Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Racism and the Church: Some Reflections...

Is racism a special category of sin to be dealt with by means other than those set forth in Scripture? I think not.

As understood in Reformational circles, God's Moral Law diagnoses sin (see WLC 93-98) as well as points believers to godly living. All deviation from the Moral Law is condemned as sin by God. This includes sins like adultery, theft, bearing false witness, etc.... or racism; which are a subset of violating the second table (i.e. not loving neighbor). And defined as sin, these acts are worthy of God's wrath. The Gospel, on the other hand, is the only remedy for sin and disobedience given by God, as taught in Scripture (WLC 31-36, Romans 1:16). The Gospel promises and offers forgiveness of sin, salvation, and eternal life by God's grace alone through Christ t
o all those who believe, including all saving graces unto a changed heart and a new obedience.

Yet when the Church diagnoses a sin problem (e.g. racism) in such a way that Christ (as he is offered in the Gospel) is Not the Answer or Remedy for sin, past and present, then she has not fully or Biblically diagnosed the problem. When this is the case, I would conjecture that the Church may be too optimistically intent on eradicating outward symptoms rather than exposing the iceberg heart of sin below the waterline. All too often we focus on eradicating outward behaviors as proof of "solving the problem", i.e. righting the wrongs. This is understandable given that the symptoms of sin (bigotry, adultery...) are horrible and painful. Yet a diagnosistic goal primarily focused on stopping outward symptoms often leads to an ends justifies the means prescription. Broad brushes in Law prescriptions lathered with explicit or implicit guilt-assigning offer possible remedies for shaping things up more quickly. Whereas sanctification as a grace of the Gospel seems relatively slow and weak. In my view, when this course is taken, the Gospel is in danger of being clouded if not set aside. Isn’t it Christ crucified, as he is presented in the Gospel, who alone cleanses from sin and changes sinful hearts through the accompanying work of the Holy Spirit? 

John Owen's Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit -
This whole matter of sanctification and holiness is peculiarly joined with and limited unto the doctrine, truth, and grace of the gospel; for holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls... 
The “law,” indeed, for certain ends, “was given by Moses,” but all “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” There neither is, nor ever was, in the world, nor ever shall be, the least dram of holiness, but what, flowing from Jesus Christ, is communicated by the Spirit, according to the truth and promise of the gospel.
When the gospel is then diminished or relegated to the role of merely a means to an end, as good as that end may be, then Jesus Christ is no longer held up as preeminent (Col 1:18b) and the Church's path has likely deviated to a moral mission away from its redemptive mission.

It is faith and repentance in the gospel of Christ crucified which lead sinners to not just forgiveness of sins and a righteous standing before God, but a new heart-direction of holiness and obedience, i.e. walking away from one’s former manner of life towards one of loving God and neighbor (Ephesians 4:21-24). The goal of the gospel (that which God guarantees to all who believe) is nothing less than Christ himself received as Savior and Lord for the forgiveness of sins and the promise of his Spirit leading to changed hearts and lives inclined towards holiness with... wait for it... a modest and gradual increase of a changed social outlook for the good of others. Growth in godliness is slow.
Heidelberg Catechism Q. 114. But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments? 
A. No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.
Christians are redeemed-yet-sinners, sojourners in this age of grace awaiting the new creation, the new age. Yes, the church is the in-breaking of that new holy creation. But we still live in a fallen world rife with sin, our sin. We desire that which should be, but is not yet.  So where to go? 

The Church as instituted by God has the calling to preach the Gospel of Christ as God’s only remedy for man's sin. And this by calling sinners to salvation through faith and repentance, a call to trust in Jesus Christ, a call to holy living and forgiving others as we have been forgiven. The therefore of my thoughts on this matter?  In my mind it is rather straight forward. We are admonished and encouraged in Scripture to live each day by the grace of God in such a way that we would acknowledge and own our sins and, trusting in God's mercy in Christ, seek to turn around and live as obedient followers of Jesus. We fall short. We all are worthy of rejection and not acceptance. Yet as recipients of God's grace, each day we are called to confess our failures in the assurance of God's fatherly embrace and forgiveness in Christ... to set out again to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. 

This might prove helpful to keep in mind regarding racism and the church:
Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted you to the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

Monday, March 4, 2019

Innovation and Church Worship

Some points worth considering not just by Anglicans, in my humble layman opinion...

C.S. Lewis -
I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.
To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain – many give up churchgoing altogether – merely endure. 
Is this simply because the majority are hide-bound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best – if you like, it “works” best – when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice… The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. 
But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshiping. The important question about the Grail was “for what does it serve?” “Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the God.”
A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.” 
Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. 
– from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer