It is a commonplace that Christians live by an ethic of love. We are commanded by Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves. We easily see that loving others includes being helpful.

But what does it mean to help our neighbor?

The apostolic teaching, the authortative interpretation of Jesus, contains these words that at first reading do not seem very loving:

For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:10

If any one does not provide for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8

If a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. 1 Timothy 5:4

If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her assist them; let the church not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are real widows. 1 Timothy 5:16

So, how is it a deed of Christian love not to feed someone who chooses not to work? How is it a deed of Christian love to demand that men provide for their families? How is it a deed of Christian love to demand that families take care of their own, and not to depend upon the church for maintainence?

True Christian love desires that each person become the person God wants him or her to be. True Christian love does not desire that a person remain in a condition God does not desire. Genuinely Christian help will heip a person become what God want that person to be. "Help" that makes it possible for a person to remain disobedient is not Christian help, it is ungodly enabling.

Sometimes love must be tough.
Category: Christian Belief
Posted by: an okie gardener
The Cuban revival, from Christianity Today.
Category: Christian Belief
Posted by: an okie gardener
Today is Black Saturday. Yesterday Jesus died, as observed with Good Friday. He was buried, and the stone rolled across the doorway of the tomb. The followers of Jesus are in hiding--despairing, hopeless, afraid-- and the enemies of Jesus are still gloating.

But tomorrow is Sunday, Easter. Despair will change to elation, hopelessness to hope, and fear to confidence.

Don't be afraid. Don't give up hope. Don't despair. Jesus lives. Tomorrow may surprise you. Things may turn for the better. And at the end of history, the winner is--------God!

Here is a repeat of an earlier post.

A couple of weeks ago I had to be out and about in my car for a few evenings. Listening to a geezer rock station I heard a nationally syndicated program hosted by Alice Cooper. What a trip! Rock music, anecdotes, Bible lessons, and occasional libertarian/conservative political commentary. In the 1970s who could have imagined Alice Cooper on the radio explaining the context of a New Testament story? Or warning against the dangers of excessive drinking? Life is totally unpredictable.

For much of my life, from childhood until about fifteen years ago, I had a recurring dream: I was standing in the back yard of my paternal grandparents. I looked to the southwest and saw the top of a nuclear mushroom cloud (the direction of Kansas City), then I looked to the southeast and saw the top of another mushroom cloud (in the direction of St. Louis). I assumed, given the talk of those days, and later given my own analysis of the world's political situation, that nuclear war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was inevitable. (Boy did I feel that in the early 80s). I also recall, growing up in the 60s, having the feeling that America was doomed by enemies without, and by problems within. The same thoughts recurred in the late 70s with oil shortages, strong inflation, and the hostages in Iran. But, the U.S.S.R. is no more, the United States is still here, and my premonitions/predictions did not come to pass. The future is unpredictable.

For me this unpredictability gives me hope. Traditionally Christianity has regarded Despair (not to be equated with depression) as a sin. Despair is the rejection of hope. It is a sin because it is a form of pride, an assumption of omniscience. The person who chooses to despair assumes that he/she knows all the facts of the present, and knows what will happen in the future. We never know enough to declare that life is hopeless.

The Lord is risen! Is risen indeed!
What the heaven was the Pope thinking? Such is the reaction in this post and the article it quotes and links to from Newsweek/Washington Post.

Pope Benedict's decision to undo the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, an unrepentant Holocaust denier, has been met with wall to wall condemnation. Short of the launch of a new Crusade, it is hard to imagine how the Pope could have ignited such outrage with one decision.

Yet there is an even greater crisis waiting in the wings that will soon be picked up by world media. Williamson's fellow travelers -- the entire network of the breakaway Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) -- are vocal enthusiasts of a medieval religious anti-Semitism that gives the Islamist imams in Pakistan some serious competition.

The papal move to re-embrace SSPX was carefully negotiated. And if Pope Benedict was expecting any cosmetic changes in SSPX's Jew-hatred he was dead wrong. True ideologues in their hatred, their group's website remains unchanged. Jews, it tells us, are directly responsible for the crucifixion. Jews are cursed with the "blindness to the things of G-d and eternity." As a people, they stand "in entire opposition with the Catholic Church." "Christendom and Jewry are designed inevitably to meet everywhere without reconciliation or mixing."

