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Friday, September 27, 2013

King James

I choked a bit when our speaker, Paul Blair, noted that James I of England declared himself in place of freedom of religion.  Well, true on the surface, but James was not really so religiously autocratic as Bloody Mary or in fact half the monarchs of the day.  James was caught in a bind between Catholics who were the majority of England and Protestant Anglicans who ruled.  In Scotland, long an ally of France, (To keep England at bay) he quarreled with both the parliament and the Protestant kirk until finally he capitulated in order to keep peace and also assume the throne of England.  Will Durant calls him “the most learned hard drinker in Europe.” I guess I choked on Blair's comment because he could have picked on a lot of others.  

            What do you get when a kid can’t remember a time when he wasn’t king?  A spoiled brat and a narcissist. James VI of Scotland was  son to Mary Stuart, the Catholic French girl queen sent to inherit the Scottish throne, just as Knox and the Protestants rebelled and took over.  Knox bullied Mary and aligned all of Scotland against her until she fled to England were she was radioactive. (She was considered the rightful heir by Catholics) She was imprisoned 19 years and then executed in one of the ugliest chapters in British history.  This happened in an era when the crown was head of the church, any heresy was often viewed as an insurrection against the nation.  And there was little freedom of faith.  Mary left behind in Scotland her infant son, to be raised by nannies.

            He was very educated and very theoretical about everything, including governing. He was loud (yet eloquent) and partisan to his own cause, coarse,  yet more learned than anyone around him.  And he concluded he was the smartest guy in every room.  By the way, does this sound faintly like our Obama?  They share the narcissism.  He married Queen Anne but was gay and promoted his gay friends.  After 37 years of reigning in Scotland (mostly by regency) he assumed England’s throne when Elizabeth died without heirs and, with Mary Stuart gone, James VI of Scotland became James I of England.  He was a lazy and vain, not governing too well, leaving it to others.  His Catholic tendencies, from first allegiance to his mother, led him to flirt with France and Spain in diplomacy and the Scots did not like it.  Trying to play both sides, he cracked down on Catholics who thereupon tried to assassinate him.  That sealed his allegiance as a Protestant.

            “For the most part, James was a tolerant dogmatist”, offending everybody but not so badly.  He executed only a couple of Unitarians who refused to believe in Christ—not half as bloody as most of the European monarchs.  He underwrote a translation of the Bible, which took 12 men 18 years and a lot of donnybrookes to accomplish.  Finally they used mostly Tyndale’s brilliant New Testament.  Strangely, a lot of people today swear that the once controversial KJV is the ONLY translation.

            James declared that his word was divine, as in “papal”, which made all the Protestants gag.  But having made that conceited pronouncement, he rarely tried to make it mean anything.  He had little stomach for war, and little ability to organize for it.  That was actually to England’s benefit.  So Durant concludes, “Despite his vanity and coarseness, he was a better king than some who excelled him in vigor, courage, and enterprise.  His absolutism was mainly a theory, tempered with timidity and inability to work with parliaments. His pretensions to theology did not impede a will of tolerance more generous than that of his predecessors.” So while he pretended to speak divinely, it was more out of narcissism than determination. “He was a scholar, a college professor, miscast as a ruler.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Parliament Day

            You can tell what people value by what the days they celebrate.  We don’t celebrate Constitution Day, Sept 15 or Bill of Rights Day, Dec. 15.  To this I would add the founding of English Parliament, Sept 21, 1327.

            Kings thought they ruled by divine right, but some thought of themselves as the total authority.  Most of the time they ruled how they wished but not always.  Kings had no police nor any army unless they called the noblemen under them to serve in time of emergency.  Hence nobles always had some say in operations of the state.  So did clergy. When William the Conquerer took over England in 1066, he had a council and that was the council that angrily presented their demands for trial by jury and no new taxes to King John, known as the Magna Carta, in 1215. Eventually that council of nobles along with a council of town representatives (who were commoners which the king hoped would dampen the nobles) formed the First English Parliament. 

            They had a crappy king, Edward II, who was also gay or bi (like Hillary?) and neglected both his wives and his five kids. And this was the guy who was supposed to head of the Church of England.  He spent money like crazy, lost at Bannockburn to the Scots in 1314, and tried to bleed the nobles for another war.  The national assembly decided after 19 years they had enough and enlisted Eddie’s neglected wife and her paramour to kill the king.  (Impeachment, 14th century style, but very deliberate like you’d get from McConnell and Boehner) That happened on Sept. 21, 1327. Thereupon they confirmed Edward III at age 15 as king designate. 

