Friday, January 27, 2006

Part III: The Spirit of Vatican II

Ah, Vatican II. Just the mere mention of the name of this ecumenical council sends shivers down the spine of the most ardent traditionalists, and shouts of joy among the crowds who endeavor to remake the church under the guise of “the spirit of Vatican II.” “Remember Vatican II!” is shouted more often than “Remember the Alamo!” is in the Texas statehouse. Although I will quote from its documents, it really isn’t up to me to say what Vatican II did or didn’t mean. Not my job. Sure, I have my opinions, but the last time I checked they haven’t included me as part of the Magisterium, so take my incoherent ramblings for what you will.

Vatican II released 16 documents, and among those was Dei Verbum, the Constitution on Divine Revelation. This discussed Scripture in some detail- the origin, the transmission, the means of arriving at an authentic interpretation. The last chapter covered Sacred Scripture in the life of the church.

“The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spiritresound in the words of the prophets and Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: ‘For the word of God is living and active’ (Heb. 4:12) and ‘it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified’ (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thes. 2:13).

Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. That is why the Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation; of the Old Testament which is called the septuagint; and she has always given a place of honor to other Eastern translations and Latin ones especially the Latin translation known as the vulgate. But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them.” (Dei Verbum, par. 21-22, emphasis mine)

“Therefore, all the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become ‘an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly’ since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy. The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the ‘excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 3:8). ‘For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’ Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere. And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for ‘we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.’”(DV, par. 25, emphasis mine)

“For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” And therein lies my whole point. I read materials on Catholic apologetics websites and forums all the time where the writer takes great pride in not believing like a Protestant. Sorry, not good enough. Let’s say that I raise my son to never do anything bad. If I succeed, I’ve done good, but it’s only half the job. I also need to raise him to do good. In the same way, if my whole purpose as a Catholic is to avoid everything that isn’t Catholic, then I’ve missed the point. I also need to participate in the riches of Catholicism. And one of those riches, as I’ve made very plain, is Sacred Scripture. Let’s ditch the Protestant-phobia, follow the consistent example of the Popes, and dive right into the Book. Listen attentively at Mass, certainly; but don’t let that be the only time the words of the Bible enter your consciousness. Soak in the Bible like I marinate my chicken in Zesty Italian dressing before I cook it. Some will say, “Well, why should I study the menu (the Bible) when I can eat the meal (the Eucharist)?” My response to that is, if you study the menu you can better appreciate what you are being served.

To finish, I would like to quote Pope Benedict XVI, when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. In the writings and speeches of Pope Benedict XVI I see a man who is well-versed in the words of Scripture. This is what he has to say to the “common man”, the non-scholar, who may feel like the Bible is best left to the experts:

“Every Catholic must have the courage to believe that his faith (in communion with that of the Church) surpasses every "new magisterium" of the experts, of the intellectuals. Their hypotheses can be helpful in providing a better understanding of the genesis of the biblical books, but it is a prejudice of evolutionistic provenance if it is asserted that the text is understandable only if its origin and development are studied. The rule of faith, yesterday as today, is not based on the discoveries (be they true or hypothetical) of biblical sources and layers but on the Bible just as it is, as it has been read in the Church since the time of the Fathers until now. It is precisely the fidelity to this reading of the Bible that has given us the saints, who were often uneducated and, at any rate, frequently knew nothing about exegetical contexts. Yet they were the ones who understood it best.” ---Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger), The Ratzinger Report, pg. 76.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Part II: Pius XII and Thomas Aquinas

Pope Pius XII reigned as Pope from 1939-1958. On the 50th anniversary of Providentissimus Deus, Pius XII prepared an encyclical letter entitled Divino Afflante Spiritu. In it he recaps what Leo XIII had to say about the study of and meditation upon Sacred Scripture, and adds the reflections of other Popes of the past:

“Nor should We fail to mention here how earnestly these same Our Predecessors, when the opportunity occurred, recommended the study or preaching or in fine the pious reading and meditation on the Sacred Scriptures. Pius X most heartily commended the society of St. Jerome, which strives to promote among the faithful -- and to facilitate with all its power -- the truly praiseworthy custom of reading and meditating on the holy Gospels; he exhorted them to persevere in the enterprise they had begun, proclaiming it ‘a most useful undertaking, as well as most suited to the times,’ seeing that it helps in no small way ‘to dissipate the idea that the Church is opposed to or in any way impedes the reading of the Scriptures in the vernacular.’ And Benedict XV, on the occasion of the fifteenth centenary of the death of St. Jerome, the greatest Doctor of the Sacred Scriptures, after having most solemnly inculcated the precepts and examples of the same Doctor, as well as the principles and rules laid down by Leo XIII and by himself, and having recommended other things highly opportune and never to be forgotten in this connection, exhorted ‘all the children of the Church, especially clerics, to reverence the Holy Scripture, to read it piously and meditate it constantly’; he reminded them ‘that in these pages is to be sought that food, by which the spiritual life is nourished unto perfection,’ and ‘that the chief use of Scripture pertains to the holy and fruitful exercise of the ministry of preaching’; he likewise once again expressed his warm approval of the work of the society called after St. Jerome himself, by means of which the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles are being so widely diffused, ‘that there is no Christian family any more without them and that all are accustomed to read and meditate them daily.’” (Divino Afflante Spiritu, paragraph 9)

Pius XII proceeds to outline the responsibilities of the Catholic Scripture scholar. Near the end of the letter he exhorts bishops and priests with these words:

“Let priests therefore, who are bound by their office to procure the eternal salvation of the faithful, after they have themselves by diligent study perused the sacred pages and made them their own by prayer and meditations, assiduously distribute the heavenly treasures of the divine word by sermons, homilies and exhortations; let them confirm the Christian doctrine by sentences from the Sacred Books and illustrate it by outstanding examples from sacred history and in particular from the Gospel of Christ Our Lord; and -- avoiding with the greatest care those purely arbitrary and far-fetched adaptations, which are not a use, but rather an abuse of the divine word -- let them set forth all this with such eloquence, lucidity and clearness that the faithful may not only be moved and inflamed to reform their lives, but may also conceive in their hearts the greatest veneration for the Sacred Scripture.

“The same veneration the Bishops should endeavor daily to increase and perfect among the faithful committed to their care, encouraging all those initiatives by which men, filled with apostolic zeal, laudably strive to excite and foster among Catholics a greater knowledge of and love for the Sacred Books. Let them favor therefore and lend help to those pious associations whose aim it is to spread copies of the Sacred Letters, especially of the Gospels, among the faithful, and to procure by every means that in Christian families the same be read daily with piety and devotion; let them efficaciously recommend by word and example, whenever the liturgical laws permit, the Sacred Scriptures translated, with the approval of the Ecclesiastical authority, into modern languages; let them themselves give public conferences or dissertations on biblical subjects, or see that they are given by other public orators well versed in the matter.” (DAS, par. 50-51, emphasis mine)

The Popes have made it plain. The leaders of the Church must, first of all, have a love for Sacred Scripture themselves, and then encourage the faithful to foster this same love. I don’t see an attempt to keep the common man and woman from reading the Book. Certainly there were times in the past when they felt it was wise to shield people from what they felt were false translations of the Bible. If people misinterpret that to mean that all copies of the Bible are banned, then they need to rethink that position.

The writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, specifically the Summa Theologica, have been the foundation of Catholic theology for centuries. Aquinas himelf believed that the study of Sacred Scripture was the center of his studies. In an article entitled “St. Thomas and Sacred Scripture”, John Boyle of the University of St. Thomas offers these reflections on the importance of Scripture in the life and work of the Angelic Doctor:

He certainly understood the importance of articulating the intelligibility and coherence of the faith. But much of his time as a university master of theology was dedicated to commenting on Scripture. Indeed, Thomas may well have thought his Scripture commentaries to be his most important works. If we distinguish so sharply systematic from biblical theology, Thomas would not. Theology -- however one chooses to distinguish its parts -- is, for Thomas, a unified science. As the highest science, it is the most unified and unifying. As a theologian, Thomas always returns to the foundation of that science: Scripture.

The importance Thomas places on Scripture in theological argument suggests one needs to be careful in reading the Summa, especially the sed contra ("on the other hand") where the authority for the answer to the question is often to be found. The modern reader has a tendency to glide past the scriptural quotations (as instances, perhaps, of primitive "proof-texting") in order to get to the real meat of Thomas' arguments. This may, however, entail a subtle shifting of the weight of the text from Thomas' own intentions. For Thomas, the careful arguments and distinctions of his responses are in the service of the revealed truth made known in Scripture as the church reads it. Indeed, Scripture is not a proof text for the conclusion of his argument; rather, the argument is a defense and elucidation of Scripture itself.

All of this is to suggest that perhaps Thomas never intended for the Summa to stand as an independent work. Might it not be seen as a guide to understanding Scripture bringing to bear all that revelation and human science have to offer? Thomas characterizes the Summa as a work for beginners. And who are these beginners? They are beginners in theology, that science that stands grounded in and ordered to the study of sacred Scripture. In addition to its many other purposes, might not the Summa also stand as a guide, for the beginner, to the faithful and theological reading of Scripture? After all, the Summa was not alone on the altar at Trent; it accompanied sacred Scripture.

Part III will cover Vatican II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Bible and Catholics, Part I: Leo XIII and Benedict XV

I’ve spent a lot of time reading books and listening to tapes and audio files from people who attempt to “expose” the (supposed) falsehoods of the Catholic religion. It’s an interesting process because many times they use the same arguments and plagiarize the same sources. Same arguments about Mary, same arguments about the saints, and oh! Don’t get them started about Catholics and the Bible. “Catholics don’t read the Bible.” “I was taught by Sister Mary Shermantank that I should never read the Bible, just use it to press my rosepetals, and let the parish priest tell me all I need to know.” “Catholics burned the Bible in the Dark Ages.” The truth is yes, for the most part Catholics don’t read the Bible. And the Catholic Church did destroy Bibles and forbade people to read them- but the Bibles that were forbidden were false translations that were meant to lead people astray. But to project what someone was taught in parochial school onto the entire Catholic Church, and say that “the Church says we shouldn’t read the Bible”, is just wrong.

The year: 1893. The Pope: Leo XIII, whose reign lasted from 1878 through 1903, one of the longest reigns in history. He had this to say in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus:

“The solicitude of the Apostolic office naturally urges, and even compels us, not only to desire that this grand source of Catholic revelation should be made safely and abundantly accessible to the flock of Jesus Christ, but also not to suffer any attempt to defile or corrupt it, either on the part of those who impiously and openly assail the Scriptures, or of those who are led astray into fallacious and imprudent novelties. We are not ignorant, indeed, Venerable Brethren, that there are not a few Catholics, men of talent and learning, who do devote themselves with ardor to the defense of the sacred writings and to making them better known and understood. But whilst giving to these the commendation they deserve, We cannot but earnestly exhort others also, from whose skill and piety and learning we have a right to expect good results, to give themselves to the same most praiseworthy work. It is Our wish and fervent desire to see an increase in the number of the approved and persevering laborers in the cause of Holy Scripture; and more especially that those whom Divine Grace has called to Holy Orders, should, day-by-day, as their state demands, display greater diligence and industry in reading, meditating, and explaining it.”
-Providentissimus Deus, paragraph 2.

“Let all, therefore, especially the novices of the ecclesiastical army, understand how deeply the sacred Books should be esteemed, and with what eagerness and reverence they should approach this great arsenal of heavenly arms. For those whose duty it is to handle Catholic doctrine before the learned or the unlearned will nowhere find more ample matter or more abundant exhortation, whether on the subject of God, the supreme Good and the all-perfect Being, or of the works which display His Glory and His love. Nowhere is there anything more full or more express on the subject of the Savior of the world than is to be found in the whole range of the Bible. As St. Jerome says, ‘To be ignorant of the Scripture is not to know Christ.’ In its pages His Image stands out, living and breathing; diffusing everywhere around consolation in trouble, encouragement to virtue and attraction to the love of God. And as to the Church, her institutions, her nature, her office, and her gifts, we find in Holy Scripture so many references and so many ready and convincing arguments, that as St. Jerome again most truly says: ‘A man who is well grounded in the testimonies of the Scripture is the bulwark of the Church.'’” (PD, Par. 3)

“Most desirable is it, and most essential, that the whole teaching of Theology should be pervaded and animated by the use of the divine Word of God. This is what the Fathers and the greatest theologians of all ages have desired and reduced to practice. It was chiefly out of the Sacred Writings that they endeavored to proclaim and establish the Articles of Faith and the truths therewith connected, and it was in them, together with divine Tradition, that they found the refutation of heretical error, and the reasonableness, the true meaning, and the mutual relation of the truths of Catholicism. Nor will any one wonder at this who considers that the Sacred Books hold such an eminent position among the sources of revelation that without their assiduous study and use, Theology cannot be placed on its true footing, or treated as its dignity demands.” (PD, Par. 16)

Interesting. In 1893 the Pope desires that people study Sacred Scripture; he encourages people to read it and meditate upon it everyday; he exhorts people to hold it in high esteem.

But wait… there’s more. Benedict XV, Pope from 1914-1922, wrote an encyclical titled Spiritus Paraclitus, in which he covers the theme of Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church, and specifically the life of St. Jerome.

(on St. Jerome) “He nourished his soul unceasingly on this most pleasant food: he explained St. Paul's Epistles; he corrected the Latin version of the Old Testament by the Greek; he translated afresh nearly all the books of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin; day by day he discussed Biblical questions with the brethren who came to him, and answered letters on Biblical questions which poured in upon him from all sides; besides all this, he was constantly refuting men who assailed Catholic doctrine and unity. Indeed, such was his love for Holy Scripture that he ceased not from writing or dictating till his hand stiffened in death and his voice was silent forever. So it was that, sparing himself neither labor nor watching nor expense, he continued to extreme old age meditating day and night beside the Crib on the Law of the Lord; of greater profit to the Catholic cause by his life and example in his solitude than if he had passed his life at Rome, the capital of the world.”-Spiritus Paraclitus,
paragraph 7

“At the outset, then, we are deeply impressed by the intense love of the Bible which St. Jerome exhibits in his whole life and teaching: both are steeped in the Spirit of God. This intense love of the Bible he was ever striving to kindle in the hearts of the faithful, and his words on this subject to the maiden Demetrias are really addressed to us all: ‘Love the Bible and wisdom will love you; love it and it will preserve you; honor it and it will embrace you; these are the jewels which you should wear on your breast and in your ears.’” (SP, par. 31)

“To return, however, to the question of the formation of Biblical students. We must lay the foundations in piety and humility of mind; only when we have done that does St. Jerome invite us to study the Bible. In the first place, he insists, in season and out, on daily reading of the text. ‘Provided,’ he says, ‘our bodies are not the slaves of sin, wisdom will come to us; but exercise your mind, feed it daily with Holy Scripture.’ And again: ‘We have got, then, to read Holy Scripture assiduously; we have got to meditate on the Law of God day and night so that, as expert money-changers, we may be able to detect false coin from true.’” (SP, par. 40)

A lot of Catholics today, even those steeped in apologetics, will say “Sure, the Bible is important- it’s read three times at Sunday Mass, and if I attend daily Mass I get two more readings a day. Catholics get more Bible than anyone else, so it doesn’t matter if we read it every day. In fact, the more you insist on Bible reading the more I think you’re steeped in Protestantism.” Then they go off on some rant about Sola Scriptura, blah, blah, blah, insult the intelligence of Protestants a few more times, and think they’re king of the apologetics mountain. Yay- very impressive. And I’m not exaggerating by much- just check out’s forums and see.

But this isn’t what Leo and Benedict were saying. It isn’t enough just to hear it at Mass. We have evidence from early in the last century that the Pope, the highest authority in the Catholic Church, is teaching people to read the Bible; read it every day, meditate on it, let it become your spiritual food. And don’t just read it but allow it to transform you.

