Wednesday, January 28, 2015

To God Be the Glory

There is this widely popular concept of God as a Righteous Deity out there in the ethereal spaces, divinely perfected and simply unable to tolerate sin. He hates sin even more than that dad and mother hate the dreaded germ threatening the life of their beloved. God hates sin even more than that careening car and drunk driver running over their innocent child. This God is keenly aware of the imperfections, failures, and broken rules and relationships that injure, maim, and destroy human life.  

I grew up singing a hymn that conveys this conflict well: “Sin Can Never Enter There.” A further vision expressed in song described an “all-seeing eye of God” that sees every sin that can keep me out of God’s Presence. The conclusion comes that it is a fearfully awesome thing to fall into this predicament.

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome identifies him as a bond servant (doulos) of Jesus who is an Apostle. He proclaims holiness “by the resurrection” [of Jesus]. Part of his message reveals God’s wrath against ungodliness and his list of sins in chapter one must include every known category of sin known to man. Yet, when Paul looked about, what he saw was an abundance of temples of human ignorance and debauchery in that Graeco-Roman world.

When men deny God, says Paul, this is who they become. He then lists the “sexual vices” of homosexuality along with “wickedness, depravity, lust , and viciousness … envy, murder, quarrels, intrigues” - the list seems endless (Romans 1:18-32 Moffatt Tr).

Interestingly C. H. Dodd suggests that “while Paul has frequent occasion to make use of the theological concept of ‘wrath,’ there are only three places where he uses the expression ‘the Wrath of God’” (here, Eph. 5:6 and Col. 3:6). This is noteworthy, for while some view this humanized God as “mad as hell” (as portrayed by some evangelists), Dodd suggests “Wrath is the effect of human sin.”

Dodd makes a strong case for Paul’s teaching that God loved us while we were yet sinners (RO. 5:8). We quote: “But he retains the concept of ‘the Wrath of God’ (which does not appear in the teachings of Jesus, unless we press certain features of the parables in an illegitimate manner: to find the character of God exhibited in the King who destroys his enemies is as illegitimate as to find it in the attitude of the Unjust Judge).”

Adds Dodd: “He retains it, not to describe the attitude of God to man, but to describe an inevitable process of cause and effect in a moral universe, as we shall find in the verses which now follow (The Epistle of Paul to the Romans/50). Following Dodd, what Paul seems to say in this passage is “The impiety and wickedness of men is hindering the truth about the nature of God, which is native to the human mind” (p51).

“To the stern monotheism of the Jew, idolatry is the root of all evil,” suggests Dodd. This idolatry is the “ruthless, aggressive self-assertion “ seen in lust and constantly “stands at the head of the class of anti-social sins.” Dodd calls this the “main point” that impiety and wickedness brings with it its own retribution; and this retribution is here and now being revealed … the retribution of sin is already at work, in the moral rottenness of pagan society” (pp 52-53)

Paul writes to point out that all have sinned and fallen short, that there is no advantage in being a Jew or disadvantage in being a non-Jew (Gentile) – “All  have sinned and fall short … being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (RO 3:22-23 NKJV).

Whatever this may mean to the current reader, Paul’s message in Romans is a message of love for saint and sinner. It is a message of loving grace entirely consistent with the Apostle John whose primary emphasis was that God is love (John 3:16 and elsewhere). When Paul soars high in I Corinthians 13 describing the Christian behavior of love, he is consistent with both John and with Jesus, who summarized the Law of Moses in two points: 1) love God; 2) love your neighbor as yourself - if you would fulfill the law.

My two grandsons have grown to manhood in a world of rampant immorality, poverty, starvation, abuse, watching men and nations commit genocide, ethnic cleansing, beheading, and terrorism of every description. Some of us yet dare to believe in a longsuffering God who is at the helm of this created world. GOD HAS NO FAVORITES (neither Israel nor America), but we do live in a moral universe!

