Friday, September 6, 2013
Monday, July 8, 2013
If He is about to descend, on what account shall we be caught up? For the sake of honor. For when a king drives into a city, those who are in honor go out to meet him; but the condemned await the judge within. And upon the coming of an affectionate father, his children indeed, and those who are worthy to be his children, are taken out in a chariot, that they may see and kiss him; but those of the domestics who have offended remain within. We are carried upon the chariot of our Father. For He received Him up in the clouds, andwe shall be caught up in the clouds.Acts 1:9 Do you see how great is the honor? And as He descends, we go forth to meet Him, and, what is more blessed than all, so we shall be with Him.
Who shall speak of the mightinesses of the Lord, and make all His praises to be heard?Psalm 106:2, SeptuagintHow many blessings has He vouchsafed to the human race! Those who are dead are raised first, and thus the meeting takes place together. Abel who died before all shall then meet Him together with those who are alive. So that they in this respect will have no advantage, but he who is corrupted, and has been so many years in the earth, shall meet Him with them, and so all the others. For if they awaited us, that we might be crowned, as elsewhere he says in an Epistle,Godhaving provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect Hebrews 11:40, much more shall we also await them; or rather, they indeed awaited, but we not at all. For the Resurrection takes placein a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.
But as to the saying, that they are gathered together; they arise indeed everywhere, but are gathered together by the Angels. The former therefore is the work of the power of God commanding the earth to give up its deposit, and there is no one who ministers in it, as He then called Lazarus,Lazarus, come forthJohn 11:43; but the gathering is the work of ministers. But if Angels gather them together, and run to and fro, how are they caught up here? They are caught up after the descent, after that they are gathered together.
For this is also done without any one being aware. For when they see the earth agitated, the dust mingling, the bodies rising perchance on every side, no one ministering to this, but theshoutbeing sufficient, the whole earth filled (for consider how great a thing it is that all the men from Adam unto His coming shall then stand with wives and children)—when they see so great a tumult upon the earth—then they shall know. As therefore in the Dispensation that was in the Flesh, they had foreseen nothing of it, so also will it then be.
When these things then are done, then also will be the voice of the Archangel shouting and commanding the Angels, and the trumpets, or rather the sound of the trumpet. What trembling then, what fear will possess those that remain upon the earth. For one woman is caught up and another is left behind, and one man is taken, and another is passed over. Matthew 24:40-41; Luke 17:34-35 What will be the state of their souls, when they see some indeed taken up, but themselves left behind? Will not these things be able to shake their souls more terribly than any hell? Let us represent then in word that this is now present. For if sudden death, or earthquakes in cities, and threatenings thus terrify our souls; when we see the earth breaking up, and crowded with all these, when we hear the trumpets, and the voice of the Archangel louder than any trumpet, when we perceive the heaven shriveled up, and God the King of all himself coming near— what then will be our souls? Let us shudder, I beseech you, and be frightened as if these things were now taking place. Let us not comfort ourselves by the delay. For when it must certainly happen, the delay profits us nothing.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Six months ago we were plugging along in our little Anglican fellowship. But then a number of factors led us to slowly withdraw over the spring. Some of it had to do with things our church couldn't help: a relentless barrage of embarrassing news coming out of the Anglican world, rehearsed in jack-hammer fashion on George Conger's blog. Then revelations regarding The Anglican Province of Rwanda's complicity in the dictatorship of Paul Kagame, and the false narrative sold to American evangelicals of Rwandan "reconciliation." The latter made it clear to us that as a family we could not sign on with PEAR USA with a good conscience.
There were local issues, too, e.g. a move to a nearby Associate Reformed Presbyterian sanctuary -- beautiful, yes; but meaning we no longer had the flexibility to meet for Wednesday night Bible studies. But more than any other factor, our family came to a very practical realization: we were just plumb tired of doing "commuter church." For sundry theological and ecclesiastical reasons we had been driving a minimum 40 mile round trip for 20 of the past 23 years. Nobody vocalized it, but deep down we were all worn out by the distance and limited fellowship opportunities.
In January (2013) my youngest daughter was invited to give a talk on upcycling (based on a project she had done for the local county fair) to a Young at Heart group at a church in our community. She was warmly received and the family was encouraged to visit. A week after her presentation I decided, out of sheer curiosity, to visit the church's Wednesday night Bible study on Romans. And then we started visiting on Sunday mornings.
That church, it turns out, is one I've known about since the late '70s. It was established by German Reformed settlers in 1766 -- five years after Old Hop had gone to sleep with his fathers -- making it the second oldest congregation in our county. I had never given it much thought since it belonged to the flaming liberal United Church of Christ. But something happened there six years ago that was a game-changer. And while this is yet another post about a very personal experience, I think there is something instructive here about the trajectory of Christianity in America.
In 2007 this church voted itself out of the UCC -- the denomination that had gone from Philip Schaff and Reinhold Niebuhr to Bill Moyers and Barack Obama. This church still has families that descended from those old German settlers. These people still have a vigorous and simple confidence in the Bible as God's inerrant word.
