The “journal” has not suffered another stroke but is simply delayed. The essay below appeared in the Winter 2012 issue and is a possible foretaste of what readers may enjoy in the next number. Consider… More
What is wrong with this understanding of all-of-life Christianity if anything? What does it leave out? Where do you draw the line at some forms of lumping and the need for certain kinds of splitting?
. . . emphasize the wholeness and the unity of life, and protest by implication against “Sunday Christians” and “pulpit ministers.” Christianity being involved in the whole of life, it was important to break down artificial sacred and secular distinctions. From there it was a natural step to break down a distinction between secular and sacred teaching, and even between secular and sacred writings. A series of lectures on modern poets supported the conclusion that God, revealing himself in many ways, might Queen’s speak through the modern poet as well as through the Bible and that too sharp University a distinction between sacred writings and others might be harmful. There was a tendency also to break down the sharp distinction between the “Christian” and the “non-Christian” and therefore to challenge the traditional concepts of “conversion” and “the new birth.” There was an inclination to shift from the assumption of man’s inherent wickedness to the assumption of the Enlightenment that most men wish to be good and that the task of the church was to get them more and more involved in doing good. There was a shift away from the assumption that the kingdom of heaven must come through spiritual change in the individual, to the suggestion that the millenium could be approached, at least, by voluntary social work and also by legislation promoted by men of goodwill. This concept appeared very early in the proceedings of the conference, and was developed throughout the years when eminent Canadians. . . came to lecture on “The New Nation,” the nation in which intellectual enlightenment would be matched by social righteousness.
Where do you draw the line?
- The Unity of the Christian life
- Sacred-Secular distinction
- Bible and non-canonical books
- Believer-non-believer distinction
- Human nature (inherent goodness vs. the fall)
- The advance of the kingdom through spiritual ministry and social activity
- Social (or national) righteousness
You may not draw it between the US and Canada.
If George Washington were alive today, what a shining mark he would be for the whole Camorra of uplifters, forward-lookers and professional patriots! He was the Rockefeller of his time, the richest man in the United States, a promoter of stock companies, a land-grabber, an exploiter of mines and timber. He was a bitter opponent of foreign alliances, and denounced their evils in harsh, specific terms. He had a liking for all forthright and pugnacious men, and a contempt for lawyers, schoolmasters and all other such obscurantists. He was not pious. He drank whisky whenever he felt chilly, and kept a jug of it handy. He knew far more profanity than Scripture, and used and enjoyed it more. He had no belief in the infallible wisdom of the common people, but regarded them as inflammatory dolts, and tried to save the republic from them. He advocated no sure cure for all the sorrows of the world, and doubted that such a panacea existed. He took no interest in the private morals of his neighbors. (H. L. Mencken, Damn! A Book of Calumny, 1918)
Here’s help from H. L. Mencken:
Some time ago a publisher told me that there are four kinds of books that never, under any circumstances, lose money in the United States first, detective stories; secondly, novels in which the heroine is forcibly debauched by the hero; thirdly, volumes on spiritualism, occultism and other such claptrap, and fourthly, books on Lincoln. But despite all the vast mass of Lincolniana and the constant discussion of old Abe in other ways, even so elemental a problem as that of his religious faith surely an important matter in any competent biography is yet but half solved. Here, for example, is the Rev. William E. Barton, grappling with it for more than four hundred large pages in “The Soul of Abraham Lincoln.” It is a lengthy inquiry the rev. pastor, in truth, shows a good deal of the habitual garrulity of his order but it is never tedious. On the contrary, it is curious and amusing, and I have read it with steady interest, including even the appendices. Unluckily, the author, like his predecessors, fails to finish the business before him. Was Lincoln a Christian? Did he believe in the Divinity of Christ? I am left in doubt. He was very polite about it, and very cautious, as befitted a politician in need of Christian votes, but how much genuine conviction was in that politeness? And if his occasional references to Christ were thus open to question, what of his rather vague avowals of belief in a personal God and in the immortality of the soul? Herndon and some of his other close friends always maintained that he was an atheist, but Dr. Barton argues that this atheism was simply disbelief in the idiotic Methodist and Baptist dogmas of his time that nine Christian churches out of ten, if he were alive to-day, would admit him to their high privileges and prerogatives without anything worse than a few warning coughs.
As for me, I still wonder. (“Five Men at Random: Abraham Lincoln”)
The Congregationalist pastor, William E. Barton was, by the way, the father of Bruce Barton, the same writer who turned Jesus into a model business executive in The Man Nobody Knows
(By the way, some of Roman Catholicism’s antiquity is not ancient.)
“How the Irish Changed Penance,” by John Rodden, Commonweal Magazine, January 26, 2022
Most Catholics are probably unaware that what we today call the sacrament of Reconciliation existed in a completely different form during the early Christian era. Even those who are aware of this fact may not know that it was a group of Irish monks who were largely responsible for transforming this sacrament into the version with which we’re familiar. It is all too easy to imagine that the seven sacraments have existed in something like their present form from the moment they were instituted. In truth, all of them have changed in important ways over the course of the Church’s history, and none has changed more than the sacrament of penance.
For the Church’s first seven centuries, penance could be received no more than once in a lifetime. That policy dated back to the time of St. Peter. The New Testament tells us that Jesus gave the power of forgiveness to his disciples, but it says almost nothing about how they were to exercise it. In the early Church, the prevailing belief was that baptism was the celebration of the forgiveness of sin, and that the baptized, having turned away from sin, would not need to be forgiven again. As St. Paul wrote, “How can we who died to sin yet live in it? You must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6).
Nevertheless, the Church Fathers soon realized that they needed a way to deal with post-baptismal sin because many baptized Christians were slipping back into their old way of life. A formal system of public penance was devised to handle such setbacks. Typically, after penitents confessed to the local bishop, they were assigned an onerous penance that lasted several years. During this time they wore sackcloth and garments that scratched or tore the skin, as a modest reminder of Christ’s scourging. They were also required to leave Mass immediately after the homily and forbidden to receive the Eucharist. At least part of their penance consisted of long hours of prayer and fasting. Not until they had completed this long and arduous penitential period were they “reconciled” with the Church and welcomed back into full communion. For the Church’s first seven centuries, penance could be received no more than once in a lifetime.
But reconciled penitents were expected to continue some penitential practices, such as abstinence from sexual intercourse, for the rest of their lives. Those who had been thus reconciled could not be admitted to the clergy or to most public offices. They remained permanently in a somewhat inferior position within the Church, partly for social reasons and partly as an explicit reminder of their lapse. Moreover, such a reconciliation was permitted no more than once in a lifetime, and it was required only for what were regarded as mortal sins, such as murder, adultery, and apostasy. Those guilty of what we now call venial sins were not expected to undergo any formal process; instead, they found forgiveness for their sins by participating in the Eucharist, almsgiving, and seeking forgiveness from those whom they had offended.
Christians who lapsed again into grave sin after they had been formally reconciled found themselves without recourse. “Now,” your local bishop or priest informed you, “you are left to the mercy of God.” The early Church feared that allowing sinners to be sacramentally reconciled more than once would encourage sin. But the rigors of penance and the practice of allowing Christians to receive the sacrament of penance only once had an unforeseen and highly problematic effect. Many people postponed their baptism for decades, because baptism offered forgiveness for a whole lifetime’s worth of sins without the rigors of penance. Plus, those who waited until old age to be baptized were unlikely to lapse thereafter into serious sin more than once. Emperor Constantine, who had declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 313, remained a catechumen until his own deathbed baptism in 337.
By the seventh century, it had become obvious to many that the Church’s rules for penance were not working as they were intended to, but there were still no plans in Rome to reform them. It was precisely at this time that Irish monks began to travel to the European continent to proselytize the heathen Franco-German tribes. At least a century earlier, these monks had developed a different practice of penance within their own communities, adapting a little-known tradition traceable to the first monastic communities in the Egyptian desert. St. John Cassian, who had lived with these desert monks, took their practices with him when he founded a monastery in France. His writings were later taken to Ireland and it is there that they found fertile soil. Traditional public penances of the kind practiced in the early Church were not an option for the desert monks: there were no Christian communities, let alone dioceses, in the Egyptian desert. Like the monks in Ireland after them, they were struggling to overcome venial “faults” in their quest for saintliness, not seeking reconciliation after committing grave offenses such as murder, adultery, and apostasy. The Irish monks refined the work of Cassian, developing a system of confession in which the private recitation of sins was followed by the private performance of penance. Crucially, they not only adopted this practice themselves, but introduced it to the faithful outside the monastery, making it applicable to all sins and available to all sinners.
Then, without formal ecclesiastical approval, the missionary monks shared these more relaxed and flexible practices with the new converts in Europe. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes it: “During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the ‘private’ practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest.” This was a radical change in the history of the sacraments. Gradually, confession went from being public to private, and from a once-in-a-lifetime rite to an as-often-as-needed practice. The “order of penitents,” segregated from the rest of the community, disappeared.