We can hang truth on a cross after we have stomped it underfoot, and we can watch our culture continue its downhill slide. BUT the fact is that we live on a globe where life is as moral as planting an apple seed and growing an apple tree. When we sow our seeds of selfishness, hatred, and revenge, when we plant racial inequality and social injustice, we reap the whirl wind that continue to swirl about and threaten to destroy us!

Dodd concludes this section (p55) with this pithy statement: “Thus the way is left clear for maintaining without paradox, not only that His attitude to ‘vessels of wrath’ is one of ‘longsuffering’ (9:22), but that He actually loves men in their sins, and through Christ saves them from the Wrath (v. 8-10).

From Warner’s World, …

walk through the book of Romans and find hope via transformation (or metamorphosis), 
as Abraham discovered (RO 3-4), 
as Christ proclaimed, 
and as God authorized and established: "to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen” (RO 16: 27).  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Nine Siblings...

February nine I will celebrate sixty-eight years of married life. During that time, I have enjoyed many positive life-adventures and enduring a few negative encounters. A frequent subject of our current conversations focuses on the fact that my spouse is now the last surviving member of nine siblings who loved and accepted me as one of them. 

What was once a hustling, bustling community of kids in the rural  Oklahoma, under the tutelage of Doc and Mary, became a global-wide network of devoted siblings washing about in every direction by the tossing tides of history.They could be found anywhere: an aircraft repair shop at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City; leading a squadron of WWII destruction en route to a strange  and unknown South Pacific island; an anonymous site behind Japanese enemy lines during World War Two; the Geneva Conference of 1964 Switzerland; searching-and-rescuing in the Oklahoma City bombing, or working in a Shell office in Midland, TX when young George was born.

From their Oklahoma-Texas base, the world of these boys and girls became a global adventure. I have observed them befriending family and friends , working with international foreign figures, assessing situations with Washington beltway politicians, and administering the grace of God in the humblest of mission hovels.Telling the stories would be encyclopedic; it might even conclude, as one Biblical writer said; of the writing of books there is no end. Life goes on and a new generation-or-two has taken charge. 

Only one of Doc and Mary’s originals is left and I share her loneliness when she describes what she feels and experiences as the last living survivor. She continues to live life with zest, but hers is an experience common to life of us, except some of us were not so blessed as to belong to such a large clan—still the cornerstone of our culture, as it ought always to be.

From her vast reservoir of human experiences comes this short story. It originates with a figure of past history. This lady of global dimension lived with both sophistication and faith, enjoying the lap of luxury at the top of her culture. For whatever that is all worth, I find her story of significance and lasting value in terms of what I have come to believe in my eight decades of living in more humble circumstances.

Most recent to leave us was the last living sibling of my spouse--her next older sister, her dearest friend. Sister Awana, pictured above, was the one for whom my spouse would most gladly have surrendered her own life. They were like inseparable twins! She loved to lavish her love on her younger sister. I knew her as  Awana, or Jam/Jammy. Being in the U. S. Foreign Service, Awana shared intimately and visited often in the home of China’s one time Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. One day Madame Chiang related this favorite story to her American friend.

This ordinary farmer became an extraordinary hero. He lived on high land and one day saw a frightening scene. He looked down in the valley toward the shoreline and saw that an earth quake was causing the ocean to pile up--a tsunami. He realized that soon a tidal wave would wash over the lowland and flood his neighbors living down in the valley. They would all perish, unless he called them to the hilltop immediately!

Quickly, lighting a torch, the farmer touched his torch to his dry rice barn and vigorously rang the fire gong. Down in the valley, the people looked higher up the mountain and saw the rising smoke. Quickly, they rushed up the hill to help their neighbor fight the fire and save his crop. Before they could reach his burning barn, the waves roared in behind them and covered the fields they had just left. Immediately, they recognized that the farmer had just burned all his possessions to save their lives.