The UCC was a union of Congregationalist churches in the northeast with the (German) Evangelical and Reformed churches in the Middle Atlantic and Midwest. Both groups had succumbed to modernism, but there were dissidents: Lewis Sperry Chafer (founder of Dallas Theological Seminary) and C.I. Scofield were Congregationalist ministers. Meanwhile, the Carolina Piedmont was a backwater of E & R churches that never fully imbibed sacramental Mercersburg theology or the social gospel. Like the "burnt over" districts of the late 18th century, the DNA of the rural Piedmont churches was informed more by revivalism than mainline modernism.
So the seeds (dormant though they seemed) were sown for a resurgence of old-time religion, especially once the UCC openly embraced liberalism. While the UCC proclaimed that "God is still speaking" (ostensibly overturning His own antiquated word in scripture) several rural congregations to our east said in effect, "in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son" (Hebrews 1:2), and that word is non-negotiable. This church, a five-mile country drive (10 minutes) from our doorstep, was among them.
To my pleasant surprise the pastor who was called to the church after it left the UCC is a graduate of Dallas Seminary with a doctorate from Marburg (Germany). He has authored several books, among them a definitive biography of Chafer.
The congregation is predominately elderly. Prior to our coming the "youth group" consisted of exactly one teenage girl -- who succeeds in bringing a half dozen of her school friends (in addition to our two youngest) to monthly activities (last week we took the group geochaching, drawing some spiritual lessons while having a fun adventure). Does this church have a future? Well, it certainly has a long past. And there are some families with younger children in attendance
Like other churches founded in the German reformed tradition it has a light liturgy including seasonal colors, altar candles (lit by the aforementioned teen), the creeds, prayers, and the Lord's Supper at least once a month and on church holidays. But there's a laid back feel and informality -- think the mythical "All Souls Church" on The Andy Griffith Show. Extemporaneous prayers are animated; announcements turn into conversations, with the pastor patiently grinning while shuffling his sermon notes. Laughter and joy blend with a stiff upper lip concern for the infirmed and grieving.
The fourth Sunday of the month includes an old-fashioned hymn singing. Members call out their favorites. The Sunday after George Beverly Shea went to be with Christ, an elder member requested that we sing "How Great Thou Art" and got a bit cantankerous when the organist couldn't find the music:
"What kind of church is this," he barked aloud, "that can't sing 'How Great Thou Art'? We don't need the music; let's just sing it!" The recurring favorites, though, are "The Old Rugged Cross" and "In the Garden."
This is a country church, a slice a rural Americana, where conservative convictions and familiar hymnody are commonly upheld in spite of denominational affiliations. It is familiar to me from my experience as a youth; familiar enough to my wife from her upbringing in a church of the Grace Evangelical Society; and seasoned with a dash of the liturgical worship order we've come to appreciate over the past seven years.
In a recent Time article, Mary Eberstadt observed,
It’s the stricter Christian churches that typically have stronger and more vibrant congregations — as has been documented at least since Dean M. Kelley’s 1996 book, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing...
Well, this church does serve up breakfast -- or hold a hot dog sale -- about every Saturday. But something tells me it will still be here after the seeker-friendlies have long dissipated.
As changing views on gay marriage, among others, go to show, secularization marches on. Traditionalists may be on the losing end of historic real estate, at least for now, as well as booed out of the public square for their views on sex. Down the road, though, they still look to possess something else critical — a growing congregation without which every church, after all, is just a bed and breakfast waiting to happen.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
This a bit of random reflection. I launched this blog five years ago this month, naming it in memory of Old Hop (Kanagatucko), the uku (“firekeeper”) of the ancient Cherokee town of Chota, situated on the east side of Little Tennessee River near the present-day town of Vonore, TN. He is my ancestor on my mother’s mother’s mother’s side, through the Lambert/Raper line. Chota was the most prominent of the Overhill towns. When he emerged, reluctantly, in July of 1753 as the headman and speaker of Chota, Old Hop became, to both Cherokee and British minds, the de facto face of the Cherokee nation.
But Fred Gearing, whose book Priests and Warriors remains one the best resources on 18th century Cherokee society and politics, emphasized that Old Hop never became “Emperor” like his predecessors. In fact, Old Hop’s “government” had little definition. It consisted mainly of ad hoc councils, called together to deal with crises and concerns as they arose. Old Hop himself was an unimpressive figure. The war record of his youth (or lack thereof) was chided. He was lame – hence the nickname foisted upon him by the British. But his timidity, circumspection, and refusal to make rash decisions embodied the very virtues Cherokees sought in their beloved headmen. He represented the time honored tradition of patient and prudent counsel. And judged by the standards of keeping the nation intact and, above all, at peace, both internally and with encroaching French and British colonial interests, Old Hop’s tenure – which ended with his death in August of 1761 – can only be viewed as a success.
His power was a function of weakness. Perched on one leg, Old Hop (his Cherokee name means “Standing Turkey”) was the exemplar of humility mixed with sagacity. Local town councils retained most of the decision-making over everyday matters. He did not rule by edict or decree, but by quiet example.