The great virtue of the Irish monastic approach was how it aided the monk’s quest for holiness. Regular confession became the supreme weapon of Celtic spirituality in the ceaseless spiritual combat against sin. Irish monks would regularly confess their faults to the presiding abbot of the monastery. As Joseph Stoutzenberger notes in Celebrating the Sacraments, gradually the practice came to include confessing faults to a highly trusted brother monk, who became known as the anamchara (animae carus), or “soul friend.” The abbot or fraternal anamchara would pray with the penitent and prescribe actions to help him overcome his failing. Certain monks renowned for their spiritual advice became popular confessors. Eventually, people outside the monasteries began coming to those monks to confess their sins. Because the whole Irish Church was organized around the monasteries, Irish bishops were sympathetic to the monks’ approach to penance and did not regard it as lax or permissive. They recognized its practical and spiritual advantages and allowed it to continue.
But bishops elsewhere did not look so favorably on this alternative approach. Scholars such as Kate Dooley believe that the condemnation of private confession in Canon 12 at the Third Council of Toledo in 589 referred to the Irish monastic practice. That council reaffirmed the traditional rite, whereby reconciliation could be granted only once in a lifetime.Over time, fewer Christians sought the older form of penance, precisely because it was public, long, and severe.
Undeterred, the Irish monks maintained their alternative practice and disseminated it in their missions abroad. Until the twelfth century, both the traditional rite of public penance and the Irish practice of private confession co-existed uneasily. Over time, however, fewer Christians sought the older form of penance, precisely because it was public, long, and severe. Where the older form was still favored, the faithful often treated penance exactly as previous generations had treated baptism: excommunicated members of the community chose to wait until they were on their deathbeds to be reconciled to the Church because the dying sinner could receive the sacrament without performing grueling public penances.
The following brief service was read at the grave in Greenmount Cemetery, Baltimore, by the Rev. Ned B. Stonehouse, Th.D.:
I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God to take out of this world the soul of our beloved brother, we therefore commit his body to the ground. And we look for the general resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose second coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed and made like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, who by the death of thy dear Son Jesus Christ hast destroyed death, by his rest in the tomb hath sanctified the graves of the saints, .and by his glorious resurrection hath brought life and immortality to light; receive, we beseech thee, our unfeigned thanks for that victory over death and the grave which he hath obtained for us and for all who sleep in him; and keep us in everlasting fellowship with all that wait for thee on earth, and with all that are around thee in heaven; in union with him. who is the resurrection and the life, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with you all, evermore. Amen.
(Presbyterian Guardian, January 23, 1937)
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary: if he turned the water into wine first, yes.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Mary: “daughters” is not an exact rhyme of “water.”
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
Mary: as I indicated in the Magnificat, I thought God was fulfilling something old. (“as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever”)
This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary: I see what you did there.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?
Mary: technically, he was not a baby boy when he healed the blind man.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm the storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
Mary: sometimes, Joseph and I lost track of his whereabouts.
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God.
Mary: did not know.
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary: I had not worked out Trinitarian theology.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Mary: I was thinking mainly in terms of Israel.
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.
Mary: If I knew then what I know now, of course.
When little Felix comes home to his patriotic and Christian home with the news that the Fathers of 1776 were a gang of smugglers and profiteers, and when his sister Flora follows with the news that Moses did not write his own obituary and that the baby, Gustave, was but recently indistinguishable from a tadpole, and later on from a nascent gorilla—when such subversive and astounding doctrines are brought home from the groves of learning there ensues inevitably a ringing of fire- bells, with a posse on the march against some poor pedagogue.
What I maintain is simply that the vigilantes are right and the pedagogue wrong. His error lies in assuming that taxpayers lay out their hard-earned money for the breeding of traitors and atheists; taxpayers actually lay out their money for the breeding of more taxpayers like themselves. And their natural desire that this program be followed strictly is supported by the overwhelming force of the state, which loses strength and authority in direct ratio as its citizens become heretics. What holds it up is not primarily brute force, as so many theorists argue; what holds it up is the fact that, on all really essential questions, the vast majority of its citizens think exactly alike—that there is never any general doubt of the fundamental communal superstitions. Once those superstitions are seriously challenged, the whole fabric of the state begins to crumble. The true function of the pedagogue is not to attack them, but to propagate them. His is a sort of priestly office. He is not paid to marshal doubts and weigh probabilities; he is paid to expound revelation. If he finds himself temperamentally unable to discharge that solemn and awful duty, then he should quit pedagogy and go into bootlegging or some other free craft. So long as he is publicly consecrated to the birch, he can no more depart from his text-book with seemliness than a Christian clergyman could depart from his sworn belief in witches.