Benedict wasn’t the last Catholic authority to encourage Catholics to crack open the family heirloom, get the birth certificates and tumbleweeds out of the way and read. But I have to give you some reason to come back, don’t I? :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Walrus and the Carpenter

"The time has come," the readers said,
"To talk of many things-
Of Witness Lee and Catholics,
Fundamentalists and gays,
Whether Judas is in heaven,
and will the war last many days."

"But wait a bit," the blogger cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For writing leaves me out of breath,
And I am very fat!"
"Well hurry," said the readers
"Or leave your turn at bat!"

"It was so kind of you to come!"
Blogger was heard to say.
The readers they said nothing but
"Give us more repartee;
I wish you were not so lazy -
We check you twice a day!"

"It seems a shame," the blogger said,
"To play them such a trick,
After I've brought them out so far,
And made them leave so quick!"
The readers they said nothing but
"You lay it on too thick!"

Many cities visit here, the stats are heard to say,
Winnisquam, Lansing and Claremont
Hit three times a day
So soon I'll restart heavy talk
To keep my mom at bay.

(My thanks to Lewis Carroll for the inspiration)

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Can I confess something to you?

-I am trying to lose weight... but man, do I love Tostitos with salsa-cheese-sausage dip. Take a pound of Velveeta, a pound of breakfast sausage and a jar of salsa, cook them all together and scoop with the chips. Man oh man. My arteries are closing as I type.

-I listen to mostly Christian music... but man, do I love the rock group KISS. Perfect driving music. Great American rock and roll.

-I love professional wrestling. Can't get enough of it. Soap opera for men. I have been watching it for 22 years. I like the guys who blur the edge of rulebreaker and fan favorite. Steve Austin. Edge. Kurt Angle.

-I so want to get started on political rants and let my freak flag fly...but not here. I have another blog set up which will eventually be for that purpose. Too many political bloggers are full of themselves. I don't want to go there.

Not too many deep thoughts here. Sorry. Maybe next time :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Joy of Sects

In my entry “A Cult is a Cult, of course, of course” I talked in a general way about why I don’t believe that Living Stream Ministry is the headquarters of a cult, and that the differences in theology Witness Lee has with most other Christian bodies are no different than the rest of Christendom; churches disagree on doctrine every day of the week and they aren’t labeled as being “aberrant” or “cultic”. I enjoy a variety of writings from across the Christian spectrum. Witness Lee is one of those authors.

Once again I want to pick up the banner for Witness Lee and defend him. Phil Johnson in a blog entry entitled “Publisher prevails in important lawsuit” covers a decision handed down in the case of The Local Church/Living Stream Ministry et al vs Harvest House, John Ankerberg and John Weldon. This case involved LSM’s attempts to avoid being defined as a cult within the pages of a popular reference work, authored by Ankerberg and Weldon, entitled Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions.

The following paragraph is taken from a letter representatives of LSM wrote to the president of Harvest House:

According to Dr. Ankerberg and Dr. Weldon, cults engage in a variety of very bad, unwholesome and morally bankrupt practices. For example, the book alleges that cults subject their members to “physical” and “psychological” “harm”, engage in the “perversion of sexuality,” “restrict” the “independent thought” of their members, and demand “unquestioning obedience” to group “leaders.” The authors further allege that cults engage in “occult practices,” engineer “cover ups of the group’s history” or that of its “leaders,” subject members to “intimidation,” perpetrate “deception and fraud,” engage in fraudulent “fund raising,” and issue deceptive statements concerning “financial costs.” The authors go so far as to suggest that these cults practice “witchcraft” and literally cause “cancer” in their members. (4th paragraph, link here.)

In the minds of those at LSM, to define a cult with such loaded terms in the introduction of a book, and then to include LSM within the pages of said book, means that readers will automatically assume that LSM and those who appreciate the writings of Witness Lee are guilty of such behavior. Even if the authors didn’t intend to paint LSM with their broad brush, if they didn’t specifically say that LSM wasn’t guilty of such behavior then readers would automatically assume the worst. The word “cult” is an inflammatory term already. When people hear it they automatically think “Jim Jones”, and they don’t try to make distinctions. I don't find fault with Living Stream Ministry in the slightest for attempting to defend their reputation.

Before I go on, I must say that this isn’t the first time LSM has taken critics to court. I won’t pretend to be comfortable with that approach. I think they have taken too many dipperfuls at the lawsuit well. A difference in theology isn’t grounds for a lawsuit, and several critics of Witness Lee are just objecting to him on theological grounds. They aren’t intending to label him as cultic. LSM needs to realize that not everyone is going to take well to their brand of Christianity, which labels the rest of Christendom as “degraded” and “dead”. Ron, Minoru, Ed- just relax. The riches of Brother Lee’s books will speak for themselves. Just ignore those who disagree with you.

Phil Johnson’s opinion of LSM is made apparent as he refers to the local churches aligned with LSM as “an aberrant group closely associated with the teaching of Witness Lee”, and referring to them later on as a sect. Some of the comments to his post weren’t as kind as he. “I can think of no more deplorable or immoral act than corrupting the very truth and Word of God: of that they are surely guilty.” “The local mainstream Protestant groups (in Taiwan), like the Baptists and Presbyterians, are doing absolutely nothing to counter the heretical teachings of this cult.” “I find sects awfully sad.”

Sects are sad. Hmm. I happen to enjoy sects; not as often as I would like, maybe once every couple of weeks. Having kids will do that to you. Oh… you mean the plural of “sect”. My bad. Let’s see what some online resources have to say about the meaning of the word “sect”:

1. A group of people forming a distinct unit within a larger group by virtue of certain refinements or distinctions of belief or practice.
2. A religious body, especially one that has separated from a larger denomination.
3. A faction united by common interests or beliefs.
Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth EditionCopyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

sect n
1: a subdivision of a larger religious group (syn: religious sect, religious order)
2: a dissenting clique (syn: faction)
Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

Pronunciation: 'sekt
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English secte, from Middle French & Late Latin & Latin; Middle French, group, sect, from Late Latin secta organized ecclesiastical body, from Latin, course of action, way of life, probably from sectari to pursue, frequentative of sequi to follow
1 a : a dissenting or schismatic religious body; especially : one regarded as extreme or heretical b : a religious denomination
2 archaic : SEX 1 "so is all her sect -- Shakespeare"
3 a : a group adhering to a distinctive doctrine or to a leader
Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Of the three sources, the American Heritage Dictionary gives neutral definitions. A sect is just a religious body, sometimes a split-off from a larger denomination, but with no negative connotations. WordNet describes a cult as a “dissenting clique”, but that isn’t necessarily a negative definition, just a little more descriptive one. Merriam-Webster gives a definition that can be regarded as rather subjective. Who decides what group is schismatic, extreme or heretical? Ask the evangelicals, and they’ll tell you that fundamental Baptists are extreme and Pentecostals are heretical. According to fundamental Baptists, evangelical Christians are schismatic and Roman Catholics are r-e-a-l-l-l-y heretical. Ask some Roman Catholics, and they’ll tell you that the whole lot of ya are dissenting sects. And in fact, most churches are sects, inasmuch as the majority of them have split off from an established body at some point in their history. Doesn’t mean they’re aberrant; doesn’t mean they’re extreme or dangerous. It just means that theological differences have been argued 100 years before us, and they will be argued 100 years after us. Theological differences will never end.

I will make a confession to you. Even though I’ve critiqued Phil Johnson’s post in this article, I rather enjoy his writing. He obviously knows his stuff and has a very readable style. He works closely with John MacArthur, a man whom I greatly admire. Too bad Phil is part of an aberrant, heretical sect :) After all, if I was a Lutheran, I would certainly think so. He doesn’t agree with what I would consider to be historic theology, so he’s aberrant. If I was a fightin’, feudin’ fundamentalist, I might put Phil under the “really bad theology” section of my own website. (Check Phil’s list of bookmarks to understand the reference.)

