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Monday, August 19th, 2019
1:20 pm - Some background on clergy education
How were clergy formed, educated, and trained for service in the days before the creation of higher education? Today, we assume that to be ordained an elder in The UMC and other major denominations requires an immense amount of learning (or at least, credentialing): first, a bachelor’s degree; then, a professional degree (the M.Div.); finally, further formative work under supervision before full admission to the clergy and final ordination. It’s long, it’s expensive, and the remuneration for having labored so long at it somewhat skimpy compared to other highly-educated professions.

It was not always so. From the beginnings of Methodism until the mid-20th Century, most UM elders were educated in the Course of Study. Seminary degrees did not become common, let alone required, until after that. In today’s context, many of our pastors have not gone to seminary, and will not/cannot go. Their path to full ordination and advancement within the clergy is cut short. Is this fair? Does seven-plus years of higher education really produce a better product? How did they do it back before the creation of Universities?

In the first four centuries of Christianity, there were no institutes to train clergy. Catechetical instruction, especially in the East, was extensive. The Church took immense care to prepare disciples. But there is little information about where clergy learned their special knowledge and skills. Ambrose, the great bishop of Milan, had been trained as a secular administrator. He hadn’t even been baptized when the Christians of Milan acclaimed him their bishop at an open election. He was a devout man, who was intimately familiar with the life of the Church (delaying baptism in that era was common, before the Church developed a system of confession and absolution which allayed fears about sins committed after baptism). A leader already in secular life, he stepped into church leadership seamlessly.

The great missionary push into the countryside and into the pagan courts of the Germanic peoples who had dismembered the western Empire is where we begin to pick up traces of how clergy education was conducted. There were two common routes. Following the new Rule of St. Benedict (c. 500), a proper monastic education could give candidates a full understanding of the Scriptures, of liturgy and church music, and of pastoral relationships. But how if you didn’t want to be a monk? Well, then, you could apply to join a bishop’s household.

A bishop in those days was a magnate like other secular leaders. He lived in a large house, usually, and had a large church. There would be several clergy on his staff, as well as lay servants. And like a Master receiving apprentices in a secular job, the bishop would take likely boys into his service to train them up for clergy and other public offices. They would live in his household, eat and serve at his table, be supervised in their lessons by a tutor and given increasing responsibilities (under supervision) as they grew up and finished their formal studies. Some would eventually be ordained and assigned to places of work by the bishop.

Some who joined a monastery or were taken into a bishop’s household were young boys. They would have to be taught Latin and arithmetic and anything else considered important to a basic education before they could be taught anything that would fit them for the clergy, specifically. Others would have learned their Latin along with their catechism, at home or with their village priest.

Eventually, the education and training department of the bishop’s household became a subordinate unit of administration, housed within the cathedral complex but not necessarily in daily contact with the bishop. It was becoming a school. When the first universities were formed, most of the colleges were made up of secular scholars, Masters and undergraduates together. But along with the colleges were units called “halls.” The Hall was a religious college; in fact, it was the bishop’s household (education division), transferred to a new location. Eventually, there was almost no distinction to be made between a College and a Hall. By the Renaissance, a university education was a common way of preparing for a clergy career. You could take other routes, but the Church wanted the candidate to know a lot of things, and satisfying the bishops’ examiners was easier if you had a theological degree in hand.

Methodism, as a lay movement within the Church of England, used preachers with or without formal education. It developed a Course of Study – sort of a bishop’s household on horseback – to teach what candidates needed to know. The other elders on the Board of Ordained Ministry assumed direct responsibility for preparing candidates for admission to the clergy. In the Twentieth Century, however, and especially after World War Two, the new fad of pursuing graduate education slowly turned the B.D. (the higher education alternative to the COS) into a mandatory course of study; then, it turned the B.D. into an M.Div.

The point is, there is no absolute reason why you have to have lots and lots of formal education from expensive institutions to teach and train the clergy for their service. We could do it directly, as in the days of monasteries and bishop’s households. A committee of elders in each Annual Conference could oversee the Course of Study and shepherd candidates through the process. Of course, it would help if the people named to that committee (or BOOM) actually knew their stuff and could teach it, and hadn’t been placed there for political reasons.

That may be asking too much. The Church didn’t “fall” under Constantine, but his embrace of Christianity made being a clergy person – especially a bishop – a high status position instead of a low status position, with many deleterious effects. Ecclesiastical politicians and status games among the clergy have been the curse of the Church ever since.

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Saturday, August 17th, 2019
3:39 pm - Apologia
In the run-up to GC ’19, I was one of those most firm for upholding the traditional view of doctrine and morality. I saw our situation as that of facing down a mutiny, and I wanted it suppressed. “Throw the bums out,” I said of those who would not obey the very rules they promised to uphold. I didn’t want to leave The United Methodist Church; I wanted to save it and reform it.Collapse )

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Friday, August 16th, 2019
1:53 pm - Scoot over
So, I bought the boys new scooters today. James is more comfortable learning to balance on the flat driveway. Daniel wants to feel the wind in his hair, and damn the torpedoes.


James on the flat


Daniel gets up to speed

In other news, the boys brought a Kindle Fire to play with: ONE Kindle. So now, I have a whole new insight into Jesus's question, "Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?" Mainly, I suspect that Jesus never had to babysit two kids who were told they had to share one toy.

