Sunday, December 16, 2018

Why a great Protestant hymn breaks my heart

I don't know if I will be able to convey what is after all a feeling but I cannot listen to the original version of the great Lutheran hymn "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (A mighty fortress is our God) without being upset.

The hymn is now best known in the marvellous setting by J.S. Bach -- a supreme work of musical art -- so we usually overlook the original hymn.  Both the original work and the Bach setting are works expressing Christian triumph over evil and adversity  but in the original version you get a feeling for what Christians of hundreds of years ago had to triumph over.

The world they lived in was full of tragedy, hardship and disaster  and they attributed it all to demons and the Devil himself.  To them the Devil was real and powerful and present in their lives. They saw his cruel deeds all about them on a daily basis -- in sickness and death and disaster.  There are few things, if any, more upsetting than the death of a child but they had to endure such deaths often.

So what the hymn conveys to me is both how awful their lives were and how their Christian faith gave them the heart to power on.  Their faith was their only rock, their only comfort. They had no power to combat the evils around them. It cuts me up that they had so little power over their lives when we have so much.  Their survival truly is a wonder.

But I have said as much as I can.  Just listen to the starkly simple words of a very simple hymn and feel for those poor people.

As students of foreign languages always tell you, you cannot adequately translate a poem and that is certainly so here.  The song is even more powerful in the original German:  Simple punchy words

The words: "Gut, Ehr, Kind und Weib: lass fahren dahin" are not well translated above.  They say that your possessions, your honour, your child and your wife can all be lost but the Devil still has not triumphed. What tragedies they had to expect!

And now listen to the wonderful things Bach did with that ultra-simple hymn:

Bach had joy in the Christian triumph over the Devil

Footnote:  The opening image in the first video above depicts Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church.  In the background is the Wartburg castle where Luther hid from his imperial pursuers

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Is Sunday the Sabbath?

A very obvious question is how come Christian churches hold their Sabbath on the day of the Sun rather than on the seventh day of the week -- which is what the Bible commands?  Seventh Day Adventists and Seventh Day Baptists remind us that there is an issue there.

I imagine that most Christians assume that some great Christian eminence or Christian council came together in order to switch observance from Saturday to Sunday as a way of separating Christians from Jews.  Sunday is seen as part of the New Testament that supersedes the Old.

There is still a lively debate among theologians on the issue and I have read both sides.  One lot say that there is nowhere in the NT or anywhere else that commands a change from Saturday to Sunday so the old law still applies and Saturday therefore is the only true Sabbath.

The other lot say that the Apostle Paul released Christians from strict Sabbath observance so we can choose Saturday or Sunday at our discretion.  They have two scriptures on their side in that:

Col. 2:16-17. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

Rom. 14:5. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.  He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

And Christ himself preached flexibility regarding Sabbath observance. Mark 2:27 “And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:”

What seems to have happened is that Paul wanted a broad church.  In particular, he wanted Jews and Gentiles to be equally welcome in the early Christian congregations.  And he had to be emphatic about that.  Christians who came from Jewry tended to observe all their Jewish customs. Christ was a devout Jew so that seemed entirely proper.

And the Jewish Christians tended to lecture non-Jews on the matter.  They tended to say that the non-Jewish Christians should adopt Jewish practice.  And Paul wanted to put a stop to that.  He wanted Christianity to be a religion for all, not just another Jewish sect.

So Paul preached tolerance, as we see in the scriptures above.  Follow Jewish custom if you like but that is not mandatory.

And that permission was very valuable in the ancient world.  Most of that world revered the Sun.  They worshipped various idols but were also sun worshippers.  And from ancient Sumerian times they had nominated the first day of the week as the sun's day  Some respect to the sun became customary on that day.

But the Jews of course have always been a cantankerous people.  From Moses on, their prophets have always said so.  So the Jews wanted to defy established custom and they did that by making the seventh day, not the first day especially holy

But that was always awkward for diaspora Jews -- i.e. Jews living outside Israel.  Their custom made them seem strange to the others about them and even led to a degree of persecution on occasions

So Paul put and end to that.  He wanted Christians to be well regarded so that people would listen with some respect when they preached the gospel of the living Lord. 