When nineteenth century hymn writer-preacher Phillips Brooks died, his oldest brother confided to Dr. McVicker: “Phillips might have saved himself, and so prolonged his life. Others do; but he was always giving himself to any one who wanted him.”
Dr. McVicker replied, “Yes indeed! He might have saved himself, but in doing so, he would not have been Phillips Brooks. The glory of his life was that he did not save himself.”

Lent will begin before long and soon Easter will re-tell the stories of Jesus. As recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, each reminds us that Jesus came as the Son of Man. He came to seek and to save the lost (Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10). Easter is that very special time for Christians when we will once more celebrate our Lord’s caring love.

We will celebrate what is called the glory of Easter and a new way for the world to live-
-that Jesus chose to save others rather than himself!
From Warner’s World,
(pictured is Bible of MLK)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Battle Between Two Opinions

Quoting Vicky Somniso-Abraham, Special to ASSIST News Service, RANDBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (ANS) – the “mere mention of the northeast in Nigeria evokes thoughts of terror, abductions, and merciless killings. The northeast is regarded as a troubled region, however those who are familiar with the state reflect positively on the peace that prevailed in the area prior to the genesis of the two Islamic groups, the Maitatsine and Boko Haram.Before the uprising of the Maitatsine in the 1980s which left at least 5000 dead and later the Boko Haram which left over 12 000 dead, the northeast was regarded as a peaceful region. However today it has become a bloodbath for Christians and those who oppose the group”.

Somniso-Abraham describes the journey of fifty-year old Pastor Amakom Hyacinth Peregrine an Igbo man grew up in the Kano State and later moved to the Kaduna State where the Boko Haram has currently gone on rampage, kidnapping and killing innocent lives daily. Peregrine who currently lives in one of the upper class market suburbs in Randburg, South Africa sits on a couch at a lounge in his newly found home. He reflects positively on his beautiful childhood memories on a state that has now become a center of attraction worldwide due to the ongoing bloody massacre. "Everything was very peaceful, perfect and beautiful. You'd feel at home. We played soccer and hockey with homemade sticks," he says recalling his childhood memories.”

Peregrine, now a pastor at one of the Nigerians churches situated in Randburg, South Africa, admits "I wish that place could have remained that way, I would go back there. But I do not plan to go there until there is peace," says distraught Peregrine. Back then he says the Muslims and the Christians were united. "The relationship between us Christians and Muslims was cordial. The Muslims were my best friends, I would visit them at their homes and they would do the same."

He describes how things changed “when the leader of the Maitatsine group, Mohammed Marwa robbed the northerners off their peace. Marwa was known as Maitatsine and his group was named after him.  He was a preacher with a following of 3000. Similar to the Boko Haram, he opposed "secular authority and usage of technology". Ironically, he "rejected Prophet Muhammed".

"In the early 80s we heard people shouting Allah ha Akbar (god is great). They arrived and killed people in the north and nobody knew where they were coming from. They were killing the non-Muslims and Christians helter-skelter. Thousands of people were murdered. Some people ran away from the region for their safety." Christian groups were formed whereby young men including Peregrine were offered training in order to protect themselves and their community. They were also taught how to make homemade weapons …”

During the fights, Maitaitsine was killed apparently by the police and that marked the demise of the group. People believe that the formation of Boko Haram was motivated by the Maitaitsine group. "But the group is only wreaking havoc now. We don't know what is going on. They are against modern technology yet they use the same technology to record themselves. How can you say you don't want western method while you are using their devices?"

I have quoted at length to attempt to repeat a couple of points made by Somniso-Abraham and those she quotes. I would say it this way:
1) These terrorist forces currently battling our world culture are NOT WHO/WHAT THEY SAY THEY ARE: they are civil libertarians carrying their [v]ideological views to the extreme. Civil libertarians are self-oriented at their core; thus, a-theistic (humanistic) in recognizing no powers beyond our humanity, and their self-orientation is purely selfish as contrasted with respecting the rights of people who differ from them.
2) The fact that they use modern technology to gain their right to oppose contemporary culture is RATIONAL PROOF THAT THEY ARE NOT AGAINST CONTEMPORARY CULTURE; THEY MERELY DEMAND TO DO AS THEY PLEASE (civil libertarianism at its ultimate extreme).