Hera jumped up on the bed as per usual last night and let Daniel pet her some, but she is still wary of him. He wants to cuddle her so badly, which is counterproductive with cats. They always gravitate to the people who don't bother them.

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Thursday, August 15th, 2019
11:25 am - Connectionalism for Dummies
A clergyperson is facing trial in the Iowa Annual Conference on charges arising from a complaint filed by a layperson in the Indiana Annual Conference, and the progs are losing their minds. "Mind your own business," along with nasty slurs on the layperson's employer, is the commonest response.

Meanwhile, another Hoosier UM is decrying the fact that ordinary UM members -- clergy and lay -- are writing plans for the future of Methodism all on their own, submitting petitions to General Conference while ignoring the leadership of the bishops.

Both of these responses show a complete misunderstanding of the historical nature of United Methodist membership, and especially the accountability and legislative initiative built into it.

The Book of Discipline says that a member of a UM congregation is a member of the entire UM connection, worldwide. All of us belong to each other, regional boundaries notwithstanding. This is why a person from Conference A can file charges against a person in Conference B. It's why the General Council on Finance and Administration can initiate an investigation of a bishop in Africa for mishandling money. Why not require the local people to initiate that process? Well, what if everyone there is either cowed by authority or complicit in the abuse? Someone has to be able to call others to account. The BOD may assign the adjudication of a case to members of an Annual Conference, or the bishops of a Jurisdiction/Central Conference, etc., but anybody can get the ball rolling. It's an accountability thing, and it's a good thing.

As for usurping the legislative leadership of the bishops, they have none to usurp. At GC '16, the last-minute, "Hail Mary" motion by Adam Hamilton to create a Commission named by the bishops was a way to finally get the refs to take the field and push the ball over the line. Remember, the BOD says that bishops are not members of GC, cannot speak at GC without permission, and have no vote there. Well, our poobahs took the charge on with gusto. "The Church will follow the bishops," smirked Ken Carter. The bishops' efforts revealed not only their vicious partisanship, but their utter incompetence, as GC '19 threw out their recommendations and proceeded to adopt the Traditional Plan which they had scorned and slighted.

All this goes back to the beginnings of Methodism in America. The members of the Conference (at first, only the clergy) acted as the Directors of the enterprise, meeting annually to consider all that was before them. When the Conference (there was only one) got too large and unwieldy to gather everybody together, they created (in 1808) the General Conference, and devolved most functions onto regional Annual Conferences. But they bound General Conference in certain ways. Constitutional amendments passed by GC must be approved by a super-majority of the aggregate number of Conference members worldwide. To amend or suspend one of the Restrictive Rules takes an even greater super-majority of the aggregate number of Conference members worldwide. Why do it that way? Why not just require a majority of Annual Conferences' approval? Because GC is a delegated Conference; ultimate power to change the denomination's most important features is retained by all the Conference Members, as if they were still one body meeting together.

GC does most of its work by processing petitions. These petitions come from Clergy and Lay Members of Conferences, from Annual Conferences, from local churches, from General Agencies, even from the Council of Bishops. (I believe even commonly recognized interest groups within the Methodist movement can petition, though they may be submitting their petitions over the signatures of their leaders.) But any member of any congregation, down to the just-confirmed 12-year-old, can petition General Conference to change the Discipline, and that petition must be voted on. That's worldwide membership in the connection for you; that's Methodism.

If you want to create a diocesan form of church government, where what happens in Conference A is nobody's business from Conference B, you could do that. But it would take, as said, a supermajority of all the Conference Members worldwide to approve. You are free to try, though. Write your petition and send it to the Secretary of GC by September 18, 2019. Put up or shut up.

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Monday, August 12th, 2019
2:42 pm - Rougher! Tougher! Buffer!
I thought I'd get a few letter-sized file boxes and condense some of the stuff I've got stacked up in banker's boxes against my study wall. I ran into a clearance sale at Office Depot: packs of the letter boxes I wanted in four-packs -- except these had been packed with only three each by mistake. There were 20 three-packs for 74 cents a pack. I bought all 20.

I came home, then, and took down a very heavy box marked "High Adventure Pix." And I proceeded to organize all this stuff into separate book-sixed boxes. There are doubles of many of the pix, so some day I need to have a Venturers' Reunion and give away about a quarter to third of this stash.

Anyway, managed to sort through and put away in a better fashion pictures from the following adventures.

Zach at Natl Jamboree 1993, Anna to PTC 1994; Aurora YF to Smokies 1995; E697 to Philmont 1997.

Philmont 1998; Isle Royale 1999.

Philmont 2000.

Trip of the Millennium (Tanzania) 2001; VC 698 to Chicago/Dunes 2001.

Second Volume, Trip of the Millenium.

VC 698 Isle Royale & Niagara Falls 2002; Old Ben Cope Course c. 2002-3.

VC 698 Cumberland Gap Shakedown 2003; Yellowstone N.P. 2003; Shakedown/Wilderstead 2004.

VC 698 to Adirondaks & NYC 2004; 3 Peaks Adventure (UK) 2005; Back to Africa (Tanzania) 2006.