It is these sick and wounded of the army of learning, I suspect, who are responsible for most of the academic Bolshevism that now fills the newspapers. Having been purged, by their superior education, of the fundamental communal superstitions—or, at all events, of a few of them—they get revenge upon the society that ill-uses them by inoculating the children of honest Rotarians with their own odd and often nonsensical heresies. These are the fellows who, at frequent intervals, commit scandalum magnatum by teaching that the American patriot infantry, at Bunker Hill, ran all the way down the hill, or that General Grant was a heavy lusher, or that the Bolsheviki have not really nationalized women, or that the world is older than the Bible says, or that the Nordic Blond, biologically, is no more than a bald chimpanzee. And these are the fellows who yell that they are undone when indignant trustees give them the gate.
It seems to me that those who protest against their thus getting the gate fall into the elemental error of assuming, only too often, that an American college is the exact equivalent of a European university. It is called a university, and so they accept it as one in fact. But it is really nothing of the kind. There has been but one genuine university in the United States in our time—the Johns Hopkins under Gilman—and it turned itself into a college with frantic haste the moment he died. The college student differs from a university student in a most important way: his formal education, when he matriculates, is not completed, but simply entering upon its last stage. That is to say, he has not yet taken in the whole of that body of correct and respectable ideas which all of us must somehow absorb before we are competent to think for ourselves—at all events, to any rational purpose and effect.
Only too often the fact is overlooked that even the most bold and talented of philosophers must suffer that stuffing before he is ready to go it alone. Aristotle, you may be sure, had the Greek alphabet rammed into him like any other Greek of his time, and studied the multiplication table, and learned the elements of Greek civics, and all that was then accepted about the nature of the Persians, the functions of the liver, and the aorist. Kant was grounded in Prussian history, the humoral pathology, and the Leibnitzian law of preestablished harmony. Even Nietzsche had to master the grammar-book, the catechism and the Lutheran psalm-book, that he might be a good German and keep out of jail. Such training takes time, for children naturally resist it; it takes more time in America than elsewhere because our elementary-schools, in late years, devote themselves mainly to fol-de-rols borrowed from the Boy Scouts, Greenwich Village and Bernarr Macfadden. Thus the young American, when he enters college, is still only half-educated in the conventional sense. At least three of his four years are consumed in completing the lowly business of making him fit to vote, keep a checkbook accurately, and understand what is in his newspaper. Every now and then some humorist subjects a class of freshmen to what is called a general information test. Four-fifths of them invariably turn out to be as ignorant as so many European schoolboys of ten or eleven.
Obviously, it is as imprudent to parade political heresies before such infants as it would be to lecture on obstetrics before girls of thirteen. When they are graduated at last, they are perhaps ripe for it, but when they are graduated they commonly depart the halls of learning for the bond business. The relatively few who remain seem to suffer no damage from such ideas as they encounter in the graduate-schools. At all events, there is never any complaint that they are being ruined, nor do they themselves complain that the notions of the salient anarchists are being withheld from them. Most of them, having no desire save to get their Ph. D.’s and settle down as pedagogues, are probably anaesthetic to whatever play of ideas goes on about them. A few, taking fire, afterward lecture scandalously in the prairie “universities” to which they are doomed, stir up the students to revolt against their colleagues, and so get themselves cashiered. But not many. Nor is the practical damage serious. There is always room enough for the minority of genuinely intelligent fellows in the graduate-schools whence they came. The spotlights of Babbitt do not bathe these schools, for his sons are not in them; thus they are quite free to monkey with ideas all they please, even with red-hot ones. (H. L. Mencken, “In the Rolling Mills,” Prejudices, Sixth Series, 1927)
If you recall the controversy over Larycia Hawkins at Wheaton College, when the professor of political science lost her post for among other things saying that Christians and Muslims worshiped the same God, you may also remember that David French came out in defense of the Wheaton College administration:
Terminating a Christian professor — or any other employee of a Christian institution — for expressing beliefs out of line with the organization’s statement of faith is common and should be uncontroversial. Christian organizations have the same right to define their mission and message as any other expressive organization. Does anyone think it’s unjust that the Sierra Club won’t hire fracking advocates or that LGBT activist organizations aren’t open to Christian conservatives?