These two points are issues for serious minded Christians and Muslims alike to ponder. Libertarianism is a highly popular politic in current American conservative Christian politics (Ron Paul et al) that some "rationalize" as being a "Christian" principle. These people need to deal with the a-theism (humanistism) of their libertarian roots and the core conflict between a-theism and the theism of Jesus that teaches mutual submission and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self … under God.

When Duke University announces it will now ring the Muslim prayer hours, it is acknowledging what Pastor Peregrine recalls from a different context in Northeast Nigeria when Muslims and Christians lived peacefully with one another, before the “libertarian days of the terrorist extremists.”

Global Muslims are still deciding the course of true Islam. They can choose to serve God (Allah) and acknowledge him as Sovereign Creator of all humanity, or they can compromise their "religion" and downsize it to the humanism of civil libertarianism (a-theism) and continue their pursuit of terrorism and committing religious genocide in the name of [ir]religious fanaticism. Here I reference my beloved ethics professor, D. S. Warner Monroe who defined a fanatic as simply “a man with a fan in his attic.”

Elijah of the Old Testament was not very far afield when he challenged the 450 Prophets of Baal (cf I Kings 18): “He came unto all the people, and said, ‘How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him …” (v. 21, KJV). 
From and Warner’s World 
I suggest … that how we answer Elijah’s question, as Christians, Muslims, and otherwise,

will determine the direction of our current battle for human survival.   

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Grace that Saves

I like what Edward Long writes: “The last word of the gospel does not concern the ambiguity of ethical choice but proclaims God’s grace in Christ” (Edward L. Long/Conscience and Compromise/164).

Casuistry is a necessary processs. It presupposes sin and relates God’s ultimate demands upon us to the condition of a sinful world. Long rightly notes that “it can therefore make no sense unless the good news of the gospel goes beyond it. Sin necessitates casuistry (ethics), but it must help men to creative action beyond that sin.

In Plato’s seventh book of The Republic, he pictures humans chained in a cave where they can see only their own shadows cast by the fire against a screen. They mistake the shadows for reality. Outside the cave there is the light of the sun—which is reality. The prisoners in the cave cannot easily look at the light of the sun because their eyes are blinded by its brilliance and so they content themselves with the shadows in the cave.

Commenting on Plato’s story, Long offers this analysis: “The modern Church lives in a secular world. Largely unaware of its condition, it becomes a prisoner in a cave that hides the light of God. It fails to see the light of the gospel because it is preoccupied with the shadows of the cultural conditions it mistakes for reality.”

“Much of the Church,” he suggests, actually resists, by “expelling its prophets or ignoring their preaching, the light of the gospel as it judges human institutions—institutions cherished by men because they can see no other hope. Christians should seek so to change the Church, and subsequently the world, as to let God’s light shine into the darkness” (emphasis added).

It is for us as Christians to seek to conquer that sin that keeps out the light. Moreover, men will never become the source of the light. In fact, the gospel does not promise that they shall overcome the darkness of their souls with their own illumination, the being something unacceptable to the humanist who sees man picking himself up by his own bootstraps.

It does not even suggest, writes Long, “that men will seek to get out of darkness by their own initiative BUT IT DOES PROMISE THAT WHEN MEN REMOVE THE SIN THAT SEPARATES THEIR OWN LIFE FROM THE LIGHT OF GOD, THEN GOD’S LIGHT WILL SHINE IN” (emphasis added, pp 164-165).

Long’s 1954 publication left us an approach to Protestant Casuistry/ethics. Although written more than half a century ago, I found portions of it as current as today’s newspaper. It drove home a new sensitivity to avoiding downsizing to the level of the culture around us, regarding the way we think things through.

There is a shortfall of ethical thinkers today and Christians need a greater awareness of morality and ethics. There are still those black and white issues in which we can stand on truths that remain full of truth at all times and are not simply situational. On the other hand, there are grey areas today where Christians lose their influence by failing to discern properly and think-through ethically.

