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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 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…
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.
As one who often speaks about reclaiming and restoring the Classic Christian heritage of the West, the subject of Christian Holy days and seasons often comes up. One of the ways the church and its people have expressed the joy of seasons such as Christmas and Easter is of course through music. Not just any music, or the pabulum you hear at the department store or on the “Adult contemporary” station, but actual art music that attempts (and I would argue, sometimes succeeds) at reaching the transcendent. With this in mind, I am compiling a sort of “playlist” for the 12 days of Christmastide, and if you observed Advent (like many Western Christians do), you should not be “burned out” like much of the rest of the world. So here is part 1 of my “Music for Christmastide” series.
Through all 12 Days: Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. There are several reasons for this. One, Bach is the master when it comes to music with a message (rarely if ever equaled), the piece is deep and stands up to many hearings (unlike most Christmas music), and the work itself is a compilation of 6 different sections gathered together. Part 1 is for Christmas Day, Part 2 is for the Shepherds (Dec. 26th), Part 3 is for the adoration of the Shepherds (Dec. 27th), Part 4 is for New Year’s Day (Jesus’ circumcision and name day), Part 5 is for the Journey of the Magi (First Sunday in January), and Part 6 is for Epiphany, the visit of the wise men, and the end of Christmastide. So in other words, this is a piece that you can “live with” for the entire Christmastide season. Amazingly, there is an excellent video on YouTube with period instruments and English subtitles in which the applause breaks up the 6 sections. I highly commend it:
Day 1 (Dec. 25th):Handel’s Messiah, Part I. Even though this piece is ubiquitous during Advent and Christmastide, it really is a great piece of music, especially when your sole experience of it is not “sing alongs”. Handel was master melodist and so effective that Mozart famously said “when he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt!” Handel was also Beethoven’s favorite composer, and Haydn was so moved by Messiah that it was an inspiration for his late great oratorios (The Creation and The Seasons). Part I gets you into the Biblical text in English, and demonstrates musically how the Old Testament is about Christ. This is perfect for the contemplation of the text. My favorite recording is with McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort, but this video is infectiously energetic:
Day 2 (Dec. 26th): Italian Christmas Concertos. In the Roman church during the 17th and 18th centuries, it became common practice for famous composers of the time to write “Christmas concertos,” so-named because the concluding movement was often a “pastorale” which evoked the peace and serenity of the Holy Nativity, and the performances were often given during Christmastide. Corelli’s is probably the most famous, but Manfredini, Vivaldi, Torelli, and many others contributed to this genre. There several collections of these on the market like this one, and the YouTube playlist below should provide a good taste.
Day’s 3 and 4 soon to come…
Pastor Jordan Cooper, a good historical theologian in the Lutheran tradition, responds here to an article by the classical Reformed scholar Peter Leithart entitled, “The End of Protestantism.” One of the reasons I have occasionally identified myself as an “Anglo-Lutheran Evangelical Catholic” (who is currently a confessional Lutheran) is for the very reasons detailed by both Cooper and Leithart, namely, that Protestantism at its worst is simply a reactionary negative theology, and goes about things with the attitude, “the catholics (always an implied dirty word) do it, so we should avoid it like the plague.” It is as if the church disappeared for over 1,000 years, and that while Luther gets some credit, “he didn’t go far enough.”
What gets thrown out instead is the faith and practices, some of which date back to the apostolic era, of the church catholic that everyone both east and west is supposedly a part of. In the words of Cooper, “Luther’s Reformation kept the traditional Roman Mass with some necessary changes, while Zwingli rejected the traditional Roman service. While Calvin certainly held to a liturgical form of worship, the insistence on the regulative principle of worship essentially cut off the Reformed from continuity of worship with the patristic and medieval church.” I sensed this sort of “cutting off” in my youth, and this started somewhat oddly, with a love for the music of Mozart and Haydn and reading the liturgical texts they set to music. Is it wrong to say/sing “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy?” I would hope not. Is it wrong to say, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us?” In the words of Paul, “God forbid!” (KJV). Yet there are some in the large blanket of “evangelical Protestantism” that say exactly that, all in the name of “not being catholic.” I encourage all of you who may not be comfortable with the continuity of the classic Christian faith to read both articles:
Thoughts and Comments welcome of course!
With the country of Egypt constantly moving in and out of the 24 hour news cycle, due to the political and cultural unrest that has taken place since the so-called “Arab Spring,” the state of the Christians in Egypt has been mostly overlooked. Occasionally one might hear of a church being burnt, or that Coptic leaders are in hiding, but most of the narrative is about the Muslim Brotherhood’s democratically elected leader trying to Islamicize the country, and the military establishment not agreeing and removing him from power. So what of the Christians?
First, it is important to remember how ancient Christianity in Egypt actually is. Most church traditions believe that St. Mark, the companion of St. Peter, was the first major missionary to Egypt, specifically to the city of Alexandria. As the Christian faith increased, it became the majority of the population sometime in the 200’s-300’s, especially in the cities. In other words, Egypt was evangelized in the apostolic age, likely with eye-witnesses to Christ himself involved, and was Christian for several hundred years. Only with the invasion of Islam did this change, and even then after about 200 years.
One of the five ancient patriarchates (regional centers of Christianity with administrative and dispute control) still exists in Alexandria (both for the Copts and the Greeks), and the birth of Christian monasticism took place in the Egyptian desert. Great fathers of the church such as Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, and Anthony the Great, all of which are honored throughout Christendom, worked in Christ’s service in Egypt. The native ethnic Egyptians, known as Copts, who rejected the fourth council (for a variety of reasons), have become an ethno-religious group of somewhere around 10 percent of the population. Of course Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and tiny amount of Evangelicals/Protestants are also present.