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Saturday, August 10th, 2019
2:12 pm - To my fellow United Methodists
I have led several UM Scouting missions to Africa (Tanzania 2001, 2006; DRC 2014). In each case, we went at the invitation of local church leaders and followed their direction. When local United Methodists would ask me to communicate with, say, the General Board of Global Ministries, I would have to tell them that I didn’t know anybody there. I was on a team from my Annual Conference to their Annual Conference; while in their country, I worked for their bishop and/or superintendent.

At the same time, I learned early on that when I trusted the local leadership, they would take care of things in a wonderful way. Our trains, planes, and buses would be met, local security would watch our stuff, people would go out of their way to see to our needs. Meetings would be set up for, resources I had asked for would be ready. People were glad to have our help (such as it was), and eager to make the most of it. When I looked at how they ran their own work, I was also impressed. The Tanzanians and Congolese leaders I have met are dedicated and competent. They work for little pay, in difficult conditions, and they get results.

The bottom line is, I respect my African brothers and sisters in Christ.

The prospect of a United Methodist Church in which overseas United Methodists, particularly from Africa, have an equal say in all matters concerning The UMC does not phase me. The idea that in a few quadrennia, Africans might become a majority of all General Conference delegates causes me merely to shrug. I am embarrassed by those – mostly white progressives from America -- who mutter patronizing or disparaging things about our African members, or who believe that because Americans put up most of the money, they should get to call the tune. If a conservative like myself had said such things, the progs would call me a racist, a colonialist, and someone who believes his money can buy him special power and privilege. Well, such muttering is not less racist, less colonialist, and less privileged when progressives say it.

And it’s not just muttering any more. Mainstream UMC and other progressive interest groups are now making such arguments for all to see. I apologize to my African brothers and sisters for their remarks. I value their participation. I rejoice in their successes. I am humbled by their faithfulness. In all ways, I wish to remain united with them in the service of Christ. And, while we’re at it, I appreciate their firm stand for the truth as revealed in the Scriptures.

In ancient times, African Christians included many thriving churches and many of our greatest theologians. Simon of Cyrene carried the cross of Jesus on Good Friday. The Ethiopian baptized by Stephen stands at the head of a long line of faithful Copts. Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, Athanasius of Alexandria, and Augustine of Hippo helped define Christian doctrine and develop Christian practice. A truly catholic Church understands that God calls people from all nations into his kingdom and calls individuals from all backgrounds to leadership. As we look backward with gratitude for the achievements of the African Church, so we look forward with expectation to the contributions of today and tomorrow by our African brothers and sisters.

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Friday, August 9th, 2019
9:44 am - The Center and the Rim
Any collection of things in association with each other becomes a system. In that system, things tend to clump according to factors held in common. Like a solar system, gravity asserts itself. So, in a society like ours, certain things become central, other things peripheral. Some of this is due to ideas held in common, such as the rule of law, equality before the law, limited government. These things are not merely historical, but widely held. The English language is spoken by almost everybody, so English is central. The majority of people are descended from Europeans, especially those from NW Europe, so their tastes and images predominate.

However, a dynamic society like ours attracts all kinds of people to it. Smaller groups of people – recent immigrants included – orbit around the center of gravity and experience American society just as much as those who are closer to the center. Indeed, all groups and subgroups are constantly in motion around the central American Idea.

But regardless of one’s appearance or origin or customs, there is also a constant dialogue between the center and the rim that enriches everybody in the entire system. New ideas are constantly working their way in from the periphery: new foods, new words, new art forms, new celebrities. There, they are adopted by the center and become Americanized. Example: everybody brings their native foods to America, and we add meat and cheese to it. You may be appalled by that, but it’s what we do. Meanwhile, the center exerts its powerful attraction upon the newcomers, and they also become Americanized. After a while, nobody cares or even much notices the differences; we all talk and think like Americans. Indeed, remaining differences become a matter of choice: your last name may be Macpherson, but that doesn’t mean you thrill to Scottish festivals; meanwhile, you can find here and there somebody named Schulz, tossing the caber in a kilt. (Some of the Italian workers who brought the railroads to Appalachia stayed, which is how spaghetti become a favorite of the Scotch-Irish.) Some groups are more open to others joining in their activities, and some are less interested in holding on to their previous cultures, but in America there’s a place for just about everything, for everybody.

The Irish brought step-dancing to America. Blacks turned it into tap. It went mainstream in movies starring Shirley Temple and Fred Astaire, and suddenly: all the little girls in the ‘50s were taking tap-dance lessons. Even little boys wore taps on their shoes (mostly to make noise, which is what little boys like). The Mexicans brought us tacos. Americans added meat – lots of meat. Then, suddenly, there were fish tacos. And now, Korean tacos. The Jews gave everybody an immense vocabulary that nobody asked for, but in which everybody delights: zilch, schmuck, schlemiel, chutzpah, I need it like a hole in the head, yada yada. Old white ladies in the park are doing yoga. Somebody reinvents the Egyptian kaftan in fashion every few years. St. Patrick’s Day hoopla is uniquely American (the Irish figured out that American tourists liked it, so now they do it, too). Hormel invented Spam, which the GIs took to the South Pacific, and now there are gourmet Spam recipes in Hawaiian cuisine. John Belushi used to do a knock-off of the Japanese TV show, Iron Chef, which everybody thought was weird, until Food Network figured out how to Americanize it. I saw white kids in an all-white group doing break dancing at a Scout camp some years ago. Even law-breakers have a style that has been taken up by various musical artists and interpreted in fashion (punk, orange is the new black). This dialogue between the center and the rim – indeed between all parts of the system – is going on all the time. It enriches us all.