I covered this ground several days ago. There is no way to win, so maybe instead of getting worked up and using hot-button words in describing some of the groups with which we disagree we should just grab a drink and relax. Maybe enjoy some sects :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Father's Story


Out on the ocean sailing away
I can hardly wait
To see you come of age
But I guess we’ll both just have to be patient
’cause it’s a long way to go
A hard row to hoe
Yes it’s a long way to go
But in the meantime

Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you
While you’re busy making other plans

Beautiful boy
---John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy”

My wife and I had been married just shy of a year when we discovered that we were expecting our first child. I had developed a brilliant plan. I knew that with the dawning of the year 2000 just around the corner, any child lucky enough to be the first baby born in their communities would make out like bandits. There isn't anything a manufacturer of baby-related goods loves more than to get their name out before the public. So... Laura and I were planning on starting a family anyway- why not make it our goal to have the baby on January 1st, 2000? The Y2K baby. We would be drowning in free diapers, formula and “Y2K” onesies.

Laura's biology didn't cooperate with my material desires, however. We found out we were expecting in June of 1999, with an E.T.A. of February 2000. Man, a guy just can't cut a break :) We were ecstatic. We started our marriage wanting a large family, and now we were going to get our first crack at it. I was so excited that I declared myself the official father of the new millennium, and even had a t-shirt made to commemorate the occasion.

We had decided early on that if we had a son we would name him Matthew. His middle name, Stanley, is in honor of my grandfather Arthur Stanley MacNair Jr., specifically, as well as my great-grandfather and my father, both of whom had the middle name of Stanley. My grandfather was an American Baptist minister for over 50 years. He was a compassionate man, an educated man, an important man who always had time for his family. There aren't that many people in my life who have earned my respect, but Grandpa Mac will always be one of those people. He has been dead for 9 years but I haven't stopped missing him. If my son grows up to be half the man that his great-grandfather was I will be a happy man.

Laura went into the hospital on Monday night, January 31st, 2000. The plan was to induce labor on Tuesday morning. Seeing how nothing was happening that night, I went home to watch pro wrestling (catching a lot of grief from my sister in the process) and came back in the morning. All vestiges of Laura's modesty were stripped away, and the waiting began. Contractions came, contractions went...but no baby. February 1st came and went- the first day.

Second verse- same as the first. Hours went by. Finally, after 30 hours of labor without a baby to show for it, they decided to do a C-section. The baby would be born on Groundhog Day. I cracked a joke to the effect that if the baby saw his shadow there would be six more weeks of pregnancy… but it didn't go over very well. They wheeled her away and came to get me an hour later. When I went into the operating room my wife was on the table, her arms stretched out, a curtain hanging just below her chest. Her abdomen had been cut straight across and the skin stretched open, and there was blood. The Discovery Channel had not adequately prepared me for how cool this would be. I mean, you think you know your spouse, but you really don't know her until you see her guts, you know? A short while later the doctor pulled this purple, rubbery looking human out of the depths, and my first thought was "oh man, there was a human being in there!" Matthew Stanley MacNair entered the world at 2:25 PM, out of a window instead of the door.

Laura and I both had expectations- all new parents do. I wasn’t much different from most new fathers- I wanted to take him to the circus, I wanted to take him to the baseball game, I wanted him to throw the winning pass in the championship football game and sink the buzzer-beating fullcourt shot to win the state tournament. It’s all the rage these days to poke fun at fathers, and consider their parental goals superficial; I’m here to tell you that even though my goals and plans were different from my wife's, they were no less meaningful to me. One of my earliest memories is that of sitting in the nosebleed seats at Oakland Coliseum in the early 70’s, watching the great Oakland A’s of that time, shelling peanuts and having a great time with my grandfather, father and brother. I wanted a chance to relive that experience with my son.

Real-life intruded at the age of two when we noticed he wasn’t talking. No big deal- he’s just a little slow, he’ll get the hang of it. When months went by and he still wasn’t developing a vocabulary, we began to get concerned. You never think about troubles arising when you’re beaming over that 9-pound bundle of joy in the delivery room. (I thought it would be cool to have a ten-pound baby, but Laura… we’ll just say that she didn’t approve of my aspirations.) But Matthew Stanley MacNair was our son. We loved him and would continue to love him no matter what.

If we had a real two cents for every time someone threw in their two cents, we would be rich. Everyone had advice. Everyone knew someone who didn’t talk until they were five or something. We might get a forwarded e-mail, or a newspaper clipping, or a friendly tap on the shoulder after church. I’m a brash and upfront person by nature, and I really wanted to say “Hey! If you want to help us, just invite us for dinner or something. Save the advice. We’ve had enough for one lifetime.” I held my tongue.

At the age of three we started seeing a pediatric neurologist named Max Wiznitzer. Now, I don’t believe in labels. I think labelling a child can restrict how people interact with him or her, and define that child for years to come. I didn’t want people to look askance at my child. I was ready to take up arms against anyone who would give me “the pity look.” Yet I also wanted to know what was wrong. I wanted to hear my child say “I love you Daddy!” I wanted someone to get me a Pepsi from the fridge when I was too lazy to get up :) I wanted… normal. What fathers have experienced for generations gone by.

We received the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder when Matt was four. My hopes and dreams slowly toppled. I had to develop a different set of goals for my son. When other kids were dressing themselves, I had to help my son get his head and arms through the right hole. When other kids were going out for soccer, my son had to be watched so he wouldn’t take his diaper off in public and put the contents in his mouth. It was a frustrating experience. It didn’t, however, keep me from loving my son. Normal? Next question, please. I had to change my definition of what that was.


I look for my future
And I feel a peace about my past
Surprised by joy
I see my Father’s mercy in you
You make a fine tutor
And my vocation’s clear at last
I can’t wait to hear you call me something
Or see the world as you do

You are the laughter in your (father’s) eyes
The stars are bright
But not like the shine I’ve taken to you

And who gave who the gift of life
We call it a toss-up
But these changes in me tell the real truth
I’m grateful for you
---Ashley Cleveland, “Rebecca”

In the span of three days, January 21-23, 2001, our car died, I was fired from my job at a chocolate factory, and we discovered that we were expecting our second child. The party line is always “I’ll love my child no matter what sex it is”, and that’s true, but the fact is that I really wanted a girl this time. I wanted a little sweetheart that would wrap me around her little finger. I wanted to braid her hair like my grandfather braided my sisters hair. I wanted a girl that I would one day walk down the aisle… when she was 43, of course :)

Once again we had a name picked out very early on. I wanted to name my daughter Rebecca, after a song I’d heard. No Becky, no Becca or Bekah or any variation- Rebecca. Sweet and feminine. For a middle name we chose Evelyn. Evelyn Jean MacNair was my aunt, my advisor, one of my best friends. She passed away in April of 2001 at the age of 49 after two heart attacks. Rebecca Evelyn’s due date- my birthday. Yes!

Laura’s second C-section caused Rebecca to be born a week early. She weighed in heavier than her brother did, tipping the scales at 9 pounds, 5 ounces. Another week and we would have had ten pounds, I know it :) We took up residence in the birthing suites at EMH, and a few days later Matthew got to meet his little sister. The first thing he did was grasp her head and then twist it sharply. That would be the most interaction he would have with her for two years.

I quickly made plans to reign in her adolescent years. No dating until age 18, of course. When she first brought a boy over I would place a shotgun in the corner. I wouldn’t say anything about it. Just the mere presence of a firearm would get my message across- if you mess with my daughter, you mess with me.

Rebecca’s development progressed at a normal rate for her first two years. She babbled quite frequently and had a personality all her own. And she was as cute as a button! We nicknamed her Rebecca Boo, after a character in the movie “Monsters Inc.” She wasn’t talking right away, but we were sure that she would soon enough, and we would never be able to silence her :)

Yet once again we made the rounds of tests, and paperwork, and specialists, and more paperwork… until September of last year, when Dr. Roberta Bauer of the Children’s Hospital for Rehabilitation diagnosed her with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Pervasive Development Disorder. I can’t put in print what my thoughts were at that moment because I was pretty angry. Not at the doctor, but at the situation. Laura and I had planned to have a large family, but now we weren’t sure if we wanted to become a breeding ground for the special education services of Lorain County. Dating, marriage- would that even happen now? We were cast off into the darkness, a ship without a lighthouse to guide it. What the future held was a secret locked up with the key thrown away.


