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing…”
Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
Thou com’st to share my misery;
What thanks shall I return to Thee?”
Here is the opening chorus:
Here is a link to another disc that contains Mendelssohn’s “Magnificat” (Mary’s song) and other related works in addition to this one.
Day 6 (Dec. 30th): Christmas Oratorio (Oratorio de Noël), Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns is an interesting case, in that while he played organ in churches throughout his life (and was considered one of the greatest organists of his day), and wrote pieces such as this, he himself was fashionably agnostic (in the 19th century French academy that is) about faith. Yet early in his career, he composed this beautiful work, with the heritage of church music before him and the liturgical heritage of the Roman church in his ears. The prelude is in the style of Bach-Romanticized (a staunch Lutheran), and the choral music is very much French Catholic. So here we have a composer writing a beautiful work for the Christ-Child fully within the stream of Western music but not believing it? Or perhaps he did and then left the faith? Either way, this music is certainly a worthy addition to your listening during Christmastide.
For part 2 of our series on Music for Christmastide, we will cover December 27th and 28th, or Days 3 and 4 of the 12 Days of Christmas. As was mentioned in part 1, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio can and should be used throughout the 12 days in addition to the individual pieces here. Happy listening!
Day 3(Dec. 27th): Mass for Christmas Day, Praetorius. . This piece is a fascinating look at how Christmas was celebrated in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, with “hold-overs” from the medieval era with some distinctly Lutheran “flavor.” In particular, the recording done by Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort is quite good, and if you have good sound available to you, the acoustics inside the church give a nice “authentic” effect. Listen for some rousing renditions of “In Dulci Jubilo” (Good Christian Men Rejoice) and other familiar tunes. “Rousing” and “festive” while still being reverent.
Day 4 (Dec. 28th): O Magnum Mysterium (and other works), Victoria. If you have yet to make your acquaintance with the glories of Renascence church music, this piece by Victoria serves this purpose better than many others I can think of. Victoria was a pastor/priest in addition to being a brilliant composer, arguably the best in Spain during his time. Watch (or just listen) to this beautiful rendition by The Sixteen, and contemplate this text, translated from Latin:
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
In addition to this Motet, Victoria also composed an entire liturgy, which can be found with more music related to the birth of the Savior on this disc. Listen to the familiar “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (Glory to God in the Highest) which comes from the Angels at Christmas, but is also sung every time the liturgy is performed in the West (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican).
Days 5 and 6 to follow…comments on your experiences with these pieces are of course welcome!