I'm sharing the substance of the book's conclusion when the author writes “if men cease to seek the best that they know, their repentance is a sham and their casuistry a spurious avoidance of duty. But if men do the best that they can by means of a casuistry that seeks to relate the demands of Christian love to the actualities of life (emphasis added),” he agrees, “recognizing the finiteness and compromise involved, then for them the gospel has truly good news, the news of the gift of grace in Christ by means of which alone men are made whole, and the life that they live is transformed into an acceptable service of God” (166). 

I like that: "gift of grace in Christ…”! 

Ethical living by itself cannot save us or our world. Nor can one live truly ethically without wholeheartedly pursuing an ethic that allows “faith” to guide and govern our behavior (our relationships within our culture). Having said that, when we have done our best and missed the mark, we can cast ourselves upon the SAVING GRACE of the RISEN CHRIST and know that a loving Heavenly Father will be there to acknowledge us as part of His Household.

This is at Warner’s World.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Targeting Terrorists

While finishing breakfast and morning coffee, my Saturday morning metamorphosed into a delightful but unexpected telephone conversation with a longtime peer that brings this additional bit of reflection.

The phone rang. Millard Knapp was on the other end reading me his email that I had to admit I sent yesterday. My initial email was one of those disgusting messages targeting me for whatever reason the sender had in mind. It was cloaked in the loving words of a strange female who saw my profile and wanted my friendship … for whatever reason.

That alerted me to the massive amount of email I receive from anywhere and everywhere telling me I have won the latest lottery, or that I need to claim my latest “Get out of Jail” card, or whatever product this particular con-artist is using to target me. Ultimately, they all want my personal information so they can “scam” me for their gain.

When my email came yesterday, I simply keyed on “all” and returned the message to everyone on that sender’s list (I thought). I added the message “Scam Alert” and sent it. My message apparently went to my mailing list (I’m not really sure) but I discover that people like Millard received it although I had not seen his name on the senders list.

So while Millard enjoyed reading the fraudulent message back to me I explained what I had done. He confessed “Yes, it says ‘Scam Alert!’” and we each had a good laugh …  updated each other on our current standings … wished each other well … and the day was off to a good start.

That started my wheels turning and I began to consider how individuals in the current culture target and terrorize one another. An unknown individual wants my Facebook friendship so they can offer me illicit female friendship. Or, so they can defraud (scam) me in some other way available to them. Further thoughts reminded me of the thousands of messages that go through my spam file that target me for whatever purpose (Of course, that keeps the Internet Provider in business!).

While this went on, I spent my time monitoring CNN news regarding the French Jihadists who
The Fleeing Terrorist
slaughtered a dozen people while endeavoring to delete free speech at the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Other news includes reports of the teen charged with killing his Massachusetts teacher, four shot dead in San Francisco, the gun shop owner in Shawnee, KS killed by thieves intending to steal guns from him, to Boko Haram targeting infidels for ethnic genocide.

Add to this the massive corporate commercials flooding my TV, attempting to hold me captive while they pick my pocketbook and enrich their corporate bottom line. If these are not enough, “Security” experts peddle their fears that Americans could become the most recent victims of the next planned “Terrorist plot” and the military-industrial complex continues to export war.

Does it use too wide a brush to include such a wide variety of illustrations to suggest that everybody seems to be targeting somebody? Is it going too far afield to gather these all together in the same fishnet and suggest that such “targeting” reveals little difference at its core and makes the common lot of targeters “terrorists”?

I am not blind to the dangers I see of a terrorist plot, but neither am I naïve enough to deny the element of terrorism in the common lot of humanity who target another person for some type of profit. Eliminating Islamic Jihadists does not rid us of the problems caused by multitudes of other forms of terrorism or planned fraud, both violent and none violent.