Why then would he object to Baptists — BAPTISTS — who put the congregation in congregational polity, taking issue with the pastor of their congregation? Can anyone seriously object to a Baptist organization having the right to run its institutions according to Baptist polity? David French can and the reason may be that he is impressed by evangelical celebrity:
David Platt is a bestselling author, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, and the pastor of McLean Bible Church (MBC), a huge and influential church located outside Washington, D.C.
Although he is an attorney who seems to have a certain expertise about constitutional questions, the plight of Baptists not being able to vote in congregational elections is of no interest to French.
Platt is facing a revolt from self-described “conservative” congregants, a revolt that culminated in a lawsuit filed against the church by a group of its own members, demanding that a Virginia state court intervene in the church’s elder selection process to, among other things, preserve their alleged right to vote in those elections and to mandate a secret ballot.
Turning to the civil courts for protection of ecclesiastical rights may be unusual — but wasn’t a famous letter that Thomas Jefferson sent to Baptists who had certain legal questions — but why isn’t French, the attorney, at all interested?
Why too does he not see that using his platform to make one side in a church dispute look bad does not make him look good? What sort of norms and expectations would I upset if, say, during a trial in a presbytery of the OPC, I wrote an article about it for the wider world and took sides? Whatever influence I may have (or not), the seemingly appropriate thing to do is to stand back and let the process play out. Writing about themes or tensions relevant to such a case may be okay. But outsiders opinions in disputes at which they are not present have no stake are not helpful or welcome. They should but out.
At the same time, when you are a national columnist and need a religious subject for your Lord’s Day column, David Platt makes perfect sense.
How to think about spikes in urban crime and criminal justice reform:
But what was the difference between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of the Judaizers? What was it that gave rise to the stupendous polemic of the Epistle to the Galatians? To the modern Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul. The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah; there is not a shadow of evidence that they objected to Paul’s lofty view of the person of Christ. Without the slightest doubt, they believed that Jesus had really risen from the dead. They believed, moreover, that faith in Christ was necessary to salvation. But the trouble was, they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer’s own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical − not even, perhaps, the temporal − order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern “practical” Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm. What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances! Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him; surely he ought to have applied to them the great principle of Christian unity. (Christianity and Liberalism)
Maybe it was a different time. It was at least before Mike Brown, Carter Paige, “both sides” in Charlottesville, Robert Mueller, Volodymyr Zelensky, Brett Kavanaugh, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Anthony Fauci — June 2010 to be precise. But it is hard to imagine any moderate or progressive in the PCA today, after George Floyd, describing the place of slavery in the Old School vs. New School Presbyterian split (1837) the way Tim Keller does. This is from his essay about his positive regard for the PCA:
There is a third reason that we should learn to live together. Because we are brethren, we need each other. Let’s recount a sad case study that illustrates this–the issue of 19th century African slavery. The New Schoolers lacked doctrinal robustness but they were strongly abolitionist. The Old Schoolers saw the danger of the New School’s intense campaigns to reform society—they saw how they could distract from the ministry of the Word, evangelism, and the sacraments. They saw how the New School’s cultural accommodation was leading to doctrinal decline. As a consequence, much of the Old School, especially in the South refused to denounce African chattel slavery as being the evil that it was. Mark Noll has shown in The Civil War as a Theological Crisis and America’s God that the church’s inability to agree that slavery was evil directly led to the disaster of the Civil War and that was the reason that evangelicalism has never again had the cultural credibility in the U.S. that it had before the 1830s. Old School leader Charles Hodge was caught in the middle of this, perhaps because he was one of leaders who tried to achieve a balance of confessionalism and revivalism in the Presbyterian church. On the one hand, he saw what poor theological reasoning lay behind the arguments of the abolitionists and the New School. On the other hand, he rightly sensed the danger that ‘the spirituality of the church doctrine’ could lead to cultural captivity in the other direction—the conservative one. Noll points out that Hodge began to criticize slavery too late to have brought about unity within Presbyterianism on the subject. In short, the Old School’s fear of cultural engagement caused it to fail this great test. And yet the New School’s overinvolvement in politics and social reform did indeed lead it later to doctrinal compromise. So both schools were right in their criticism of the other.
Can anyone imagine a PCA pastor today arguing that opposition to slavery resulted in theological decline? For that matter, has anyone but a few conservatives recently worried out loud that Christian support for defunding police, wearing masks, or mocking elected officials could actually be at odds with biblical teaching and church conviction? To his credit, Tim Keller did.
But eleven years later, that same argument against splitting the PCA is part of the set of convictions that run along with Revoice. If slavery shouldn’t have split Presbyterians, surely Presbyterian pastors who identify as homosexual in orientation (not in practice) will never break up the PCA.