And your heart beats so slow
Through the rain and fallen snow
Across the fields of mourning
To a light that’s in the distance

Oh, don't sorrow
No don't weep for tonight
At last I am coming home
I am coming home
---U2, “A Sort of Homecoming”

I am not sorry that Matthew and Rebecca were born. My children are blessings to me and I love them. I wouldn’t have chosen for them to be born with development disorders, but sometimes you just have to play the hand you’re dealt. I try to be an involved father. I go to all of their school conferences and I maintain strong communication with their teachers. I try to make it to school parties in which parents are invited. I attend a parents support group where quite often I am the only man there. I don’t care. When the discussion topics turn personal I just go to the snack table and grab another soda :)

Let me entrust to you a secret, a secret which you can then shout from the mountaintops. Sean MacNair loves his children. No qualifiers. No “if only…” attached to the sentence. I am their father, and if a father is any kind of a man he will be there for his kids. End of discussion. Now if you will excuse me, it is time to put them on the schoolbus.

Have a good day, kids. You make me proud.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Four Geeks of the Apocalypse

Ah, the geek. There are a variety of terms for the unpopular guy- “nerd” became popular with the TV show Happy Days; “spazz” came into vogue in the 80’s; I’m pretty fond of using “doofus” myself. But “geek” is in a class all its own. It began as a term of derision in the same grouping as all the others- a guy naïve to the ways of the world might be called a geek; an accountant-type with thick glasses might be called a geek and a spazz; someone in the high school band may have been called a band geek (although there was another term in my high school that I can’t use here- rhymes with “band hag”). And then there was me in junior high school, with unwashed hair, slightly overweight with a penchant for drawing dirty cartoons. I think I qualified for all three names and some I can’t print.

But the past decade has seen the redemption of the term “geek” in the same way that the 70’s term “freak” has passed into common usage. There was a show called “Freaks and Geeks.” Someone obsessive about their hobby is a “_____ geek”. Do cheerleaders actually date the geeks now? Nah. Human nature is what it is.

What are some of the common categories of geeks? Let’s explore that question.

-----Dungeons and Dragons geeks. You know the type. They spent every study hall either pouring over the Monster Manual or drawing elaborate maps on graph paper. Friday nights, while the cool crowd populated the high school dance, they sat in their parents basement with a few buddies, engrossed with tales of elves and dwarves, of hydras and…well… whatever fantasy monster could be conjured up. These guys (I don’t know if a woman has ever played D&D) were usually pretty smart, but seemed to be in their own little world. Laughed at at the time, they grew up with better imaginations than any of us, and went on to successful careers as science fiction writers or video game developers. Either that or they killed themselves because they couldn’t move out of their parents basement. I don’t know.

You could list war game geeks in the same class as D&D geeks. These guys might sit for hours playing games on large maps with hexagons covering the terrain. Games like Squad Leader, Panzer Blitz, Panzer Leader and Axis and Allies would recreate key battles of World War II in excruciating detail. Their children are the ones populating hobby shops playing Magic: The Gathering and games involving carefully crafted figurines of wizards and warlocks. The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.

-----Sports games geeks. These days nobody knows what a sports game is, or they think the genre is limited to Madden video games. Not so, grasshopper, not so. Back in the early 50’s a gentleman named J. Richard Seitz morphed an even older baseball game called National Pastime into one called APBA Baseball. The premise is simple- a card represents a given major league player. On that card is a mathematical representation of his career, either in numbers or written results (APBA used numbers), and these results were triggered by a dice roll. Take one set of cards for the New York Giants, one for the Milwaukee Braves, and pretty soon Willie Mays and Hank Aaron aren’t figures in the sports pages but living figures on your tabletop. You play a whole game, you keep the stats; you play 154 games, and Willie, Mickey and the Duke end up with results pretty darn close to real life. In the 60’s Strat-O-Matic came into being; in the 70’s, Replay Baseball; and throughout the years there have been numerous others. I am proud to say that I am a sports gaming geek. I can add numbers in my head faster than some people use calculators, all because of tracking Ty Cobb’s batting average against the baseball teams of 1979.

The sports gaming geek still exists, although our numbers are smaller. From our humble beginnings have arisen the fantasy baseball phenomenon. Sabermetrics counts among its disciples Strat-O-Matic and APBA players. Trip Hawkins, the head of Electronic Arts, plays Strat. We’re here, we’re near, get used to us.

-----The Star Trek geek. Oh, they prefer to be called “Trekkors”, but a Trekkie by any other name still hasn’t kissed a girl. They dress in Starfleet uniforms for movie openings, conventions, and even jury duty if they can get away with it. William Shatner in an infamous Saturday Night Live sketch from 1986 put it better than I ever could:

William Shatner: You know, before I answer any more questions there's something I wanted to say. Having received all your letters over the years, and I've spoken to many of you, and some of you have traveled... y'know... hundreds of miles to be here, I'd just like to say... GET A LIFE, will you people? I mean, for crying out loud, it's just a TV show! I mean, look at you, look at the way you're dressed! You've turned an enjoyable little job, that I did as a lark for a few years, into a COLOSSAL WASTE OF TIME!

[ a crowd of shocked and dismayed Trekkies.... ]

I mean, how old are you people? What have you done with yourselves?

[ to Jon Lovitz, wearing Spock ears ] You, you must be almost 30... have you ever kissed a girl?

[ "Ears" hangs his head ]

I didn't think so! There's a whole world out there! When I was your age, I didn't watch television! I LIVED! So... move out of your parent's basements! And get your own apartments and GROW THE HELL UP! I mean, it's just a TV show dammit, IT'S JUST A TV SHOW!

Charlie: Are- are you saying then that we should pay more attention to the movies?

William Shatner: NO!!! THAT'S NOT WHAT I'M SAYING AT ALL!!! HEY, YOU GUYS ARE... THE LAMEST BUNCH... I'VE NEVER SEEN... [ walks away from podium ] I can't believe these people... I mean, I really can't understand what's....

-----The Friends geek. This type isn’t around much anymore, ever since Friends went off the air in 2004, but they exemplify the term very well. Remember that woman in your office? She was the one that knew the first and last names of every character- Ross Geller, Monica Geller Bing, Chandler Bing, Phoebe Bouffay, Joey Tribbiani, and Rachel Green. Ross was married and divorced three times- once in the first season to Carol, who was a lesbian and left him for Susan. The second time was to Emily, who was from London; she got mad at him after he slipped and said Rachel’s name at their wedding, during the vows. She later divorced him after he wouldn’t promise to never have contact with Rachel. Rachel and Ross get drunk when the whole gang was in Las Vegas, get married in a quickie chapel, and later get the marriage annulled. Rachel was engaged to Barry but left him at the altar; the first episode begins with Rachel coming into the coffee shop, Central Perk, wearing a wedding dress. Her and Ross are on again, off again during the whole run of the series. Joey is an actor who played Dr. Drake Ramoray on Days of Our Lives for a short time. He was a roommate of Chandler’s for awhile. He got (and lost) the part of Al Pacino’s butt double in a movie. He also appeared on a public service poster for venereal disease. Monica used to be fat; she appears in a fat suit in several flashback episodes. She’s a cook and an obsessive neat freak. She dated Richard (played by Tom Selleck) for awhile; he was an opthamologist and much older than her. She slept with Chandler when the whole gang was in London for Ross and Emily’s wedding; she later married Chandler. Chandler’s father is a cross-dresser and his mother is a romance novelist played by Morgan Fairchild. He was the wise-a** of the group. Phoebe sang in the coffee shop. She once was homeless. She filled the blonde stereotype well. She was a masseuse. She was a surrogate mother for her brother and his wife and gave birth to triplets.

Yeah. That’s what that woman in the office would tell you. That's the ticket....