Now, you can try to stop this sort of exchange, or put a governor on it. You can try to make your society “pure,” according to what you think is central. But when you do that, you wind up with racism. And in the arts, you wind up with -- kitsch. Kitsch is dishonest art, art that is made to fit imposed standards and is slyly leering past them. When the Nazis tried to get rid of “degenerate art,” when the Soviets tried to impose “Soviet realism,” they wound up with bad art. A society that tries to close itself off from outside influences – new people, new ideas, new words, new foods, new fashions – stagnates and can turn vicious.

But to exalt the rim as the center of “cool,” and look down on the central – to deny the centrality of the center – is also a recipe for conflict and bad art. You can have a racism of the rim just as you can have a racism of the center. Blacks sometimes accuse other blacks of “acting white.” And so we get into nasty spats about cultural appropriation, and who or what is authentically this or that. We divide everybody up into a hierarchy of sneering and jeering, and we impoverish ourselves. There is no future in claiming that nobody but you can make X, then gripe that nobody appreciates X (not even your own group members, who are off investigating what-all the American cultural emporium offers).

There is room for step-dancing AND tap. There is room for authentic Szechuan cooking AND chop suey. There is room for the word music of all the dialects in use, while still maintaining Standard English to make common social and business transactions work better. You can hear Mozart done by a modern symphony orchestra and you can hear him on period instruments. The Irish have a unique history; the Irish-Americans do, too; and everybody’s a little Irish on St. Paddy’s Day. The dialogue between the center and the rim is part of what makes America such a wonderful place to live.

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Thursday, August 8th, 2019
1:01 pm - A whiter shade of pale
I used to spend some time on one or two websites that had a lot of hard-to-find publications concerning Germanic linguistics and literature. In particular, I was trying to download the entirety of Jakob Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie in J.S. Stallybrass’s English translation. The main website that I found helpful – not only did it have the full text of Deutsche Mythologie, but many other resources – was run by a bunch of neo-pagans.Collapse )

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Wednesday, August 7th, 2019
1:35 pm - Our crowd
A couple of pix from last weekend. Anna and Brian came down to pick up the grandcubs. Zach came over for a cookout.


Mutual Assured Drenching
Daniel and James square off with water balloons

Actually, both were too timid to stand close enough to be hit. Still, the aggression was there to want to hit the other.


The Middle Generation
Zach, Anna, Brian acting like responsible adults

"Responsible for what?" you may ask.

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10:34 am - First Day of School
I never went to Kindergarten. My two older sisters both did, and all they acquired were the usual childhood diseases, which they shared with me. My mother was unimpressed, and decided not to send me. But I wanted to know what my sisters knew. I had already learned how to read. I wanted to go to school. And so, still a month shy of my 6th birthday, I went off to first grade.

I used to look forward to going to school. It meant I was getting somewhere. And I had this naive faith that this year, I might learn the stuff that unlocked all the things I wanted to know. I was sure they were just postponing it. At some point, I would reach the right grade, or the right program, and -- finally, there! -- I would be taught all the stuff I thought all the educated people knew.

I thought high school would reveal all the secrets. Then I thought college must be where they were keeping them. When I went off to seminary, I was still hoping to stumble across the class where they would finally start talking about the real stuff, not this makeweight load of miscellanea.

By the time I started my doctorate, after a hiatus of some years, I no longer thought that schooling of any sort was going to finally open the door to the vault of secrets. But by that time, I had learned to find what I wanted to know without the aid of formal schooling. I have learned so much outside of school; indeed, I know more about English than I did when I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in it, and I know more about theology and church history and ministry than when I finished my M.Div. I have kept learning my whole life long, because I wanted to know all the important stuff -- and still do.

This doesn't mean that school was useless to me. There were classes, and teachers, that opened doors for me that I eagerly passed through. My best experiences include: in elementary school, drawing maps for extra credit in sixth grade; in high school, Latin and Geometry and Typing and Journalism; in college, German and Fencing and Bible as Literature; in seminary, Greek and music courses (Piano, Organ, Choir) and readings courses in Church History and that winter exchange term at St. Meinrad.

More even than formal schooling, there were the books I discovered at each stage of my life, that sent me off to find more like them. I could make a list of books that meant a lot to me, from To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street that I read as a small child to Laughing Shall I Die that I finished off a few months ago, but it would be a very, very long list. I grew up in a house full of books. Most of the books assigned in junior high or high school I didn't like much, or didn't finish -- like Great Expectations -- which is a shame. But being forced to read something, and then having to masticate it in bland daily doses, is such an unnatural way to discover anything. Perhaps we should forbid the young to read classic literature, just so they'll sneak off and do it.

I also learned so much from Scouting. Camping skills, cooking skills, handling woods tools, how to put together a weekend. And I learned even more from being an adult leader. Truly, you don't know what you know until you have taught it to somebody else.

And then there is all that I have learned from all the churches I have pastored, and especially from all the programs and events that I designed and led by trial and error. My first cross-country youth trip was designed as no such trip should ever be designed, but there was nobody to tell me different. I learned so much from painful experience.