From the slanted blog that robs another of his or her reputation to the outright murder of hundreds of Nigerians by Boko Haram, it all comes under the heading of violence and scam. Each uses an element –of fraud, slanted to deceive. Each is grounded in a selfish motive. Each expresses the sinfulness of humanity. Each needs redemption!

This is

at Warner’s World.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Committed Life

A very wise man once wrote,
Trust in the Lord, and do good 
so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

He will bring forth your vindication as the light, and your right as the noonday” (Psalm 37:3-5).

David says trust or bust.
The committed life frees one to trust. God loves to be trusted and he is trustworthy. Being worthy of our trust, he deserves to be trusted. We can say, “I will trust the Lord at all times,” but trusting means putting our faith into action. Trust is faith in action, so trust and do good. David discovered that when trusting God and doing all the good he could do, God never failed him. God always worked with purposeful love in David’s life.

The committed life frees one from worry.
Have you ever experienced being blindfolded, spun around, and lifted into the air by your friends who then pass you around? It was a harrowing, wasn’t it? It was, until you relaxed and began enjoying the beauty of knowing you were in the good hands of trusted friends. Paul described trust this way: When he lived, he lived unto the Lord, and if he died, he died unto the Lord; so then, whether he lived or died, he was the Lord’s (cf. Romans 14:8).

Commitment to him in whom “we live and move and have our being” makes for trust that minimizes worry (Acts 17:28). Thus, Jesus reminded us that our heaven Father feeds the fowls of the air. Since we are better than they, why should we worry? The root meaning of worry suggests wearing away by friction. The Bible forbids worry; avoid being worn away by the friction of anxiety. Thus, David concludes “fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (v. 7).

The Committed life guards one from envy.
“Let not your heart envy sinners,” or workers of iniquity, suggested the wise man (Proverbs 23:17). Comfort comes in being satisfied with one’s portion. Envy creates rottenness in the bones. Rather; take delight in the Lord, for he will give you the desire of your heart.

Describing this as heavenly wisdom, James describes it as “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insecurity” (James 3:17). This suggests satisfaction of soul that money and possessions cannot purchase. Trust in God. He will act in our behalf. He will protect us from the envy that causes us to be dissatisfied with life unless we have as much as our neighbor has.

The committed life produces joy!
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you…” (Psalm 37:4). Life becomes a delight, a joy, a satisfaction. The Apostle James described the chrome plated chaos many of us live in and wondered, What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members. You desire but do not have, so you covet but cannot obtain.

You desire and do not have; so you kill. You covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:1-43).  Those who find real delight in the lord God have this promise: “He will give you the desires of your heart!”
The Psalmist well remembered a time in his life when he went into the sanctuary with what he called slippery feet. He was, he said, envious of the arrogant and prosperous. He felt bitterness of soul that he described in detail (Psalm 73).

In the sanctuary; however, he found new perspective! His negative doubts and hostile feelings fell away, replaced by positive feelings that enabled him to witness “Thou hast put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for thou, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:7-8).

Doubt becomes wrong when we refuse to commit ourselves to him. Paul admonished believers to allow God to transform their lives through the renewal of a committed mind; therefore, commit yourself a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).

Note the order in the Psalmist’s experience:
1. Trust in the Lord.
2. Delight yourself in the Lord.
3. Commit your way to the Lord.
4. Rest in the Lord (Action words emphasized).
Recognize his power and presence. Trust yourself to him. Trust in his ways, Abide in him always. Unbelief gives direction to no man but an honest doubt, pursued by a committed heart, will discover a truthful and loving God along the way (Action words highlighted).

H. F. Lyte discovered he was in the best hands when in God’s care and keeping:

               Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
               The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide:
               When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,

               Help of the helpless, O Abide with me!

I am, 
abiding in Him . . .

Monday, January 5, 2015

Christians Living Ethically

“Christianity finds expression in tangible and social realities that include all types of human accomplishment,” suggests Edward Long (Conscience and Compromise/55).  Some of the areas he includes are “the homes men create, the businesses at which they earn their bread and butter, and the clubs and movie houses that furnish their recreation.”