Time does not permit elaborate descriptions of Dante’s Seven Levels of Geekdom. Modern society has spawned the reality show geek, the Trading Spaces geek, the computer/tech geek and many others. The explosion of leisure time in our society has created a monster. I would dare say there is a little geek in all of us.

But not me. Oh no, I keep everything in the proper perspective. A time for everything and everything in its time, that’s what I always say. Now I have to go; I have to watch LOST on the TiVo. What do the numbers 4-8-15-16-23-42 mean? Will Sawyer get Kate? Why did Jack’s marriage fail? What is the monster? Where is Walt? Is Charlie on heroin again? (Sean’s voice continues to utter meaningless questions off into the distance.)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A cult is a cult, of course, of course

Several years ago, right after getting married, my wife and I joined Victory Baptist Temple in Elyria, OH. It was a different kind of church culture for me, but out of my love for my new bride I decided to submit myself to it. Several months later they held a large-scale women’s conference. Laura, being the giving person that she is, wanted to have the women from her home church in Medina attend. It was a learning experience for them, too; it was a lot stricter than even they were used to, and they were independent Baptists as well. At one point one of the women, a relatively new Christian, had to use the bathroom, so she left the auditorium. Upon finishing her business she tried to re-enter, but was told that no, she now had to wait in the hallway until the meeting was over. This particular woman (whose name I won’t use) was a bit emotional anyway, and she freaked out. “What is this, a cult?” she exclaimed.

Interesting question. What is a cult? The word gets bandied about quite freely these days. The Moonies are a cult, the Catholic Church is a cult, the Word of Faith movement is a cult… cult, cult, cult. Say it so many times in a row and the word loses all meaning. Most of the teachers I’ve listened to and most of the movements I’ve been involved with in my life have been labeled as a cult by someone at some point in time. "The Pope is the antichrist.” Yeah, sure. Tell me another one, jack. Riddle me this, Batman- how can someone who teaches people to love Jesus more be the Antichrist? That dog don’t hunt.

"Cults are claimed to be deceitful. They are claimed to be harmful to their members. They are claimed to be undermining American values. Cults are claimed to be just about every bad thing in the book these days, and with the pervasive images of Manson and Jim Jones hanging over us, any group that is called a cult is immediately associated with those two people." ---J. Gordon Melton.

There are many definitions of the word “cult.”
· A devotion to a particular person or thing is labeled a cult.
· A small group in tension with an established religious body.
· A small, recently created, religious organization which is often headed by a single charismatic leader and is viewed as a spiritually innovative group- a cult in this sense may simply be a new religious movement on its way to becoming a denomination.
· Any religious group which accepts most but not all of the historical Christian doctrines (the divinity of Jesus, virgin birth, the Trinity, salvation, etc.). The implication is that the cult's theology is invalid; they teach heresy.

All of these definitions were culled from the vast mines of the Internet. However, the vast majority of people who hear the word think of something or someone bad. There is no neutral definition of the word in the minds of average Americans. Cult=Jim Jones. 28 years after Jonestown the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” has entered the popular lexicon. So if a group is labeled a cult, whether or not they actually are, they are marked for life.

In the fall of 1985 I was a college student at Lorain County Community College here in Elyria. As part of my time there I hooked up with a group of Christian students that met once a week to study the Bible. One of those students was a man named Olvin Smith. We met in the cafeteria just to talk one day, and in the course of the conversation I asked what church he attended. He answered that he fellowshipped with a group that simply called themselves “The Church In Cleveland.” Hmm, hadn’t heard of that one before. Tell me more. He didn’t just tell me, he invited me to a home meeting so I could see for myself.

About 15 people met in the living room of one Tim Miller. The singing was exuberant and the spirits of the people there were alive. They sang hymns that I recognized, although they had changed the words; and they used a Bible version I had never seen before, called the Recovery Version. It was different from anything I had seen before, and I wasn’t sure what to think about how they practiced their faith, but one thing was certain- they loved Jesus. I knew that without a doubt.

Later on I learned more about this group of people. They were part of a larger movement of Christians that called themselves the Lord’s Recovery. There belief was that church life had become so degraded in the past several hundred years that the proper way of meeting had to be recovered. And the Lord’s instrument for that recovery was an elderly Chinese man named Witness Lee. Witness Lee was a follower/disciple/co-worker of Watchman Nee, whose books were readily available in Christian bookstores; but Brother Lee wasn’t experiencing the same acceptance that Watchman Nee was. In fact, the Lord’s Recovery was considered by some as bearing the scarlet letter of Christianity- they were a CULT. (Insert ominous-sounding movie soundtrack here.)

Well, a cult was something that I was not interested in being a part of, so I stopped going to their meetings. A few months later I started again. Then I stopped. And then I started. Stopped. Started. My feelings were ambiguous about this group; they were labeled as a cult, but these people sure fed me with the riches of Christ. I would leave a meeting not wanting to go back, but a week later I couldn’t wait to see them again.

You love her
But she loves him
And he loves somebody else
You just can’t win
And so it goes
Until the day you die
This thing they call love
It’s gonna make you cry
I’ve had the blues, the reds and the pinks
All I can say is
Love stinks
---J. Geils Band, “Love Stinks”

Several years passed. In that time I was so inundated with the claims of competing factions of Christianity that I finally said “enough!” and for the next several years after that I didn’t attend meetings anywhere. Finally in the beginning of 1997, after having some very negative experiences with an ex-girlfriend, I decided that I needed to go to church- somewhere. I didn’t care where. I settled on a church in Brunswick, OH called Metro Church South, an offshoot of the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, where the much maligned “Toronto Blessing” originated. Metro brought some much needed refreshing to my soul. I started to read up on this “Toronto Blessing.” What, pray tell, do you think I found? That’s right- the Toronto Blessing was a cult. Ah, crap.

And this is where I began to come to my own understanding of what a cult was. My definition of what a cult is and isn’t leaves a lot of room for leeway. I have only one doctrine that I consider so essential, that the absence of it means that your group is one I need to avoid. Here it is.

“Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:22-23)

So there you go. Jesus is God. The Trinity is a fact. If you believe that Jesus is the Christ- come, let us reason together. If you believe that Jesus was just a created being, no soup for you. Next!

With this new understanding came a new appreciation of the writings of Witness Lee. Let me make this very plain. I do not believe that Witness Lee is a leader of a cult. He can’t lead a cult; he’s been dead for 9 years. Ron Kangas does not lead a cult; Minoru Chen does not lead a cult; Living Stream Ministry is not the publishing house for a cult. ‘Nuf said.

I’ve heard the accusations, OK? “Those people just follow a man.” Yeah, I’ll give you that one. But there aren’t that many people who don’t. Jack Hyles had quite a following before his death. Bob Gray in Texas has one now. There are people who appreciate the teachings of Mike Bickle and listen to them over other ministers. Following a man isn’t the defining standard for me. There are churches big and small who serve as mini cults of personality (to coin a phrase). The preacher’s preferences become their preferences. So what?

“They use love-bombing which is a recognized cult technique.” And I suppose the alternative is to not love at all, or at least keep people at arm’s length? That’s the problem in a lot of churches today. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” is what John 13:35 tells us. If you think someone is taking it too far then grow a set of stones and put a stop to it, but don’t criticize people for trying to be caring individuals.

I have a very good friend named Bob Madison. Bob and his family have fellowshipped with the Church in Elyria for many years. If I had the opportunity to spend two hours with one person, talking or eating breakfast or whatever, I would likely choose Bob. His love for Christ is apparent; his love for people is unparalleled. And he reads the writings of Witness Lee. Oooohhhh.

Certainly the churches in the Lord’s Recovery have faults. Who doesn’t? They are virulently anti-denominational when they are, in fact, a denomination. As rich as the writings of Witness Lee are, there are other writers worthy of my time as well. But at some point the energy needed to think negatively about this, that and the other Christian just wasn’t worth it for me. It is much easier to just ignore someone or some group I have a disagreement with than to publish a pamphlet or start a website to get people to see things my way. I’m going to be 40 this year. I don’t have that much time left to play the angry young man :) .