Did I ever find the secrets I was looking for? Yes, pretty much. I still wish I could have found a class or a program that would help me learn this, or that. It would have been fun, and it would have been easier than digging it out for myself. But even if I had had such a class for this, or that, I would still be digging, for there is always more to know and to experience.

When I went off to ISU in the fall of 1971, my mother said to me, "Never let college interfere with your education." The same could be said for schooling at all levels. It doesn't mean that school has no value. But the best thing school can do for you is to help you on to find out all the stuff you wanted to know -- or to whet your appetite for more than you thought was there to be known. Along the way, you will meet, here and there, certain teachers and fellow students who will be companions on the search. And they are part of the treasure they help you find.

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Monday, August 5th, 2019
9:21 am - Just my thoughts
In my youth, the news was full of sensational crimes, often committed by persons with violent ideologies. Bombs, bank robberies, butchery. Revolution was in the air.

There were people who tried to blame whole ethnic and social groups for the actions of the perpetrators. There were people who tried to excuse the terrible crimes by focusing on how the perps’ groups had been oppressed or attacked by the victims’ groups. In both cases, the actions of individuals were obscured by hateful talk about groups.

Government did what it could to prevent, to protect, to punish. To some people, it never did enough. To others, it was doing too much. Political leaders made what hay they could out of the madness, tailoring their responses to their constituencies.

Not much has changed. We just took a breather.

* * *

A healthy society will experience the occasional spasm of violence. Disaffected and deluded people are always around, and sometimes they get enough poison or explosives or firepower to commit a major crime. An unhealthy society will experience continual waves of violence. The angry rhetoric from all sides masks the muttering of weirdos – in clubs, internet sites, other hangouts. In such an atmosphere, the weirdos feed off each other, and the angry, distracted society is always surprised when the weirdos do the same thing – again. And instead of blaming the weirdos, the various factions in society blame each other for the rhetoric that “caused” or “incited” or “made possible” the poisonous bilge that has now seeped to the top of the pond.

The violent lefties of my youth and the violent righties of my age are both alike despicable. Meanwhile, the calculating lefties and righties who try to prove something about the other in their long, zero-sum game both care more about beating the other than about making a society for everybody to live in.

Yes, some folks need to be more careful in how they talk about immigrants. Others need to be more careful in how they talk about Muslims – or Jews – or white people – or . . . name your group. The more supposedly responsible people give themselves license to talk trash about this group or that group, the more the weirdos’ cant in their subterranean gatherings just sounds – normal. Not just to them, but in comparison to everybody else. Until the time that they decide to act out their sick fantasies.

If you don’t think I’m going far enough to condemn what “they” say, maybe it’s because I’m also including what “you” say. I’ve heard you say it, just like I’ve heard them say it.

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Saturday, August 3rd, 2019
4:43 pm - Checking the facts
In a recent exchange on social media, one fellow quoted a book (Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible & Brain Science, by Drew Dyck) that claimed that Justin Martyr, the 2nd Century theologian, "named four major challenges to discipleship for the early Christians: sexual immorality, magic, wealth, and ethnic hatred." The author then went on to quote Andy Crouch (whoever he is) that in our day, technology takes the place of magic.

To this, another commenter said that "magic" in Koine Greek would refer to drugs, rather than technology.

Both these comments seemed a little off to me. Grk pharmakon means poison or magic potion. It can also mean medicine. A pharmakos is a poisoner or magician. The Greeks were certainly familiar with mind-altering substances and used them in their religion. This usage is found in early Christian literature, but not in the NT. The eucharist, btw, was called pharmakon athanasias, the medicine of immortality. Now, in Acts 19:19 we are told, "a number of those who had practiced sorcery (perierga praxanton) brought their scrolls (tas biblous) together and burnt them publicly." perierga are magical apparatus, here specifically scrolls, not drugs. What word did Justin use?

Finding the English text of Justin's First Apology was stark simple. Locating the Greek text took a while. Justin's references to magic are all in condemnation of Simon Magus (cf. Acts 8). The English says Simon "through the working of demons performed mighty acts of magic" (dia tés tón energountón daimonón technés dunameis poiéras magikas). Mageia is "magic," defined in context as miraculous healings, summoning spirits, prophecy, etc. Simon Magus was running a seance-Ouija board-fortunetelling-conjuration show. He wasn't, so far as we know, peddling snake oil, nor did he use books in his scam.

So commenter number two is all wet. Back to commenter number one, the one quoting Dyck's screed. I re-read the entirety of both Justin's Apologies, and I can't get what the author is getting out of them. Justin isn't talking about temptations to Christians, maintaining self-control, or discipleship. He's defending Christians against common slanders against them in a petition to the Emperor. He's saying, don't confuse us with those people, we don't do that. Trying to make him into a self-help guru is wresting what he has to say out of context (violently).

Even at that, Justin doesn't have a lot to say about ethnic hatred, unless you count his testimony that everybody is welcome to be a Christian. Sounds like somebody had already identified what he thought were the biggest 21st-Century problems and stood Justin up as a handy authority from the early Church. And who would know? Who reads Justin Martyr these days? (And who bothers to check the Greek, come to that?)