Long defines these as the “realities which the New Testament calls ‘the world’ and which are today commonly referred to as culture.” For us to be faithful to Christ and for us to obey his commandment of love requires that we as Christians be obedient to him in all these different areas of our lives. As He adds, “if the demand of Christian love is a full and unconditional demand for total obedience, then it calls for this obedience to express itself in all aspects of culture” (bold print added).

I raise this point because we moderns have occasionally become victims of a secular outlook that makes religion just one department of life among many. This state of mind generally regards the nonreligious departments of life as beyond the scope and pale of religious influence.  I remember battling this issue back in the sixties when JFK ran for Presidential Office and his Roman Catholic Church membership was being contested as to whether or not he could be a “good Catholic” and disregard the teachings of the Vatican (an independent state) should they conflict with his office.

Too often, we divide life into sacred and secular areas of concern. We forget that religion can find expression only through cultural channels. We divorce our worship experience in church from the life we live outside the church. When this happens, we have a man of the cloth living as a priest in church and a life of pedophilia outside of church. When this happens, we have national statistics telling us divorce is as common among church families as unchurched, and faith makes little difference.  When this happen, we have a church proclaiming the love of God and practicing--even enforcing--racial segregation, as we did for many years following slavery.

“The conflict of interest and loyalties,” writes Long, “both within the earthly city and between the earthly city and the heavenly city, tears the Christian conscience and forces it to compromise. It creates those situations which become stumbling blocks to men of faith.  The world in which men live is both good and evil in its influence, but it seems to compound human sin even more readily than it compounds human virtue”

Quoting Reinhold Niebuhr from his book Moral Man and Immoral Society we read that “what men would never do individually they consent to do corporately…” Although we resist this idea of social sins, there is that thing of being carried along by group pressure and frenzy. There is that individual selfishness that becomes group injustice; there is that personal cantankerousness that breeds social war. There are those cultural groupings that produce class divisions, economic injustices on an exploitive scale, and patterns of organized segregation as well as military conflicts.

We understand that Christians cannot escape from the world and live as Monastics, just so they can perform their duties to God (This may be the most selfish of all individualism and libertarianism because done under the guise of religion). Suffice it to say here that we recognize that duty to God can be performed only by those who seek to do his will in the world about them. Culture merely furnishes the condition within which the Christian ethic must work and to which it must be relevant. Jesus told us we should be “in the world” and that is so we can be relevant, but added that we be not of the world.

Christians, often try to live their lives free from sin, yet frequently find themselves involved in the sin(s) of their social group (culture), as for example in time of war. Sometimes the institutional church compounds it with evil of its own making. Although we live in a nation that some mistakenly regard as a “Christian” nation, we must understand there are still those vitalities and forces that seek to destroy Christian values.

It is here that we must turn to the Christ! Christ calls all of us to acknowledge our sin(s) and overcome it (them). The radical call of love is to share that compelling love with all mankind—even your enemies, and become obedient to Him (Christ) in what is largely a disobedient world. That call must remain uncompromised!

That is to say, we cannot turn to Paul, for example, to accommodate a just war theory, without being seduced by the secular and re-interpreting the teachings and values of Jesus. Anything less than Jesus becomes a downsizing, deluting, rejecting of the real Gospel and living less than ethically.

Intent on taking Jesus seriously, I am

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Determining Right From Wrong