In the circumstances, most non-Jewish Christians probably switched to Sunday observance with alacrity.  Purists no doubt still argued for Saturday but Sunday suited most non-Jewish Christians just fine. And as Christianity spread far and wide the Jewish customs just faded out. Like everybody else, Christians now worshipped on the day of the Sun.

There are various mentions of weekly meetings between the early brothers during which food was eaten but they included no mention of which day the meeting occurred.  They followed the dictum that the meeting was important, not the day on which it occurred.  And in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34 Paul was emphatic that the day should be observed with due solemnity and in honour of the original Last Supper of Christ. But Paul laid down the basic form, not the day of Christian observances.

So there was at no time any proclamation from on high.  Using Sunday for solemn worship just evolved as a convenient custom for Christians. Though the fact that Christ was resurrected on a Sunday tended to legitimate Sunday observance for some

Speaking personally, it seems regrettable to me that Christians have perpetuated sun worship.  For health reasons, I do keep a form of the Sabbath myself. But I do it on the true sabbath -- JR.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Retired Anglican Bishop says devout Christian Scott Morrison’s views go AGAINST the Bible

In good Anglican style, Dr Browning is a very secular Bishop. His doctoral thesis was on global warming and he despises the many Bible condemnations of homosexuality (Jude 1:7; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; Mark 10:6-9; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Corinthians 7:2; Leviticus 18:32; Leviticus 20:13; Genesis 19:4-8). So it ill behooves him to criticise the Biblical beliefs of Scott Morrison

And his account of scripture is very incomplete. He objects to the offshore detention of illegal immigrants on the basis (apparently) of the injunction to the ancient Israelites in Deuteronomy 10:19, "Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt"

But the NT version of that clearly refers to spiritual differences. 1 Peter 2:11 says: "Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul". It is now the Christians themselves who are strangers to the world around them and they are urged to separate themseves from it. So separating ourselves from law-breaking migrants is entirely scriptural.

And it is Morrison, not the Bishop, who is obedient to the Bible when it comes to his practice of sending his children to a Christian school so they will not be subjected to pro-homosexual propaganda.  Something that is "an abomination to the Lord" is fine and dandy with the fake bishop

A former bishop has claimed Scott Morrison's beliefs are against the Bible, with the statement coming just after devout Christian Prime Minister revealed he sends his children to private school to avoid the 'values of others'.

Mr Morrison said he sends his daughters, aged nine and 11, to an independent Baptist school rather than the local public school to avoid sexual education classes requiring children to role-play bisexual teenagers with multiple partners.

Dr George Browning, a former bishop of the Anglican Church of Australia, said Christians have a right to be concerned that Mr Morrison will 'behave in a way that is out of step with true biblical values' due to his views on asylum seekers, climate change and social welfare.

Dr Browning said Mr Morrison's maiden speech to parliament in 2008 in which he quoted Bishop Desmond Tutu while detailing the values he derived from his faith were not reflected in his actions as a politician.

'Given these are clues to the values that Mr Morrison holds dear, we have the right to be somewhat surprised by the stand, or lack of it, that he has taken on several issues, the first and most obvious being refugees and asylum seekers,' he wrote in a column for The Melbourne Anglican.

'On the matter of "strangers and aliens" the Bible is unequivocally clear - we are to welcome and embrace them.

'It is a matter of national shame that we have mistreated so terribly those who have come to our shores. Those still incarcerated on Manus and Nauru are prisoners of a political ideology that has very little to do with the ongoing security of Australian borders.'

Dr Browning said Mr Morrison's views on climate change showed he did not 'stand up for truth'. 'That the Australian government has abjectly failed to produce a policy to address this truth is quite shocking,' he said.

'Thirdly, in using the quote from Desmond Tutu, Mr Morrison nails his colours to the mast of a preferential bias towards the poor and needy. This of course is the bias of Jesus himself.

'Is this bias demonstrated in successive budgets over which Mr Morrison has had the responsibility of shaping? It is hard to see it.'

Australians have a right to feel the values Mr Morrison 'espoused as a Christian' are 'being ignored', Dr Browning aruged.

Mr Morrison told 2GB on Monday that he did not want the 'values of others being imposed on my children in my school'.

'I don't think that should be happening in a public school or a private school. It's not happening in the school I send my kids to, and that's one of the reasons I send them there.'

Mr Morrison said his objection to elements of the controversial Safe Schools program was why he wants to protect the religious freedoms of private schools.

The activities in question are part of the Building Respectful Relationships program, written by Deakin University associate professor Debbie Ollis, which is mapped to the curriculum in Victoria.

One exercise titled 'Different perspectives on sexual intimacy' requires students to use character cards to do 20-minute role-plays.

Mr Morrison went on to tell Mr Jones he backed federal funding for public education, which is run by the states and territories.

'[But] how about we just have state schools that focus on things like learning maths and science,' he added.

Mr Morrison is a devout Christian and attends the Hillsong Pentecostal mega church.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

The strange death of Protestant Britain

There is an article under the title above in "The Tablet", an international Catholic publication. It is very graphic in documenting the decline of church attendance in Britain. A small excerpt below. What the author, Ian Bradley, writes is no great surprise of course.  The churches themselves have long been agonizing over their steadily shrinking congregations.

What is interesting however is the report that the peak year for both Catholic and Anglican churchgoing was 1955.  That's pretty recent. What can have happened around that time to have caused such a decline?

To answer that, however, we have to look much more widely than Protestant Britain, because the truth is that Western Europe as a whole has lost faith.  It is only in the former Communist countries where faith survives, mostly Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox  faith.

Bradley, a Presbyterian minister, asserts that Catholic congregations have held up better in England than Anglican ones but is rather glib about that.  Is he unaware of the boost to Catholicism in Britain from Poland? Many Catholic congregations in Britain are now largely Polish. And there are also immigrant contributions from Asia (the Philippines and Vietnam) and Africa. So purely British Catholicism is also in sharp decline.  That is most clearly seen in the dearth of vocations these days. Australia is much like Britain and in Australia, as the old Irish priests die off, your priest these days is likely to be Asian or black.

So what is it about Western Europe and its derivative societies that has killed faith?  The answer is rather clear, even as to timing:  It is the Welfare State.  The Welfare State in Britain was the work of Clement Attlee, who was a politician for the Labour Party who served as Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951. The welfare State was widely adopted to varying degrees elsewhere in postwar Western Europe and took away most of the great anxieties in life.  You no longer risked hunger or unattended ill health and your children had good opportunities for advancing themselves through education.  The State became God. It did what God merely promised.

There were of course some other influences pushing in the same direction.  WWII spurred a great upsurge in scientific knowlege and technical innovation (think penicillin) that gave us more control over nature.  Instead of nature being "red in tooth and claw", it became "endangered". It was no longer a source of fear. Instead of misfortunes being caused by "hobgoblins and foul fiends", they are now caused by well-understood meteorological events and viruses, for instance.

That the welfare state was central, however, is powerfully shown by the example of Eastern Europe, including Russia.  Under Communist tyranny, everybody lived under a very comprehensive welfare state -- in theory.  In practice, the state was a source of fear. If you kept your head down, you had a job but the food was mostly poor and only intermittently available.  And health care was rudimentary for most.

So Eastern Europe experienced the welfare State as a nightmare, with only the afterlife promised by the church offering any prospect of relief.   And, now that Communism has gone from those unfortunate lands, the promises of socialism are still regarded with great cynicism and the faith that it tried to suppress forcibly is remembered as the true hope.

So that accounts well for the decline of the mainstream churches but Bradley also acknowledges the flourishing of smaller, often Pentecostal churches.  So what have those churches got that the old mainstream churches have not?  It would be very easy to say that they have a revised form of Christianity.  Perhaps their theory and practice is more "modern".

But that is not at all true.  Sin still matters to them.  Heaven and hell still matter to them.  They are "old" not "modern".  It is the mainstream churches who have gone "modern" in a desperate quest to hang on to their congregations.

Many would see the watershed for that transition in the book "Honest to God" by John A. T. Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, published in 1963.  Not to put too fine a point on it, that book marked the introduction of atheism into the Church of England.  There was no longer a God.  There was only a "ground of our being", whatever that means.  So eventually you would even get Archbishops of Canterbury, such as Robert Runcie, claiming that in private they meditated rather than praying.

So it seems clear that the mainstream churches have moved in  exactly the wrong direction to hold their congregations.  This is most clearly seen in the case of the Anglican diocese of Sydney in Australia.  Sydney is a big city but it has only about a sixth of the Australian population -- but it has a third of Australia's Anglicans. And it is very "old fashioned".  Most of its clergy could probably assent sincerely to the declarations of the "39 articles of religion" found in the Book of Common Prayer, first published in 1662.

To put it in a nutshell, the Sydney diocese still preaches the old Protestant faith of 400 years ago -- and thrives doing so. Where the Sydney Catholic seminary has about 6 students, the Anglican church's Moore College has about 300.  The old Protestantism was a deliberate and sustained attempt to get back to the religion of the New Testament -- and in doing so they tapped into a spiritual powerhouse.

The rise of Christianity out of Israel into all the European world in its first few centuries was meteoric and transformative.  From the words of an obscure Judean prophet it became the religion of all Europe, sweeping all the old religions of Europe aside.  So tapping into that faith was to tap into great religious power. The old churches have become weak but Christianity has not.  It still has its old power to transform lives if it preaches redemption instead of homosexuality

So Eastern Europe and the Sydney diocese are strong counterpoints to the decline of traditional Christian Europe.

I have not so far mentioned the USA but my analysis applies well there also.  America is MUCH more religious than Europe. Why?

1). America still has a rather patchy welfare state with quite a lot of people falling into severe poverty at times. And access to healthcare is also very patchy, made worse by Obamacare.

2) America was founded by religious fanatics and there have long been religious "revivals" in America which keep the old Bible faith before people's minds. And that works all the old transformative Christian magic.

IN ST ANDREWS, my home town, the Presbyterian church built to commemorate the four Protestants burned to death here during the Reformation was recently turned into a university research library. Next door there was for many years a Salvation Army Citadel, a testament to the virtues of teetotalism and evangelical assurance championed by General William Booth. It is now a "Beer Kitchen".

A similar fate has befallen much of the rest of the Protestant landscape of Britain. In the South Wales Valleys Nonconformist chapels have all but disappeared, languishing, rotting and deserted where they have not been turned into second-hand furniture depositories.

In 1901 the city of Hull, long known as "pure and Protestant Hull", had one of the highest churchgoing populations in the country and 115 places of Christian worship, most of them Nonconformist chapels. Now just 11 remain in use and Hull has the lowest level of church-going of any British local authority. It is those denominations that have been the bedrock of British Protestant identity that have declined most spectacularly in the last 60 years. The two national denominations, the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, have each lost 75 per cent of their membership over this period


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Arabian gold

Did you know that they mine gold in Saudi Arabia?  I didn't but I should have.  There are over 400 mentions of gold in the Bible so it had to come from somewhere. And Arabia is right next door. But as far as I can find the only mention of gold's origin is in Genesis 2:

"And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compaseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold".

Archaeologists have recently identified where the ancient river Pishon flowed.  And it is roughly in the middle of Arabia.

A few excerpts about modern gold mining in Saudi Arabia:

State-controlled mining firm Saudi Ma'aden plans to develop the Mansourah, Massarah gold mine, industry sources told Reuters.

Ma'aden operates six gold mines in the Central Arabian Gold Region, western Saudi Arabia which contains much of the Kingdom's gold rich ore deposits. It has recently started operating the Ad Duwayhi gold mine.

Saudi Arabia's efforts to build an economy that does not rely on oil and state subsidies involves a shift towards mining vast untapped reserves of bauxite, the main source of aluminium, as well as phosphate, gold, copper and uranium.