Christians today need to be careful in whom they follow. There's many a good sermon based on poor exegesis, and many a sincere preacher who only thinks he knows what he knows. And these are the people we trust, not the obvious heretics and apostates. The warm heart needs the properly operating head (and, of course, the busy-for-Jesus hands).

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Thursday, August 1st, 2019
9:26 am - Methodist Clergy Shoptalk (but not just for clergy)
Some proposals for a new Discipline leaked this week. They may have been inaccurate; certainly, they were premature. And some of what they said about clergy fretted me.

I don’t suppose I could hope for a denomination that reflected my desires perfectly. But a document written by those who have suffered under and/or tried to work around the existing order of things is likely to go for novelty or restrict supervision according to the predilections of those writing it. I’m different. I’d like to go back to the pre-1996 clergy system and reform that.

It may be a vain exercise, but allow me to say what I would do, if I had the power to set our course in a renewed Methodism.Collapse )

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Tuesday, July 30th, 2019
6:04 pm - A word on entire sanctification
A recent blog post by Kevin Watson asserts that once we put the current struggles of The UMC behind us, we should focus upon the teaching of entire sanctification, referred to in our hymnody as “full salvation” and labeled by John Wesley himself the “grand depositum” which God had entrusted to the people called Methodist. Hmm, well, yes.

Methodists have had more to say about entire sanctification (also known as holiness or Christian perfection) than most. It is, indeed, a part of our teaching. That said, I think we need to consider this more closely. For I’m not sure that even those who are most eager to lift up the doctrine are correct in their understanding of what it means, let alone agree among themselves.

I am a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary (MDiv 1978), so I know the territory here. When I went off to Asbury, I had never heard the word “sanctification” in spoken modern English. Needless to say, I heard it a lot over the course of my seminary education, and I gave it my utmost attention. And I came to the conclusion that entire sanctification as taught by the Holiness Movement rested upon an error: following the idea that all Scripture has the same author, and assuming therefore that all Scriptural language is one mode of expression, it had conflated the terminology of Paul and John to create an understanding of deliverance from sin that was distinct from what either apostle would have recognized. In doing so, it went beyond what Wesley would have recognized, too, at times.

Asburian holiness teaching was the most careful and realistic in its explication of the doctrine. It avoided the “root and branch,” eradication-of-the-sin-nature teaching that some holiness theologians favored a hundred and some years ago. But in its zeal, it also made the possibilities of Christian perfection seem a little too easy. Teaching on “the second blessing” too easily degenerated into what I have called “two-zap theology.” (Charismatics and Pentecostals also have a two-zap theology, which resembles – superficially -- the idea of sanctification as a blessing which can be received all at once. Considering that the traditionalist faction of The UMC includes both Charismatics and Holiness teachers, a renewed emphasis on the “grand depositum” poses certain additional challenges.)

As I have grown older, I have become more and more interested in “going on to perfection.” The possibilities engage my imagination. My soul yearns to be really clean, and really at home in the Lord. And as I look back over my life and gain a sense of how far I’ve come, so I have renewed hope of attaining to the goal of my journey. So, yes, I’m willing to speak more boldly about entire sanctification than I did in my earlier years. I see what Watson is driving at. For the Methodist teaching is one of hope.

John Wesley taught that Christianity was “an experimental religion.” Words shift meaning over time; in today’s parlance, Wesley would have said, “an experiential religion.” We are not just making assertions about the state of your soul when you get to heaven. You can know, by experience, what God is doing in your life right now. As the old Methodist slogan put it, “Everyone can be saved, everyone can know one is saved, and everyone can be saved to the uttermost.”

Welsey also had a very picky definition of sin: Sin is a voluntary transgression of a known law of God. Every word in that sentence has significance. The doctrine of Christian perfection won’t work unless you stay right on the balance point of that definition. Blunders are not sin, since they proceed from not knowing what the right is (this is why having a known law to transgress matters). Thus, Christian perfection is not perfection from error, nor does it bestow wisdom to know what is right in every case. But sin also has to be voluntary in order to be sin. We have to choose wrongly, and choice proceeds from the heart.

The heart directed by self will inevitably choose wrongly, because its motives are those of the self, and the self is corrupted. But when we are moved by the love of God, we choose rightly. If our motives are pure, our actions are pure. They aren’t always right, since we sometimes blunder, but if they are moved by the love of God dwelling in us, then they are not sin. And here’s the key point: the more we open ourselves to God, the more he fills us with his love, so that he loves through us. And when we are completely filled with the love of God, when we are so open to him that we would not dream of choosing other than as he chooses, so then we will not sin. Notice, I didn’t say, “we cannot sin,” for of course, we can. But our ability is governed by our will, which is captive to Christ, and when we abide in him, so we will not sin. (Back to that key word, “voluntary,” above.)

This filling and choosing is something we experience in ourselves. We are aware of how we were once upon a time, and how we are now. And we can foresee in ourselves, if we stick to it long enough – as we can see in others, who are farther along than we – the end result of the process, which is to love now as we will love in heaven, even as we experience the love of God now that is the very experience of heaven. Heaven begins now, and we should increasingly act like we belong there; God increasingly enables us to act like we belong there.

