First, if you profess to be a Christian, check how many of the following points do you agree:
A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
Good people go to heaven when they die.
If you keep nodding your head and pretty much agree with all of the above, and that they do essentially describe your faith…. sorry, but that’s not biblical Christianity. It is a worldview labeled as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
Solution? Go back to the basics and relearn what true biblical Christianity is about. These are good places to start:
New City Catechism - A joint adult and children’s catechism consisting of 52 questions and answers adapted by Timothy Keller and Sam Shammas from the Reformation catechisms.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, there is the concept of “sin” (חַטָּאת), which means a mistake or an offense, and “transgression” (פֶּשַׁע), which means a willful act of rebellion in crossing some moral boundaries, but perhaps the most unknown and incomprehensible concept is “iniquity” (עָוֹן), which means being perverse, crooked or twisted.
With our “modern” sensibilities, we always want to find a cause, something culpable, so that we can explain and make sense of everything, and then exert our control over them, or we just wish that human nature is essentially good, only lacking understanding or being misunderstood, and we can prevent things from happening only if we communicated more, but I think we as a humanity are actually becoming more and more ignorant about the dark side of human nature. In comparison, the ancients are much more honest and real about who we actually are and can be.
As this blogger writes: “As a society, we cannot interpret the immoral actions of human beings solely by reference to neurology gone haywire, nor can we belittle the consequences of sinful actions by a empathetic deference to the sacredness of personal choice…. as Mahn brilliantly points out in his application of Kierkegaard to contemporary society, we must remember that sin is genuinely baffling (it is aporia), and we are all caught up in its web.”
Yes, the fundamental nature of sin and evil is aporia. It is chaotic and irrational. It is the exact opposite of order, goodness, and all that is sensible. Trying to figure it out is like trying to find a pattern in Pi. What we need is not understanding, but salvation instead.
What happened to the sparkle of hope I felt on the day of my ordination?
Why does nothing change unless I put my back into it?
Where did my feelings of resentment toward my congregation come from?
What happened to my prayer life?
When did I last read a decent book on theology, a book that pushed me, a book that changed how I think about God?
Do I really think another book on developing more pragmatic skills for ministry will turn things around?
Why am I always so tired?
… Even knowing what happened on the following day, if we remain stuck in the mood of Holy Saturday we have separated ourselves from the resurrection joy and hope of the Easter Lord. All we have is a huge burden to carry because at this point everything seems to be left up to us to do. It is little wonder, then, that we are always weary.
In the summer of 2006 the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams very helpfully identified three things that when held together make Anglicanism distinct from other Christian denominations and contribute to the essential character of our church. Other denominations share one or two of these things. What makes Anglicanism unique is the balanced presence of all three. They are:
A reformed commitment to the absolute priority of the Bible for deciding doctrine.
A catholic loyalty to the sacraments and the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons,
A habit of cultural sensitivity and intellectual flexibility that does not seek to close down unexpected questions too quickly.
These three points clearly linked to our reformation heritage, our catholic heritage, and our intellectual heritage nicely capture the core strength of the Anglican way of living out our Christian Faith.
So there we have it: a commitment, a loyalty, and a habit; three marks of Anglicanism. When these three elements are in balance we have Anglicanism. Problems within Anglicanism occur when they get out of balance.
Tension, tension, tension. I honestly feel a lot of tension and temptation to side with just one (or at most two) emphases above and dismiss the rest. However, my whole Regent education has taught me to embrace and hold the tension, because many important things in theology are not either/or but paradoxically held in great tension as both/and (e.g. three and one, divine and human, already but not yet, unity and diversity in the body of Christ…) Those who claim that they can resolve it easily and dismiss certain theologies or practices have no respect for the church’s history and the struggle of all the saints before us. It can also easily go down the slippery slope of heresy and schismatic moves.
I remember many years ago my mentor prophetically told me that he thinks Anglicanism suits me because it provides a nice bridle to a revolutionist at heart like me. Tension, tension, tension. Keep embracing and holding the tension in humility, admitting that we cannot resolve it until the day we meet the Lord.
Most expositions of Zechariah’s story in Luke 1:1-25 assume two things:
Zechariah prayed for a child and his prayer got answered.
His muteness was a punishment for his unbelief.
Last Sunday as I was listening to the sermon, I questioned these two traditional assumptions and came up with some new thoughts that deserve more investigation. Frankly, I haven’t done any further research yet, but I’d like to share my thoughts and see if anyone has any feedback.
First of all, nowhere says Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed for a son. We only know that they are righteous and blameless in front of God (1:6), and they are childless and well advanced in years (1:7). If Zechariah really prayed for a son, why would he be so surprised and doubtful of God’s ability when his prayer was answered (1:18)? Shouldn’t he be happy and praise God instead?
I think it’s much more likely that he DID NOT pray for a son, but prayed for what every faithful Jew would pray for in that context–the coming of the Messiah and God’s vindication for Israel. (Afterall, we know that he’s a righteous and blameless Jew serving in the priesthood.) What actually surprised him then, I think, was HOW God would achieve His plan, i.e. through a son, bore by his barren wife, to become the forerunner of the coming Messiah. That’s why he was a bit perplexed and doubtful of Gabriel’s message. I think this explanation is more logical and congruent to the context. So no, I don’t think they ever prayed for a son. They knew their condition (barrenness & old-age) and accepted it as their fate.
Most preachers would introduce the background of this story by saying that there was a famine of God’s word for almost 400 years (Amos 8:11). God stayed mute to His people for 400 years. I suddenly connected the dots and wondered if Zechariah’s muteness has anything to do with God’s muteness. Was it only a punishment for his unbelief, or more like a chance for him to experience what it is like to stay mute and be patient until the appointed time of the fulfillment of things? God stayed mute for 400 years. Zechariah stayed mute for 40 weeks. I don’t know, but I always think that God does not do things randomly without reason. If God wanted to punish Zechariah, he could do it a thousand ways differently. Why must it be muteness? There must be some connection between his muteness and God’s muteness prior to this event…
No matter what, the effect of Zechariah’s muteness was that this miracle caused him, first of all, to praise God when he opened his mouth (1:64), and more importantly, the people in all the hill country of Judea to start fearing God (1:65). So part of what John was supposed to do (1:17) was already accomplished through his father’s incident. Even punishments can have positive and constructive purposes.
So that’s what I thought. What do you think, my friends? Have you come across any commentaries that connect God’s muteness with Zechariah’s muteness? I’ll check out some Luke commentaries from the library tomorrow. Will see…
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV)