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A Prayer for Sunday (Leo the Great)

[This is a guest post by Michael Fletcher,  Th.M. student a Western Seminary.]

St. Leo the Great (ca. 391 – November 10, 461) helped identify Christ as One Divine person with two complete natures, human and divine. One of his letters, Leo’s Tome, was strongly influential at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. He also met Attila the Hun in 452 and helped ward off his invasion of Italy. And he officially became recognized as a Doctor of the Church in 1754. The Church is truly indebted to this servant of God.

This is listed as Sermon 1 and was preached on the day of Ordination. This is very much a prayer and an encouragement to the church to pray.

Let my mouth speak the praise of the Lord, and my breath and spirit, my flesh and tongue bless His holy Name. For it is a sign, not of a modest, but an ungrateful mind, to keep silence on the kindnesses of God: and it is very meet to begin our duty as consecrated pontiff with the sacrifices of the Lord’s praise. Because in our humility the Lord has been mindful of us and has blessed us: because He alone has done great wonders for me, so that your holy affection for me reckoned me present, though my long journey had forced me to be absent. Therefore I give and always shall give thanks to our God for all the things with which He has recompensed me. Your favorable opinion also I acknowledge publicly, paying you the thanks I owe, and thus showing that I understand how much respect, love and fidelity your affectionate zeal could expend on me who long with a shepherd’s anxiety for the safety of your souls, who have passed so conscientious a judgment on me, with absolutely no deserts of mine to guide you.

I entreat you, therefore, by the mercies of the Lord, aid with your prayers him whom you have sought out by your solicitations that both the Spirit of grace may abide in me and that your judgment may not change. May He who inspired you with such unanimity of purpose, vouch safe to us all in common the blessing of peace: so that all the days of my life being ready for the service of Almighty God, and for my duties towards you, I may with confidence entreat the Lord: Holy Father, keep in Your name those whom You have given me (John 17:11): and while you ever go on unto salvation, may my soul magnify the Lord (Luke 1:46), and in the retribution of the judgment to come may the account of my priesthood so be rendered to the just Judge that through your good deeds you may be my joy and my crown, who by your good will have given an earnest testimony to me in this present life.

By the grace of God, may our Church leaders have this heart of humility and may we pray this way for the them.

 

A Prayer for Sunday (Erasmus)

[The great Christian humanist, scholar, and Catholic reformer, Desiderius Erasmus, has a birthday coming up (October 26 or 28). So, today’s prayer comes from him.]

O Lord Jesus Christ,
you have said that you are the way, the truth, and the life.
Suffer us not to stray from you
…….who are the way,
nor to distrust you
…….who are the truth,
nor to rest in anything other than you,
…….who are the life.

Should we teach classes on how to speak Christianese? (Light from the Dark Ages, part 1)

Church is boring.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that from one of my high school students. Probe them a bit, though, and you’ll discover that the problem isn’t just that church isn’t exciting like a video game, an action movie, or a first date. Instead, the problem is often that they don’t understand what’s going on or what it has to do with “real life.” Listening to the songs and sermons, the language seems so odd, so removed from everyday life, that they struggle to understand why any of this matters.

And, like most of us, when faced with an hour or more of something they don’t really understand, they get bored.

And, if we’re honest, teenagers aren’t alone in this. Many people have a hard time understanding “church language.” Faced with words like “sanctify,” “redemption,” or, heaven forbid, “ebenezer,” they feel like they need their own personal translator just to keep track of what’s happening.

Indeed, some people have grown so accustomed to not understanding church language that they don’t even notice anymore. I’m sure I could drop “image of God” into a sermon and it wouldn’t even phase most people despite the fact that they probably have no idea what that phrase even means.

What do you do when the average person doesn’t understand the language of the church?

That is exactly the problem the church faced during its transition into the early middle ages. After the fall of the Roman empire in the West, the church had to deal with the fact that most people no longer spoke Latin, the official language used in all church services. In such a situation, what should the church do? Should it retain its traditional language, or should it try to translate itself into its new linguistic context?

In the early middle ages, the church opted to maintain its language. And, I think that we’re all aware of at least some of the consequences. Few people ever learned Latin, meaning that they often had very little idea of what was taking place in the service. And, as a result, the worship service often became something that the priest did for the people, rather than something that the people actively participated in. Indeed, regular attendance at church services declined significantly as people came to think that even their presence was unnecessary.

When we choose not to translate the language of the church, we risk alienating God’s people from God’s worship.

But, what about the other option? It’s easy to criticize the church for making what looks like an apparently obvious mistake. Why continue worshiping in a language that people don’t understand? But, what if the church had chosen differently? Suppose that it decided to recognize its new context and translate its worship into the various languages of the people. Although I think this would have been a good idea, we should recognize that the church had good reasons for concern.