That’s my viewpoint and I’m sticking to it. So sue me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


I was doing so good, too. When I returned from my sabbatical I was posting every other day, if not every day. It was just flowing out. I was on a roll. But now... writer's block again. What should I write about? Should I talk about all the 80's music I've been listening to, and how so many events in my life can be recalled by the strains of "Gloria" or "867-5309 Jenny"? Should I talk about the funeral home visit I made yesterday and the impermanence of life? How about the really crappy experience I had at Harvest Ridge Assembly of God? 1894 baseball? Michigan vs Ohio State? Should I finally bust out with the political rant that's boiling just under the surface?

I've never felt like I had to write every day just to read what I wrote and pat myself on the back. At certain times I felt like I had to limit myself to Catholic topics, or avoid topics that included words of praise for groups that my loved ones would rather I not associate myself with. I don't feel like that anymore. I just write what comes to me. Sometimes I feel compelled. When I went to St. Innocent Orthodox Church I had to write about it. When I understood the Trinity for the very first time through the writings of Witness Lee I had to put fingers to keys. But when the well is dry, the well is dry.

Time to go to bed. But I think I have tomorrow's essay.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Book of Daniel

I watched the premiere of The Book of Daniel last night. The show revolves around the character of Daniel Webster, an Episcopal priest played by Aidan Quinn. His family is far from the "wrap it up by the end of the episode" clan on 7th Heaven. His wife has a drinking problem, his daughter was busted for selling pot, one son is gay and their adopted son likes the company of the ladies. Oh yeah, his brother left town with $3 million of church funds. Daniel has a problem with prescription medication as well. A few too many problems to jam into the premiere episode, but I like the fact that the writers have made his family life a little more complex than how people usually stereotype a preachers family as. Periodically throughout the show Daniel talks to Jesus, who is portrayed as the stereotypical bearded man in a robe.

This show has taken a lot of heat from people who believe that it is mocking Christians and Christianity. I don't see that at all, and some of the protesters might have come to the same conclusion had they actually watched the first show before flying off the handle. I wondered what kind of dialogue they would put in the mouth of Jesus, whether they would portray him as a Robert Powell-type who is always staring off into space and utters proverbs with the sound of classical music in the background, or a George Burns type who shows up smoking a cigar and cracking wise. Neither characterization applies here. Jesus doesn't let Daniel get away with taking pills with just a pat on the back, nor does he grab the bottle and give Daniel a stern talking to. He tells Daniel the way he should follow without violating his free will to make him follow that way, which is pretty much what real life is like. He doesn't cure all the problems of the Webster family with a wave of the hand; he tells Daniel, "Life is hard- that's why there's a great reward at the end." He walks with Daniel through the issues of life instead of carrying him through.

I think this show is fantastic. It doesn't preach, but it doesn't mock either. Look out, LOST- you have some competition on my list now.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


To pick up where I left off... For the longest time I have had a problem with prayer, as described in my blog post from July. And yet throughout the Bible we are exhorted to pray. Jesus says "WHEN you pray," not IF, and then gives instructions. The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. Paul says "Pray without ceasing." So my struggle is this- I know that I need to pray, yet I have issues with praying for things, because there doesn't seem to be much of a point. You pray for healings, but for as many people that do get healed, more people suffer and die. Or they get healed in a year, although in the natural process of things they would have been healed anyway. You pray for people that genuinely need certain things, and they don't get them. I just don't get it.

Part of the answer came when I realized that maybe, just maybe, I needed to change my definition of what prayer is. We come to God with our shopping lists and then don't come back unless we have another list. I realized that if my children only came to me when they wanted something, and no other time, my experience as a parent would be cut short. There are times when my son just crawls up on my lap, curls up against me and watches the game with me. It doesn't matter what game, he has no sense of what constitutes "the big game" as opposed to one between two 1-10 teams; spending time with me is the experience he seeks. And it is that experience that defines the joy of being a parent for me. So should we always present God with our wants? Shouldn't we just crawl up into his lap sometimes and express our love?

A couple of years ago I went to a Catholic charismatic conference and heard a speaker named Ralph Martin. He has been a leader in Catholic renewal since the charismatic movement started in 1967, yet in the last several years he has concentrated on the spirituality of the saints. The talk I heard was on the stages of union with God according to the writings of St. Theresa of Avila, and it was fantastic. It opened my mind to the possibility that I've had it all wrong; that the goal of prayer is union with God, and the presenting of our petitions is peripheral to this central purpose.

Within the same timeframe I was introduced to the teachings of Mike Bickle. Mike has made the focus of his ministry exhorting Christians to seek the face of the Lord and pray what David prayed in Psalm 27:4- " thing I ask, this one thing I seek, that I may behold the beauty of the Lord….” He views the Song of Solomon in an allegorical format popular with the early Church fathers, teaching that the bridegroom represents Jesus and the bride represents the church, and Jesus longs to draw us to himself in a relationship of love. Prayer in this paradigm is not simply airing our requests and grievances, although intercession is certainly a part, but sitting at the feet of Jesus as Mary did while Martha busied herself with the tasks of everyday life.

And then there is Witness Lee. Witness Lee uses the phrase "the economy of God" to stress that God's central plan is to dispense himself into his chosen people, the church. Our goal above all other things is to dwell in our spirit where Christ has made his home, and from that ground all other things have their growth.

So to answer the question "has Sean given up prayer?", the answer is "no, with qualifications." I pray that I would experience and enjoy the love of God in the same way that my son and daughter enjoy my love. I pray that the stages of illumination, purgation and union would be a reality in my own spiritual life and not just a theory to be studied in a textbook. But I haven't gotten through my difficulties with intercession. I try to believe that my requests are heard; at this point I just can't. Of course, if I understood all things, faith wouldn't be necessary.

I've been out in a cave
For forty days
Only a spark
To light my way
I wanna give out
I wanna give in
This is our crime
This is our sin

But I still believe
I still believe
Through the pain
And the grief
Through the lies
Through the storms
Through the cries
And through the wars
Oh, I still believe

Flat on my back
Out at sea
Hopin' these waves
Don't cover me
I'm turned and tossed
Upon the waves
When the darkness comes
I feel the grave

But I still believe
I still believe
Through the cold
And the heat
Through the pain
And through the tears
Through the crowds
And through the cheers
Oh, I still believe

I'll march this road
I'll climb this hill
Down on my knees if I have to
I'll take my place
Up on this stage
I'll wait 'til the end of time
For you like everybody else

I'm out on my own
Walkin' the streets
Look at the faces
That I meet
I feel like I want to go home
What do I feel
What do I know

But I still believe
I still believe
Through the shame
And through the grief
Through the heartache
Through the years
Through the waiting
Through the years

For people like us
In places like this
We need all the hope
That we can get
Oh, I still believe
---The Call, "I Still Believe"

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Prayer/ What is it good for?/ Absolutely nothing?