Since the removal of King Farouk in 1952, with the rise of Arab nationalism and a resurgent militant Islam, the Copts (and other Christian minorities) have been facing increasing marginalization, violence, and other forms of persecution. Because the Christians are seen (sometimes accurately) to support the secularist military (for good reason as you will see), and because militant Islam has always been antagonistic to historic Christianity, the Christians are now the scapegoats for the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups. Jihad has been called against them in some cases. Here are some examples of what has been going on:
Coptic Christian Shot Dead in Egypt “A Coptic Christian girl walking home from a Bible class at her church was shot and killed last week in Cairo by an unidentified gunman…”
40 Churches Burned, Looted, or Destroyed in Egypt “40 churches – 10 Catholic and 30 Orthodox, Protestant and Greek-Orthodox – have been looted or burned, if not totally destroyed.”
Stop the Persecution, by Michael Coren (Toronto Sun) “You see, Christianity pre-dates Islam by 600 years, and Egypt was a majority Christian country long before Islam existed. The attack on the church was a clear statement to the 15% of Egyptians who refuse to abandon Christ. “You do not belong, you never existed.”
Attacks in Egypt on Christian Churches and Business (Washington Post, pictures)
3 Nuns Paraded like ‘Prisoners of War;’ 2 Christians Killed; 58 Churches, Properties Attacked in Egypt “Islamists burned down a Christian school, paraded three nuns on the streets like “prisoners of war,” and sexually abused two other female staff even as at least 58 attacks on Christians and their property were reported across Egypt over the last four days. At least two Christians have died in the attacks.”
So those of you who are Christians, pray for your brothers and sisters in Egypt. Spread this news around, so that it cannot be ignored. Remember the heritage of those who have gone before you from the ancient church in North Africa, and maybe read some Athanasius! Another course of action may be to contact your governmental representatives, as this “Breakpoint” article recommends, to increase pressure on those who are ignoring this.
Kyrie Eleison. Christus Regnat
As part of my continuing work on the Crusades documentary, here is another printed section from the documentary dealing with another common crusader myth The first of this series can be found here. This time, we look at the idea that the crusades were the first European colonies.
Much nonsense has been written about the crusader states in the modern era, including the idea that these states were the west’s first colonial venture. For example, this idea can be found in the writings of English apostate nun and religious syncretist Karen Armstrong, who writes that these states “were our first colonies”. This view is also common amongst historians influenced by Marxism and modern economic theories, in which the crusaders took advantage of the locals, and those who stayed in the Holy Land were “landless younger sons” motivated by greed and land-lust. There are several reasons why such ideas have no basis in reality.
The modern conventional definition of colonialism is when one society forces another into an unfair economic situation which causes the stronger society to profit. This is done by direct political and military control of the weaker territory. This requires a class of rulers from the host country enforcing the arrangement. If this is the idea that most have of colonialism, a 19th and early 20th century phenomenon viewed through a Marxist lens, then the crusader states were nothing of the sort. Only in the loosest definition of the word colony is this even possible, in which the word seems synonymous with the word settlement. If this is the case, then the western Christians merely took a colony from the Muslim Turks, who were also a ruling minority. If this is colonialism, then every conquest is colonialism, and the crusaders as rulers were remarkably benevolent by medieval standards.
In addition, the crusader states were never beholden to European powers, and instead functioned as completely autonomous and independent states. As far as economic exploitation, it could instead be argued that the transfer of wealth went from Europe to the Middle East, meaning Europe was the colony! Regardless, accusing the crusaders of launching the first colonial venture is at best ignorant, and is perhaps intentionally malicious.
Who Stayed and Why? How Did they Govern?
Since the majority of crusaders left the Holy Land after fulfilling their crusading vow, and since the colonial and economic advantage arguments fail, the question then becomes, who stayed and why? In a manner similar to the recruitment and execution of the crusade, those who stayed were attached to great lords and their large extended household. When Godfrey of Bouillon was named the “Defender of the Holy Sepulcher,” the fighting men, aristocrats, and others attached to him also stayed, just like they joined him on crusade. Instead of landless lesser sons, the significant decisions to stay were almost always the heads of households, who due to their wealth had no economic reason to stay. These decisions are better explained by the religious idealism of the crusade leaders, and the strong bonds of love and honor that existed between lords and vassals, or patrons and clients.
The western Christians who remained in the Levant never amounted to much more than 10 percent of the population. The rest was made up the majority Muslims of both the Sunni and Shiite traditions, with sizable minorities of Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholics, and Jews. Even though the crusader states were under constant threat from the Muslim world around them, with raids and robberies common, the local Muslim population seems to have been quite content under Christian rule. There was no attempt at forcible conversion, and Muslims were still allowed to worship, which contradicts those who think the crusades were about finding converts or a new religious market. Taxes were lower in the crusader states than in the Muslim areas next door, and most Muslims peasants were allowed to keep their land and their trades. By also having a reputation for maintaining a just legal system, many Muslims found such an arrangement enormously tempting. As a Muslim pilgrim from Spain to Mecca writes, “(the Muslims) live in great comfort under the Franks; may Allah preserve us from such a temptation…(Muslims) are masters of their dwellings, and govern themselves as they wish. This is the case in all the territory occupied by the Franks.”