  1. Something always gets lost in translation. Just ask a translator. It’s never quite possible to capture everything when you move from one language to another. And, when you’re talking about important truths, losing something along the way is never a good idea.
  2. The church risks its “catholicity.” The early church was deeply concerned to emphasize that regardless of what part of the world you are in, you are still part of the one church of Jesus Christ. That is the church “catholic” (i.e. the church in its unity). And, for them, common worship practices and a common worship language were powerful and visible declarations of our Christian unity.
  3. You may end up with a lowest-common-denominator Christianity. If our focus is on what the “average person” is able to understand, and if our goal is to make sure that our worship makes sense to that person, do we not run the risk of “lowering the bar” so much that we lose some of the depth and substance of Christian worship?

So, faced with a difficult situation, the early medieval church had two choices, both of which came with significant risks.

And, both sets of risks are worth keeping in mind as we deal with a similar situation today. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we too struggle with a “church language” that most average people find hard to understand. What will we do?

  1. Will we choose like the medieval church to retain our language, convinced that it conveys important theological truth and maintains our connection to one another and to the broader Christian tradition? If we choose this path, we need to understand that we’ve got our work cut out for us. We must do the hard work of educating our congregations to understand that language, or we risk alienating them from the worship life of the community, leading them to grow frustrated, disconnected, and bored. And, we should also recognize that the tide flows against us in this task as the biblical/theological knowledge of the average person today continues to recede.
  2. Or, will we choose to translate our worship into the language of “the people”? Down this road likes the possibility of greater engagement and understanding. But, I’ve attended worship serves at many churches who opt for this path, and we should also be aware that this can be a road that leads to a theologically shallow spirituality that tries to develop in isolation from the broader life and language of God’s people through time.

As with most difficult decisions, I don’t think a simple either/or will suffice; the truth certainly awaits us somewhere in the middle. Our task is to recognize the dangers on either side and address the challenge with eyes wide open. And, that’s most easily done when we seek to learn from those who have navigated these difficult waters before us.

[This is the first post in our series on 6 Things We Can Learn about Worship from the Dark Ages.]

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Flotsam and jetsam (12/10)

  • Craig Carter offers a post In Praise of the Lecture, arguing that the lecture is a moral event, a personal act, and a tribute to metaphysical truth. HT

Today, the lecture is out of favor in politically-correct circles. Like dead white males, high academic standards and absolute truth, it has been consigned to the dustbin of history by enlightened, late-modern, progressives who do not quite believe that God grades on the curve, but who do hold it against Him that He does not.

To all Christians and other lovers of Lewis I would say this—- please during this Christmas season come out and support this film, not least so we may see more of Narnia in the future.  This is certainly a film appropriate for families to see, though a couple of the scenes in 3D with the big sea monster may be a little too intense for wee bairns as small as Reepicheep.  Be that as it may,  we must say— Well done good and faithful servants at Walden.   Inherit the Kingdom yourselves.

But our longing for “authenticity” also bears a suspicious resemblance to the latest plot twist in the story of consumer culture: the tendency to rapidly replace the squeaky-clean franchise with the “authentic” franchise.

Hearing what he called “the still, small voice of love” amid the cacophony of secular voices calling for attention needs special effort: “It requires solitude, silence and a strong determination to listen.” The Internet has not made the spiritual life any easier.

A prayer for Sunday – Ambrose of Milan

O Lord
teach me to seek you,
and reveal yourself to me
when I seek you.
For I cannot seek you unless
you first teach me,
nor find you unless
you first reveal yourself to me.
Let me seek you in longing,
and long for you in seeking.
Let me find you in love,
and love you in finding.

N.T. Wright on the worldwide hunger for worship

Here’s an interesting video from N.T. Wright on the tremendous hunger that exists in the world for worship and what we can do about it. Specifically, he calls on us to work on two things:

  1. More regular worship. As he says, “frankly, one day a week ain’t good enough.” We need to educate people on individual and family worship so that worship can become a regular part of their daily lives.
  2. More emphasis on liturgy. Wright argues that liturgy can be very helpful in educating people for worship, especially when they are just learning how to do it. He rightly points out that the “imperative to be spontaneous” can be a terrible burden, constraining people from engaging in individual and family worship.

HT

Shouldn’t Christian spirituality have something to do with the Gospel?

In a post over at Patheos today, Bruce Epperly suggests that the movie Eat, Pray, Love should serve as an invitation for moderate and progressive Christians to take the spiritual journeys of people more serious. (By the way, is there a more obnoxious label for any group than “progressive”? Is everyone else “regressive”?)

I believe the film and book upon which it is based present an invitation to moderate and progressive Christians to take the spiritual journeys of people more seriously in preaching, program, and outreach. We have not highlighted either our spirituality or theology in ways broadly accessible to the public.