            Parliament got its name during his reign, met in Westminster palace across from the historic Abbey. They divided into an upper and lower house—commoners and lords. Commons withdrew to meet in another hall in 1341, hence the name “Houses of Parliament”.  They debated freely, then delegated a “speaker” to deliver their results, grievances, petitions and resolutions to the House of Lords. The king alone had power to summon or dissolve Parliament.  But the lower house found they could drag their feet in raising money and armies to have some say in “the power of the purse”.  The king could not directly or openly challenge one of their laws or enact a new one, but kings often ruled by dictates and decrees—rather like Obama does.

            So what?  Well, Parliament was the first and longest successful republican body.  Much of our own legislative power came from Parliaments of the past. And September 21 marked their first “impeachment” and founding.        

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Friendship of faith

We were reading the book of Ruth and I thought, “Is there any better story of friendship evangelism in the Bible?”  For it is often that someone will come to church or a Bible study or special ministry with a committed friend, braving their own struggles with faith, hang around out of friendship and eventually become friends with God.  It made me think of the story Jim Peterson told.

            Jim Peterson was a tremendous evangelist, often credited with the spiritual rebirth in South America.  I knew him in a sparing way through the Navigators because he joined our Bible Study one night.  He wouldn’t take any credit for his own work in spreading the gospel.   Instead he credited much of his ministry to a guy who name I can’t recall.  Let’s call him Carlos, just to have a name.  Carlos came along with his brother to a small home Bible study Jim was holding.  He was in a wheelchair.  When asked about his faith, he said he was an atheist and was only there because of his brother. Jim tried every way he could think of to reach the guy  but said he was “cold as a fish,” never talked and didn’t participate.  But he came like an attachment to his brother and so the group tolerated his presence.  Two years went by and one day Carlos came to Jim in private.  He had prayed to God to heal his anger.  “You see, all my life I have been crippled.  All the other kids could play futball and have fun.  I was dependent on someone else for even the ordinary things in life.”  But he had confessed his anger to God and asked God to forgive him and do something with his life.  So, Jim wanted to know, what did he think he would do with his New Life of faith?  And Carlos said without a second’s hesitation, “I’m going to be an honest lawyer.”  He was about to finish his law degree and head home to practice.  Jim said he sorta scoffed at this in his head.  It was so small a goal.  Like deciding to buy a Buick. So Jim said he shrugged and Carlos went off to practice his trade.    

            What Carlos knew that Jim didn’t is that there was hardly an honest lawyer in Brazil.  Crime syndicates and corruption by authorities generated a legal culture of bribery and graft.  Lawyers were especially dishonest in Carlos’s own province.  Within a few years he had made a name for himself.  People sought him out to plead their cases. And people were asking why he was so scrupulously honest and all the other guys were such asses.  Carlos told about how Jesus Christ made a difference in his life. And next thing they knew they were going to church with him.

            In a world in which big name churches in urban areas expect growth of 15% a year and concentrate on marketing to draw people like flies, we seem to have gotten bored with bringing along our brother (or some other friend who seems to struggle with everything faith-wise).  Andrew brought his bro.  And that’s about all we hear about Andrew in the Bible.  Just brought his dumb brother, whose name was Simon “Peter” Bar-jonah.

End of the Reformation

I've had to answer this for a couple people so here it is in our blog.

So how did the Reformation wind up?  Luther died in 1546 as did Henry VIII.  In 1547 Francis I of France died as well.  This left Charles V, the Hapsburg ruler of Austria, Spain, the Lowlands and northern Italy as the one strong man in Europe.  Also he was the Holy Roman Emperor.  Charles decided to utterly destroy the heretic Protestants of Germany.  The time was ripe. A skilled diplomat he called in the small Lutheran princes and told them he had an issue to settle against the rulers of Hesse and Saxony but that he didn’t want them to get paranoid because he intended to let everyone worship as they chose. 

He was lying.  But the tiny princes were cowed.  Charles raised a huge army.  The soldiers knew they were on a crusade and decided to start massacring villages as they saw fit.  Charles conquered Saxony and Hesse the two largest Lutheran states and installed puppet rulers.  Step one was complete.  Step two was to mop up the small states and force all people into Catholicism.  But the atrocities galvanized the Lutherans still left.  And the Pope Paul III, a shrewd politician himself, suddenly began to fear a Holy Roman emperor so strong he could come down to Italy and take over there too.  He told his allied troops to come home. (and maybe he had little stomach for massacres) The same thinking pervaded the Bavarians.  Then the victorious Charles V settled in at Innsbruck and let half his own army go home for R&R.  At that point the Lutherans struck, driving the Austrians over the mountain range. Meanwhile the small Protestants enlisted Henry II of France to take Hapsburg Lorraine.   With the fear of an Emperor ruling everything, France joined in the alliance. On August 2, 1552 the northern allies met with Charles at Chambord where a truce was signed. Amazingly Charles agreed to let all rulers define the faith of their realm until the following year when a Diet was to be called to install new rules.  Or if no rules were to be established, then freedom of faith was to be granted “forever,” a favorite word in treaties and truces. 