That is the doctrine of entire sanctification. It is not unique to Methodism, but we have emphasized it more than most, and Wesley’s teaching has elucidated its depths more brightly than most other teachers’. I have found that when you explain it to people in the terms above, they are intrigued. They begin to see the possibility – and the desirability – of pursuing it. But if you merely incarnate it in slogans and lifestyle – the dour expressions, plain clothing, and hints of what awaits on the other side of the second zap – you will seem merely quaint. And if you assume that experience explains itself, which many of our more enthusiastic Charismatic/Pentecostal friends seem to, you wind up with a lot of energy but little in the way of doctrine, which I find dangerous.

If we are going to point the goal, we need to be able to explain the goal in terms even beginners can understand. Hints of esoteric knowledge, nudges and winks, big-sounding words, appeals to the authority of Scripture, or saying “why not tonight?” in your most tremulous voice won’t give people a road map they can follow. A hundred years ago, the Holiness Movement was read out of most of Methodism because it got sidetracked into a better-than-you critique of the church; if we are to revive the teaching, we need to be more careful – and more helpful – this time around.

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Sunday, July 28th, 2019
9:09 am - It's Not Enough
It’s not enough.

It’s not enough to be against something, even something abhorrent. You have to decide what you’re for. This is the challenge facing the traditionalist (evangelical/orthodox/conservative/rompin’, stompin’/boop-a-doop) faction in The United Methodist Church.

It’s not enough to oppose wrong teaching and practice on sexuality. It’s not enough to oppose turning the Gospel into a political program. It’s not enough to say, “the progs have gone too far.” It’s not enough to draw a line in the sand and say, We will not go beyond this point.

Let’s assume that the traditionalists either finally become the dominant faction – not just in General Conference legislation, but in governance at the Annual Conference level – in The UMC. Alternatively, let’s assume that the progs finally take us where we refuse to go and the trads walk out to start their own. Or we can be truly optimistic and assume that GC 2020 begins the process of sorting the factions within The UMC into different denominations, amicably. What then? Around what shall we cohere, if we are finally to have our way?

We have been in opposition so long, we can’t agree on what kind of church we want to have. Each of us thinks he or she knows, and that the others share in that knowledge and commitment. But do we?

We have folks within the traditionalist faction who think re-baptism is perfectly acceptable. We have folks who think the definition of the Trinity is not a fundamental doctrine that we all need to agree upon. We have inherited, and gotten used to navigating, an incoherent clergy system that has allowed each of us to define call and ordination how we please. We resent and resist those placed over us (with reason, I’ll allow). If we are to govern the denomination – or become one of our own – we will have to agree upon what baptism is, who God is, what clergy are and how they are made . . . and we will have to obey somebody, lest everybody just “does what is right in their own eyes.”

It’s not enough to turn back the progs’ attempts to make us into something else. WE have to make us into something else. And we have to agree on what that something else is.

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Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019
6:58 pm - Wade in the water
Here's a pic from last Saturday's family gathering at Wilderstead. After burying Percivale and raising his cairn, we all went wading in the Pishon.

CIMG7376 (2)

At the bathing pool
Brian, Daniel, Anna, James

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Sunday, July 21st, 2019
1:45 pm - A word on spiritual gifts
In one of his works, C.S. Lewis said that many of the miracles of Christ demonstrate what God is always doing, though in compressed form. God turns water into wine all the time -- that happens on every sunny hillside with a vineyard and in every fermenting tank -- it's just that Jesus needed it done now. Likewise, God multiplies grain to provide ever more bread constantly, so when Jesus fed the multitude, he was just doing what God always does, except he did it in a single afternoon. I think much of the same sort of thinking applies to the bestowal of charismata, of spiritual gifts, to the Church. God gave all the spiritual gifts to the Church as a whole, though some individuals display the use of particular gifts in particular ways.

For example, take the gift of healing. We pray for healing all the time, in every church in the world, and we wouldn't do that if we thought such prayers weren't effective. It's just that sometimes, some people's prayers are made effective now, immediately.

Or take the issue of speaking in tongues. If we could position ourselves on a satellite somewhere and pick up all the praise of God voiced by all the Christians in the world over a single Sunday -- and if we could channel at the same time that experience over the last two thousand years -- we would say that the whole Church was speaking in tongues. So it is; it's just that some people in their prayer lives voice their praise in a tongue not their own.

Or take "discernment of spirits." Is this not what we do when we consider whether to recommend someone for ordination? Yes, God can speak through an individual; but he can also speak through committees.

Casting out demons? Yes, there is an immediate and supernatural confrontation here, but the same is done routinely through sacramental action. Remember, exorcist has been a minor office in the Church for centuries, and the sacrament of baptism was once replete with exorcisms of converts from paganism.

Prophecy? Prophecy is both what ordinary preachers do and what anybody might do, all of a sudden, without thinking about it beforehand. God works both ways, and is not limited only to the ways with which we are comfortable.

Of course, the immediate display of the gifts of the Holy Spirit can cause quite a stir. People say, "God showed up!" Well, yes he did. But he didn't not show up when the people of God gathered to do what they always do. After all, Jesus said, "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." God is faithful, and he always shows up. The issue isn't God's faithfulness, but ours: Not his willingness to bestow his gifts, but our willingness to accept them, and act on them.