Old Hop and the Cherokee nation of his time reflect, in my view, the best possible political philosophy short of the parousia. It was close to a kind of “anarcho-monarchism” ascribed to J.R.R. Tolkien. David Bentley Hart summarizes it this way:
The ideal king would be rather like the king in chess: the most useless piece on the board, which occupies its square simply to prevent any other piece from doing so, but which is somehow still the whole game. There is something positively sacramental about its strategic impotence. And there is something blessedly gallant about giving one’s wholehearted allegiance to some poor inbred ditherer whose chief passions are Dresden china and the history of fly-fishing, but who nonetheless, quite ex opere operato, is also the bearer of the dignity of the nation, the anointed embodiment of the genius gentis—a kind of totem or, better, mascot.
As for Tolkien’s anarchism, I think it obvious he meant it in the classical sense: not the total absence of law and governance, but the absence of a political archetes—that is, of the leadership principle as such. In Tolkien’s case, it might be better to speak of a “radical subsidiarism,” in which authority and responsibility for the public weal are so devolved to the local and communal that every significant public decision becomes a matter of common interest and common consent.
Of course, America will never have an idyllic weak king. If anything the presidency is evolving into a demagogic dictatorship. I’ve come to terms with the demise of the Old Republic. The world and words of John Taylor of Caroline and John Randolph of Roanoke have been relegated to the dustbin of history. Ron Paul represented the last fleeting, outside chance of steering obliquely in that direction. But the course has been set. Hart goes on,
We all have to make our way as best we can across the burning desert floor of history, and those who do so with the aid of “political philosophies” come in two varieties.
There are those whose political visions hover tantalizingly near on the horizon, like inviting mirages, and who are as likely as not to get the whole caravan killed by trying to lead it off to one or another of those nonexistent oases. And then there are those whose political dreams are only cooling clouds, easing the journey with the meager shade of a gently ironic critique, but always hanging high up in the air, forever out of reach.
I like to think my own political philosophy—derived entirely from my exactingly close readings of The Compleat Anglerand The Wind in the Willows—is of the latter kind. Certainly Tolkien’s was. Whatever the case, the only purpose of such a philosophy is to avert disappointment and prevent idolatry. Democracy is not an intrinsic good, after all; if it were, democratic institutions could not have produced the Nazis.
My own political instinct is closer to “Tory anarchism.” I love tradition, order, liberty and peace; and, with a bit of wry humor, I find the modern democratic state (with its rigged and captive markets) a fraud, a false religion worthy of contempt. It’s funny to note how this instinct was already at work in my first post on this blog in December 2007, “Arcadia in Appalachia.” Pseudo-messianic shysters have been at work for a long, long time.
One of my ancestors on my father’s side was David “the Tory” Hix (1719-1792). Like about a quarter to a third of Americans living at the time of the Revolution, David had more fear of a new government closer to home than a distant king 3,500 miles across the pond. David packed his family up and left the Virginia Piedmont for the North Carolina mountains – joining a group of English migrants who “hid out” on the ridges (one of my earliest and favorite posts on this blog was about the Hammons family of West Virginia, who followed a similar trajectory).
Doing genealogical research on my father’s side I looked into the origins of Hicks Chapel Baptist Church in Marion, NC, named in honor of James M. Hicks (1822-1899) who donated land for the congregation. A family historian told me, “Yes, starting with James we became Baptists; but originally the Hicks were Episcopalians.” That conversion to the Baptist way probably had something to do with the Second Great Awakening. I am deeply indebted to the high view of the authority of scripture and biblical literacy that I received from my Baptist upbringing and later association with another British offshoot, the Plymouth Brethren.
In embracing the Anglican tradition of my distant ancestors I find a way of doing church that appeals to my instincts. It isn’t the episcopal polity so much as the Prayer Book and the liturgy that give me a sense of something greater and more permanent than my own inklings – while at the same time facilitating (hopefully) worship in spirit and in truth. The Anglican tradition leaves space for different theological instincts and the tension that comes with them. In that way it reflects a kind of spiritual “Tory anarchism,” a big tent of quirky persuasions and preferences held together by common prayer and creed. I'm not surprised when Satan comes at it with all his fury. Yet, the gospel is still there in most of its corners, as it will be to the end.
With that, I'm going to take off the rest of the year. We'll see what 2013 holds. Until then, I bid a blessed Advent season, as we meditate on the return of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
We do not live in a "free market" society. We live under a crony system of rent-seekers. John Kay succinctly explains:
The fall of the Berlin Wall was the symbol of the most important economic development of our lifetimes, opening the way to the creation of market economies not just in the former communist states but in countries such as India with great unrealised economic potential.
Yet many misunderstood the lesson of the failure of centrally directed economic systems. Market economies succeed when they advance through disciplined pluralism – the process that gives maximum scope for experiment and innovation, while ensuring that when experiments and innovations fail they are terminated, and that when occasionally they succeed they are imitated. That is the origin of the advances in the IT sector.
The success of market economies is not achieved by policies that encourage people to be greedy and imposing as few restrictions as possible on what the greediest of them do. That was the world of Shah Jahan and it produced very little in the way of economic advance.
Read it all here.