Why did he do this?  He could have easily reorganized a powerful army and conquered.  And was not the reason for war to destroy the Protestant movement for good?  For years historians have wondered why the sudden change of heart for Charles.  Then about 50 years ago a stack of personal letters were found written by Charles’s sister in Northern Germany who was married to one of the Protestant princes.  In almost daily letters she shared her faith, wrote of its meaning and never offered a harsh word to her dear brother.  It seems she had become the biggest Lutheran of them all.  What we think now happened was that Charles “wore down” in his agenda and in the end agreed to allow religious suffrage.  And so he never called the Diet.

Meanwhile the Jesuits had organized a counter-Reformation of arguments which they were peddling around Europe and winning some back to the Roman Catholic faith.  Paul III took their initiative to call a church council to reform many of the church practices that had led to the rebellion.  The war of words wore on, but the fires of annihilation grew cold until the Thirty Years War when the two sides segregated into camps around political ends.  In England, the Calvinists led a revolt against the Anglican King but after a year, the old order was restored.  In the aftermath of 100 years of war, feelings were still raw, and many of the people displaced or in fear of it found a chance to have freedom of their faith in a new land, America.  And that was then the first of several reasons why our Constitution was founded on Judeo-Christian ethical principles but not doctrinal discrimination.  The people had had enough of war.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Real Reformation

            In 2000 an international association of historians decided to vote on who the man of the millennium was.  Thomas Jefferson narrowly won over Martin Luther, a guy who was all about the Reformation.   

While there were many players in the Reformation, indeed many Catholics spurred their own church to Reformation in 1563, Luther seems most associated with the era.  I had a discussion with Dr. Alvin Schmidt, historian-ret. Illinois College, and expert on Luther, a few days ago concerning the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  The common date for the Reformation is Oct. 31, 1517, but many historians object.  Luther’s 95 Theses weren’t translated from Latin into German until January 1518, which subsequently set off a firestorm.  Yet by the end of that year, Luther and Pope Leo had patched things up and the 95 Theses looked like a non-event. But the Dominicans were the scholars of Europe and very much tied to the Acquinas medieval model of “no salvation outside the church, no grace except given by the church” They tricked Luther into a debate. On (a date that Americans can remember) July 4, 1519 Luther and Eck squared off and Luther made many statements against absolute authority of the Bishop of Rome, role of the church as the only source of grace, transubstantiation, and celibacy.  This was a culmination of Luther’s theology of the cross and beyond this point Protestantism and Catholicism were split.  Hence many historians say that 1519 should be the real Reformation date.

            But I insist that the political splits, the church practice divisions, and the subsequent wars are not the real Reformation.  The spark occurred spiritually when Luther found his basic belief given in his motto, Sola Gracia, Sola Fides, Sola Scriptura.  And so what date was that?  I had picked August 1513 but Al thinks it is more like 1514.  He recommended a couple books now out of print, Luther and His Times, E.G. Schwiebert, and The Theology of Martin Luther by Paul Althaus.  William Durant’s The Story of Civilization, Vol. VI, The Reformation is much easier to get dates from but less inclusive.  After a lot of reading, we still can’t pin down the date any closer than August, 1513 to November 1514.  But that does mean that right around now is the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, at least the part that counts.

            Let me give a brief synopsis of events in Luther’s life that led to this spiritual awakening.  Martin Luther was born to a hard-driving entrepreneur peasant who pulled himself up by his bootstraps to owning 7 mines and 2 smelters.  Self-made men  often have big plans for their kids and Hans Luther was no exception, pushing his eldest son, Martin to get a law degree.  Marty’s mother was also very stern.  The church around 1500 promoted views of faith around Scholasticism, a variety of theories of how a soul gained justification through works after believing in the work of Jesus’s death on the cross. From his demanding parents and church Luther grew up greatly fearing the wrath of God, like most people of his time.