Meanwhile, the use or display of charismata is not an indication, at least not always, of spiritual maturity. God can give a gift to an immature individual, as he did Dame Julian of Norwich, who spent the rest of her life contemplating the visions that came to her in her youth. Even so, the giving of a spiritual gift should prompt a person who receives it to reflect upon it and become wiser. But at the same time, there are those who hanker after extraordinary gifts, who strain after them, who even, dare I say, pretend to them. How many people from "charismatic" or "pentecostal" churches have you met who want to "speak into your life" and utter banalities or even harmful tosh from a spirit of arrogance? This is why we are not to be overly impressed by wonders; the spirit (including the spirit of the person standing in front of us) who confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh -- that is, who has the right doctrine -- is the one speaking for Christ, not the person who can do the sorts of things that make you go, "Wow!" At the same time, we are to speak the truth in love, and perfect love, as Wesley taught, is the experience of heaven in the here and now, the thing we should aspire to.

I think we should expect miracles. Sometimes we need a miracle, and nothing else will do. But we should be prepared to be faithful and fruitful, even if no miracle seems to be forthcoming. Maybe God is content to do it the slow way this time, instead of all at once. To quote the prophet Habakkuk,
Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail,
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the LORD, is my strength;
he makes my feet like hinds' feet,
he makes me to tread upon my high places.
At the same time, when Joel says,
. . . your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions . . .
he's not just being metaphorical.

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Wednesday, July 17th, 2019
10:40 am - Basic Red Sauce
Deanne is on a diet that abjures almost all fats, including butter and oil. This rules out a lot of store-bought ingredients. It also makes cooking difficult. She likes pasta and pizza (without cheese), so I messed around a bit and came up with this recipe for a tomato sauce to put on said dishes. We like it, and it's easy to make.

Basic Red Sauce

In a pot, put:

2 28-oz cans of unsalted tomatoes (I use 1 can of crushed, and 1 of diced);
2 medium onions, chopped;
4 cloves garlic, minced;
8 oz mushrooms, chopped (optional);
salt to taste;
basil, oregano, thyme to taste (be generous).

Simmer for as long as you can.
Makes about two quarts.

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Monday, July 15th, 2019
12:43 pm - Towards a higher vision of the body and sexuality
In my last blog post, I wrote about the problem facing the orthodox party in The UMC.
For the struggle within The United Methodist Church, this means we can’t just be against things, even against them nicely. We can’t just say we disapprove of the various identities and practices of the sexual revolution: we must again theologize the body, relationships, and identity in the light of God.

Having said this, one might suppose that I knew what I was referring to, that I had a witness to share that might help lead us out of the blind end we've stumbled into. Well, I do. But I'm not sure that most people can follow me where I'd lead them.Collapse )

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Tuesday, July 9th, 2019
7:42 pm - Counterrevolutionary thoughts
In re-reading Witness, by Whittaker Chambers, I came across again this passage describing his first conversation with General Walter Krivitsky, upon their first meeting as ex-Communists.
. . . Krivitsky said one or two things that were to take root in my mind and deeply to influence my conduct . . . “There are only revolutionists and counterrevolutionists.” . . . Nor did Krivitsky suppose, as we discussed then (and later) in specific detail, that the revolution of our time is exclusively communist, or that the counterrevolutionist is merely a conservative, resisting it out of habit and prejudice. He believed, as I believe, that fascism (whatever softening name the age of euphemism chooses to call it by) is inherent in every collectivist form, and that it can be fought only by the force of an intelligence, a faith, a courage, a self-sacrifice, which must equal the revolutionary spirit that, in coping with, it must in many ways come to resemble. . . . In the struggle against Communism the conservative is all but helpless. For that struggle cannot be fought, much less won, or even understood, except in terms of total sacrifice. And the conservative is suspicious of sacrifice; he wishes first to conserve, above all what he is and what he has. You cannot fight against revolutions so.

The revolution that Chambers served, then deserted and fought against, takes many forms. Always, it promises freedom and ends in chains. The struggle we are fighting in the church right now, as in society, is just another form of the same revolution.

And once again, to be conservative is not enough. To fight against what you know is wrong, yielding foot by foot to your last breath is not enough – for in the end, you yield, whether slowly or quickly. To wish to preserve the past, or even what is best from the past, is not enough. We cannot just be conservatives. We must be counterrevolutionists.

We must articulate a different vision. And we must struggle to achieve it within ourselves first of all, in order to give witness to the rest of the world. This is what Christianity is. This is what orthodoxy aspires to. We seek not just to be left alone to be as we were; we seek not just to hold back the rising tide of wrong; we seek to be transformed and offer transformation to others – and to show up the supposed transformation advertised by the heresiarchs as not only wrong, but as a prison for the human soul.

We cannot win on defense.

For the struggle within The United Methodist Church, this means we can’t just be against things, even against them nicely. We can’t just say we disapprove of the various identities and practices of the sexual revolution: we must again theologize the body, relationships, and identity in the light of God. We can’t just gripe about PC or wokeness, or roll our eyes at the latest pronouncement of intersectionality (which a friend of mine describes as “mind cancer”): we must proclaim catholicity. And we must not be content to try to rein in bishops and bureaucrats who shill for the revolution: we must sack the lot.

This may require us to separate from the rest of the church. But if so, that is merely a strategic move. If we wind up in control of “our own” form of Methodism, but are not transformed and transforming, then we will simply have hastened the death of what we have loved, and “our own” church will die with the other remnants.

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