Edward Le Roy Long, Jr. retired as the James W. Pearsall Professor of Christian Ethics and Theology of Culture at Drew University after a long academic career that included Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Oberlin, Purdue University, and Union.
A prestigious lecturer , he served numerous academic Societies, joining Drew University in 1976. In 1984 he was awarded the James W. Pearsall Professor of Christian Ethics and Theology of Culture. In 1981, he received the Will Herberg Distinguished Professor Award for his contributions to Drew University. He retired from Drew in 1985, but continued to teach a variety of courses including: Christian Ethics, Historical Figures in Christian Ethics, Religion and Law, Theological and Related Diagnoses of Culture, The Reformed Tradition, Personhood, Community & Institutions, the Church's Role in Peacemaking.
Between 1945 and 1993 he authored 60 articles and numerous books on The Christian Response to the Atomic Crisis (1950) , Science and Christian Faith (1950) , Religious Beliefs of American Scientists (1952) , Conscience and Compromise (1954) , A Survey of Christian Ethics (1967), War and Conscience in America (1968), Peace Thinking in a Warring World (1983), Academic Bonding and Social Concern: The History of the Society of Christian Ethics: 1959-1983 (1984), and Higher Education as a Moral Enterprise (1992). To Liberate and Redeem: Moral Reflections on the Biblical Narrative (1997), Patterns of Polity: Varieties of Church Governance (2001), Facing Terrorism: Responding as Christians (2004).
His book, Conscience and Compromise, rested in my library quietly undiscovered for many years. I just now read his book, liked it enough that I had to know his pedigree. Now I know that he published in 1954 with Westminister Press and offers an approach to Protestant Casuistry that he defines as the “process of relating the high demands of faith to the perplexing moral dilemmas that appear in daily life” (9). 
He was a heavy weight in his academic world of Christian ethics and the culture. From chapter 13 I have excerpted several quotes of his relating to the limits and dangers of casuistry (I have italicized his quotes).
“Casuistry must be undertaken in the framework of faithful reliance upon God. It must be chastised and corrected by a power beyond itself. This power must keep ethical devotion true to Christian love and recall men when they stray from allegiance to it. To argue this way makes little sense to the advocate of a non-“Christian ethic. It makes little sense to the pragmatists and humanists who, having no resources beyond their own strategies for dealing with human problems, are forced to rely upon the self-sufficiency of their ethic and the self-correctiveness of  its equivalent to casuistry. Whereas the secularist, who believes in no power beyond that of human skill and wisdom, must calculate and scheme with only human resource, the Christian may work as in devotion to God. This devotion may include calculation but can never be reduced to it alone.
“The casuist must recheck each ethical decision against the norm of love and not merely judge it by its practical fruits or short-range results. To this end he must know the master plan. A man who builds a house must cut and fit each individual piece, but if he does so without checking the whole building against the larger guides of square and plumb line, the building will be lopsided and out of true. Likewise, the cutting and fitting process of casuistry will build properly only when checked against the standards of the gospel.
“The gospel ethic never lets us go; it calls for a continual striving after a goal that admittedly will never of itself be attained. We hear much these days from the theologians about the scandal of the gospel in the metaphysical realm, but there is also a scandal in the ethical realm. It is the demand for a total abandon to the unconditional claim of love in order that its conditional claims may be properly managed. An element of intense ethical devotion that lies beyond casuistry is the only power that can preserve casuistry from its errors ... The final word by which men are saved comes from God in his justification of men by faith. This word emphasizes that men are saved by God’s own power and love and not by casuistry or ethical devotion, however strong and valid they may be. . .” 147-150).
As Christians we may enter into the problems of our culture. We need, however, to be aware that the culture may accept our intentions and assistance but call us to compromise by rejecting or reducing what for us is the ultimate demand of our faith—radical commitment to God’s call upon our lives.
Some unwittingly downsize their solutions to cultural problems by accepting the cultural rationale and minimizing, ignoring, or deleting God’s call upon their life. They flirt with a humanistic approach, which is ultimately a-theistic in ignoring, minimizing, or scaling down God’s radical demand of love and grace.
I will end with this quote, which I like: “The meaning of Christian experience is found in the relationship of obedience as undertaken in response to the forgiving love that has been made known to us in Christ. Without the love of Christ to ennoble and redeem it the whole enterprise of Christian ethics is frustrating” and I might add futile.

As Long concludes, “The last word of the gospel does not concern the ambiguity of ethical choice but proclaims God’s choice in Christ” (164). From Warner’s World this is