            While working on a law degree, he was walking home to Mansfeld and was caught in a thunder storm. He was nearly struck by lightning and cried out in fear, promising God that he would become a monk.  His dad went beserk. But just as stubborn as his father, Luther became an Augustinian monk.  He struggled with his worries that becoming a monk didn’t cleanse his mind or remove his sins and doubts.  But Luther was brilliant.  His grades were as good as his confessions and austerities worried the leaders of the monastery that he would kill himself.  Luther launched into doctrine and scholasticism to try to find answers for himself.  In 1511 he was sent to Rome, the hope being that he would become endeared to the church.  It backfired.  He found Italy and Rome decadent, Popes and Cardinals had out of wedlock children, and money ruled everything.  In 1512 he earned his doctorate in theology and was given the assignment to teach at Wittenberg College.  In the summer of 1513 he was preparing to lecture on Psalms.  Psalms were big eye-openers for him, seeing the prayers of the faithful and their struggles as well.  While working on Psalm 31 or 71 (historians are unsure which since both contain a critical phrase) in his tower study, he came across the phrase “deliver me in Thy righteousness”.  That was significant since he had struggled with the meaning of Righteousness of God.  Traditionally it meant the right character of God, a terrifying thing to Marty.  But here Luther realized that it also referred to the determined and inexplicable love of God that pursues worthless humans, even to death on the cross.  Thus he could understand Rom 1:17 and Habbakkuk 2:4 as justification by a person’s faith. With that understanding, Luther realized suddenly that all scripture made sense.  Faith, and only faith Luther alleged, justifies a believer.  Scripture trumps all church councils, edicts and statements by a pope.  Grace—God’s mercy manifest in His plan and work of salvation—is the key to everything Christianity is about. And the fact that Luther was a doctor of theology gave him a unique ability to criticize the church in its beliefs from top to bottom.

            We don’t know when that tower experience happened.  Perhaps it isn't noted closely because most Augustinians believed in grace and faith so it was not a new or outlandish idea. It was in the fall of either 1513 or 1514. In 1515, Luther lectured on Romans and the notes, Compendium of Romans, recently ‘discovered’ by the Vatican, is full of Luther’s reformation. In fact, it is so compelling that the Catholic Church of Germany met with the Lutherans in the mid 90’s and issued a statement that they agreed with Luther’s Grace-filled explanation of salvation. The presiding cardinal was the future Pope Benedict. 

            Once you think scripture is the sole work of Christianity, once God’s Grace is the sole means of salvation, Faith is the sinner’s reaction and has nothing to do with working one’s way to a justification.   It isn’t long before papacy and councils lose their authority when scripture is the only guide. Sacraments become mysterious means but only through God’s Word, and reach the believer with Grace.  And a relationship with a God who loves you closer than anyone else, supercharges your desire to live like Jesus to the world.   The Revolution was on. And the unfolding of that revolt began about 500 years ago today.        

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Trayvon's War

Now correct me if I’m wrong.  Did I hear Obama say that Trayvon could have been him 35 years ago?  What I didn’t realize was how true it was.  And here 35 years later, Trayvon said “I could just give that guy from Syria an ass-whupping (as Jentil explains it) and what could happen? I mean surely we won’t get into a war with Russia and Iran.  Surely Israel won’t get attacked.  Nothing bad can come of this since we won’t have ‘boots on the ground’”.

            Would I be too audacious to explain that this is how a leader without a plan to win gets into a quagmire?  This was how we were going to ‘teach them a lesson’ in Vietnam and wound up with a fight on our hands.  This is how Sweden was going to just teach Russia a lesson in the 18th century and wound up losing their empire.  War is hell and very chaotic and often defies prediction.  You only go to war when all other options have expired and a fight to the death is all that remains.  None of this air strike only BS, Barack Stupidity. You had better be ready to commit everything you have. 

            When you look at the military commanders who have become Presidents, they are strong on Defense but cautious about going to war.  If you lose face and drop in the polls by some statement you have made, that is nothing compared to losing thousands of men in a futile war.  Fight only when it is the last resort. 

            Obluster has no plan to win.  He just wants a free pot shot.  That’s like saying that George Z. should just lie there and take that ass-whuppin’. What if Syria pulls out a gun that happens to be Russian Retaliation.  We’d better be ready for that possibility.  And if he were really concerned about the nerve gas use, why didn’t he go to Congress six months ago and ask for provisional approval for a strike?  That way it would be a surprise.  Heck, he’s not serious about protecting our country.  He won’t even secure our borders.  Doesn’t he think bad guys might cross it?

            Meanwhile we have a situation where the Syrians are killing each other.  The vile dictator is killing Al Qaeda and other radicals and vice versa.  Is that so bad?  But if we still can’t stand to be patient, here’s my suggestion.  If the chemical attacks are our concern—and they should be ours as well as Israel’s—then just aim at places that our intel tells us they are located.  Big green cloud erupts.  “Hey! Don’t mess with us or use that stuff again or we will explode more of your cache and you get to wear the gas masks.”