On a mission start to doubt here we go
Kicking back, read these words we need to know
Living high, living good, living long
Take a minute, bust a prayer
And you're good to go

That's why we pray
ah, yeah, pray
We need to pray
Just to make it today
---MC Hammer, "Pray"

(Jesus Walks)
God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down
(Jesus Walks with me)
The only thing that that I pray is that my feet don't fail me now
(Jesus Walks)
And I don't think there is nothing I can do now to right my wrongs
(Jesus Walks with me)
I want to talk to God but I'm afraid because we ain't spoke in so long
---Kanye West, "Jesus Walks"

Why do we pray? In times of tragedy everyone says that they’ll pray for you. But what’s the point? Is God listening? If God is listening, why doesn’t he answer? I’ve had people say to me that “sometimes God answers yes, and sometimes no, and sometimes wait”, and my response to that is that it’s a load of crap. If God (supposedly) answers no or wait, then he didn’t answer. Ignore my son’s autism for a moment. Let’s say that I ask him to take the garbage out on Wednesday night, because the trash collector comes Thursday morning. He takes it out Thursday night. Did he answer my request? No, he did not. It doesn’t matter that he did the job, the job needed to be done at a certain time and he didn’t do it. Same with praying to God. If someone is down on their luck and prays to God for a job, a request born not out of selfishness but out of necessity, and they do what needs to be done to seek a job, and said job doesn’t come for a year and a half, then God didn’t answer that prayer. Or at best you can say that the evidence is inconclusive.How about prayers for healing? Why do we have to pray over and over again for someone to be healed of cancer, for instance? What’s the point? Doesn’t God hear you the first time? And suppose you pray and pray, and the person dies anyway? Your prayers are wasted. Already I can hear people saying “but the person did get healed…they aren’t in pain anymore…they received the ultimate healing…” blah blah blah. My answer is no, they did not get healed and God did not answer the prayer. To answer any other way is to dance around the issue. You’re playing semantics. God then becomes a divine Bill Clinton who dances around the obvious meaning of a word. If I pray for someone to be healed, my intention is obvious. I want them healed in this life. Any other twist on the statement is just making excuses for God.
---blog entry, July 25, 2005

hey, jesus, it's me
i'm the one who talked to you yesterday
and i asked you please, please for a favor
but my baby's gone away, went away anyway
and i don't really think it's fair
you've got the power to make us all believe in you
and then we call you in our despair
and you don't come through...

i'm not gonna call on you any more
i'm sure you've got a million things to do
all i was trying to do was to get through to you
because when i die and i get up to your doors
i don't even know if you're gonna let me in the place
how come i gotta die to get a chance to talk to you face to face?
---Indigo Girls, "Hey Jesus"

(more to come later)

Monday, January 02, 2006

My best (stolen) idea so far this year

I will get to the topic of prayer shortly, but in the meantime I want to hit on a post from a blog I checked out recently. In a humorous style the author suggested a new TV reality show- Extreme Church Makeover. Tear down a traditional church that is behind the times and replace it with something a little more 21st century. Something more in tune with the times. This is surely the way to do church in this era of Christians who seek to be relevant to their generation.

I like to read church history, and specifically the history of the past 100 years or so here in America. It is interesting that the ideas of people who believe God is doing a new thing with new wineskins have always been in conflict with those who believe that the old wineskins hold the vino very well, thank you, and we don't need to change them. And the new wineskins that people think are so necessary always become the old wineskins that a new generation wants to do away with. It's cyclical. New movements come, new movements go, and the people on either side of an impending change in style always look askance at the guy across the aisle, when in fact they don't have to, this too shall pass or at least be assimilated.

For example, look at the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles in the early 1900's. The holy rollers came on the scene in waves, and boy were the established churches aggravated. Excessive emotion was being brought into the church, emotion not befitting the "house of Gawd" (adopt the proper pseudo-reverential tone here). These Pentecostals, as they were dubbed, were driven out and forced to establish their own fellowships. Eventually groups like the Assemblies of God sprang up, never intending to become a denomination, but after 30 years travelling down that road anyway. 100 years later the AOG is part of the establishment and new groups are trying to breath life into it. A movement that brought much needed life to the faith of many, and was thought of as a threat, did not remain so.

Just relax, folks. This too shall pass.

Jump ahead to the 1940's. We'll look at two movements in this period. The healing revival centered around travelling evangelists with enourmous dueling tents, all trying to outdraw the other guy. Jack Coe. A.A. Allen. William Branham. Gordon Lindsey. For a really great book on this time read "All Things Are Possible" by David Edwin Harrell. These evangelists haven't been looked on kindly with the passing of time, and in some cases for good reason; but in their day they wre trying to emphasize a forgotten truth, that of the healing of the body. They were looked on as a threat, as extravagant showmen, but in the end only a couple had a legacy that survived the time period. William Branham's followers circled the wagons and developed a cult-like following for the man; Gordon Lindsey established Christ For The Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas, a respected Bible college. What was new became establishment.

Billy Graham, the chaplain of America. Friend of presidents and world leaders, elder statesman of American Protestantism. Back in the 1940's he was controversial. When he worked for Youth For Christ he and his companions dared to wear suits with "loud" ties. They used trumpets and other such "modern" instrumentation in their rallies. His explanation? See if this sounds familiar- "we're trying to reach the youth of America in ways that relate to their culture." Hmm. Relevant before it became a magazine; emergent before the term became a buzzword. No one would accuse Youth For Christ of being radical today- they are part of the "old, outdated" church culture that people are railing against. What was new is now established.

The next wave of Pentecostalism hit in the 1950's and 60's when people in mainline denominations began to experience speaking in tongues. Instead of joining established Pentecostal fellowships they chose to stay within their Episcopal, Lutheran, etc. churches. They faced a lot of opposition from people who didn't want their religion sprinkled with too much outlandish behavior. Dennis Bennett received a lot of press when he was chased out of his Episcopla pastorate in Los Angeles in 1960. These people, for the most part, took their experience as a way to re-examine how the Christian faith could be more vital to them and by extension the rest of the world.
Another wave came in 1967, this one crashing into the starboard side of the Barque of Peter. In February of that year a group of college students from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh went on retreat, with most of them receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. These students spread their joy and revived faith to other college campuses- Notre Dame, Michigan State, the University of Michigan, etc. The more traditional minded Catholics saw them as a threat to the established order; they saw themselves on the cusp of a wave carrying their beloved Church to new heights of glory. 40 years later you don't hear a whole lot about the Catholic Charismatic movement. They have accomplished their goal of not being a movement apart from the church but reviving the life of the church and staying a part of it.

The new is now the old.

My favorite movement in the past 100 years, and one that has had an incredible influence on the church, is the Jesus Movement. It would be hard to pinpoint the beginnings of the thing; the followers at the time, of course, would say that the Holy Spirit started it in the book of Acts, but then, everybody says that. 1966-1967 is as good a time period as any to place the start. It began as a West Coast thing. California in the late 60's provided the start for a lot of new ideas and different lifestyles. Flower children were turning on, tuning in and dropping out, and their parents were looking askance at their choices. Yet there were some hippies who had "turned on" to Jesus Christ and wanted their comrades to see that there was a way out, a destination to their seeking. These hippies told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on.... Time magazine, who had asked whether God was dead earlier in the decade, was now proclaiming that the "Jesus Revolution" was upon us. Young people who had once shared their weed were now sharing the Word, and were looking for new rolling papers to wrap around what they had found. They started Bible studies which grew exponentially. They lived together in sanctified communes. They started playing a kind of music that sounded strange when compared to the pipe organ and piano tunes that most church people were used to, but which resonated within the hearts of their beloved friends that they were trying to snatch out of the fire.
The media frenzy over this movement lasted about five years, and then when the hippie movement died out, so did their interest. The communes closed shop, the Bible studies became churches and even grouped together to form *gasp* denominations (see Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard), and their musical outreach became big business. The Jesus Freaks themselves cut their hair, traded the tie-died shirts for stiff collars and ties, and became a part of the establishment they so railed against. Yet their influence remains.

This isn't the end, of course. Non-denominational churches became denominations; Willow Creek became a rallying point and then a lightning rod; the Vineyard was not as radical as people thought. Seeker sensitive, Toronto Blessing, Hobart Freeman, Witness Lee, laughing revival- all of these and more came and went. My point is twofold. One, the movements that seem "dangerous", "radical" and a threat to the life of the church are rarely that. They just need time to grow and mature. How many of us have said or done things in our immaturity that we wish we could have a do-over on? The people in established churches and ministries sometimes need to take a step back and let these new plants grow. Water them; take out a few weeds on occasion; but don't uproot the plant before it has a chance to grow.

Second, the people on the cusp of change in the church needn't be so quick to give a metaphorical middle finger to what has gone before. What goes around comes around, and the people too quick to jettison the baggage of the church will soon find themselves scrambling for liferafts as the next wave of change hits. Besides, without the pioneering efforts of those in past years, some of the methods we hold so dear to our hearts today would be much harder to implement. Without Larry Norman and Love Song there is no worship band; without Willow Creek there is no Emergent conversation.