Although I very much disagree that “the quest for self-awareness” depicted in this movie is the quest that “is at the heart of the human adventure,” I actually want to focus on the conclusions that he draws in the second half of the article. Contending that we need to make Christian spirituality more “broadly accessible,” he suggests that moderate and progressive Christians should do three things:

  1. Present a a vision of God that is more accessible. Apparently we’re only supposed to highlight the aspects of God’s character that people will like.
  2. Provide practices that that deepen people’s spirituality. And he leads off here with “easy-to-learn meditative techniques.” Really? Is what you want to highlight in fostering deeper Christian spirituality? No worship, sacraments, Word, Spirit, community, or any of the other things so important to Christian spirituality?
  3. Awaken persons to the connection between heart, hands, and mind. Apparently fluffy spirituality works as long as you help people at the same time.

Maybe I’m being a little too harsh. It was, after all, a very brief article. But I’m picky. If you’re going to talk about how to deepen the spiritual life of God’s people, how to communicate the wonderful “adventure” that is the Christian life, how to communicate to the world what Christian spirituality is all about, you must begin with the Gospel. Apart from the Gospel, spirituality becomes just another “technique” for achieving “self-discovery.” Fortunately, there’s much more to being a Christian than that.

I really like a lot of what’s going on over at Patheos. They’ve had some great discussions recently on a number of interesting issues. This one, unfortunately, was not one of the highlights.

Apparently “The Power” isn’t concerned about humility

A few days ago I blogged about the trailer for Rhonda Byrne’s The Power. A comment on that post came from the official web page for The Power. And, apparently, they aren’t concerned about developing more humility. Here’s their description:

The knowledge contained in The Power can and will change lives instantly. And the profound revelations are amplified by the book’s breathtaking illustrations – the book’s beauty is truly astounding.

Oh, is that all?

New trailer for “The Power” (sequel to “The Secret”)

Did you know that you have unlimited, untapped potential within you? Did you know that the power permeating everything that exists lies deep within you? And, did you know that you can find out how to tap into this mysterious well of semi-divine being for a mere $23.95 ($11.98 from Amazon)? That’s a pretty sweet deal.

Rhonda Byrne’s latest book The Power follows up on her earlier best-seller The Secret, and looks like it will be equally well-poised to tell people exactly what they want to hear. Check out the trailer. It’s quite well done. (If only my books had cool trailers like this. I’m sure that a book on the christological anthropology of Karl Barth as it relates to contemporary philosophy of mind could have been a bestseller if it just had a cool trailer.)

The gnawing hunger of an empty soul

Is anyone familiar with Erwin McManus’ Soul Cravings? A friend of mine recently asked me to read it and let him know if I saw any problems with it. Apparently an acquaintance has expressed very strong criticisms of the book, and he wanted to know what I thought. This wouldn’t normally be the kind of book on my reading list, but I read it anyway (albeit rather quickly). And, I have to say that although I disagreed in places (as usual), I didn’t see anything worth labelling as heresy (which is apparently what this other guy has done). So, now I’m wondering if I just completely missed something.

If you haven’t read the book, here’s a quick break down. The basic premise of the book is that we all have these deep cravings – he focuses on the desire for intimacy, destiny, and meaning – and these desires can only be satisfied by God. Because they’re our deepest desires, we’re continually trying to satisfy them with things other than God, but that ultimately leads to despair and emptiness. So, his encouragement throughout is to seek God as the only one who can satisfy our deepest longings.

As it stands, then, the basic argument is pretty innocuous. People have been making this argument for a very long time, and I see little in McManus’ version that is all that different. So, I’m left wondering, where is the heresy in all this? If you have any experience with this book, or with McManus in general, please feel free to clue me in.

Of course, I wouldn’t say that the book is entirely flawless. What book ever is? Apart from some minor quibbles, my biggest criticism is the way that he talks about the “institutional” church. Like many today, he has very little good to say about “religion,” and he appears to lump most churches in this category. For him, religion is basically a power play by the elite to  maintain control of the people (Nietzsche and Marx would be so proud). Thus, rather than directing us toward God, religion serves to drive us away from God (Barth and Bonhoeffer would be so proud). While I’m very sensitive to these arguments about the potential hazards of “religion,” McManus made no effort to balance this with a proper appreciation for the fundamental importance of the church and its inherently institutional framework. It’s a short step from criticizing “religion” to rejecting the church, and McManus’ presentation is insufficiently nuanced to help us navigate the difference.

I’d also be a little more careful than McManus to prevent the search for God from devolving into an inquiry into my inner experiences. He does address this in the book, so he’s aware that an emphasis on “soul cravings” could easily become hyper-spiritualized navel-gazing. But, it still has tendencies in this direction. He says almost nothing about finding the truth in God’s Word or God’s people. He encourages everyone at the end of the book to “seek” God, but he provides little guidance for how one should do this. And, given the emphasis throughout on inner experiences, it would be easy for someone to conclude that the search involves an individualistic journey within.

With these two reservations, the book still doesn’t seem to warrant the harsh condemnation that my friend heard from another source. So, again, if you have any thoughts, I’d appreciate hearing them.