So who or what is the Society of Saint Pius X? Characterizing them simply as raving antisemites is mistaken. They are a group of Catholic dissidents who think that Vatican 2 made a serious mistake in modernizing the Roman Catholic Church. If they are "medieval" they are so in the same way pre-Vatican 2 Roman Catholicism was, which is to say--not exactly. Here is their website.

What is their view regarding Jews? In their own words

However, in what does that curse consist. Surely it cannot be that there is a collective guilt of the Jewish race for the sin of deicide. For only those individuals are responsible for the sin who knowingly and willingly brought it about. Jews of today are manifestly not responsible for that sin. The curse is of a different nature, and corresponds to the greatness of the vocation of the Jewish people as a preparation for the Messias, to the superiority of their election, which makes them first in the order of grace. Just as the true Israelites, who accept the Messias, are the first to receive "glory, honor and peace to every one that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rm. 2:10), so also are the first to receive the punishment of their refusal of the Messias: "Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek" (Rm. 2:9). The curse is then the punishment for the hardhearted rebelliousness of a people that has refused the time of its visitation, that has refused to convert and to live a moral, spiritual life, directed towards heaven. This curse is the punishment of blindness to the things of God and eternity, of deafness to the call of conscience and to the love of good and hatred of evil which is the basis of all moral life, of spiritual paralysis, of total preoccupation with an earthly kingdom. It is this that sets them as a people in entire opposition with the Catholic Church and its supernatural plan for the salvation of souls. Fr. Denis Fahey in The Kingship of Christ and Organized Naturalism explains this radical opposition. He describes "the Naturalism of the Jewish Nation" and the "age-long struggle of the Jewish Nation against the supernatural life of the Mystical Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (p. 42) He goes on to explain that "we must distinguish accurately between opposition to the domination of Jewish Naturalism in society and hostility to the Jews as a race" which latter form of opposition "is what is designated by the term, ‘Antisemitism,’ and has been more than once condemned by the Church. The former opposition is incumbent on every Catholic and on every true lover of his native land." (ibid. p. 43)

Certainly distressing to modern ears. But, the difficulty is deeper than pre-Vatican 2 Roman Catholicism. The New Testament itself speaks of a curse on the Jews, and of a blindness placed on those Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah. Saint Paul in Romans 9-11 gives the most sustained attention found in the New Testament to the place and role of the Jews in God's plan.

It is the influence of the late Father Fahey, an Irish priest and academic, that proves most troublesome about SSPX. Fahey wrote and taught that God intends to reestablish Order on earth through the Holy Catholic Church, bringing all of human life and society into conformity with God's will: the creation of a truly Catholic culture. I myself am sympathetic to some aspects of Fahey's thought, such as that ownership of land should be as widespread as possible, most men should be farmers, family life is sacramental, both Individualism and Collectivism are devilish, and Capitalism --the "money manipulators"--are anti-God. The chief difficulty I find in Fahey's thought is his portrayal of those who oppose the establishment of God's Order: Naturalists. For him a Naturalist is someone who, prompted by Satan, opposes the Supernatural Order of Grace. Fahey thought that two main groups of organized naturalists existed who were enemies of the Roman Catholic church, and therefore of God: Masons and Jews. He believed that the "catastrophe" of modernism with its immorality and bloody revolutions was the result of the efforts of these two groups, working secretly behind the scenes.

So, what is Pope Benedict XVI doing? Is he embracing antisemitism? No. The Pope is reaching out to a group of dissident Catholics, hoping to heal a division that resulted from the changes of Vatican 2. Are some aspects of that group problematic in the modern age? Absolutely. But, as the Shepherd of a large and varied flock, it seems to me he is doing the right thing in his outreach. The official statement regarding the Pope's actions are on the Vatican website, but are not yet translated into English.
Story here from The Mail.

Vatican chiefs are concerned at what they see as an increased interest in the occult.
They have introduced courses for priests to combat what they call the most extreme form of "Godlessness."
Each bishop is to be told to have in his diocese a number of priests trained to fight demonic possession.
The initiative was revealed by 82-year-old Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican "exorcistinchief," to the online Catholic news service Petrus.
"Thanks be to God, we have a Pope who has decided to fight the Devil head-on," he said.
"Too many bishops are not taking this seriously and are not delegating their priests in the fight against the Devil. You have to hunt high and low for a properly trained exorcist.
"Thankfully, Benedict XVI believes in the existence and danger of evil . . .

"Exorcism" means the casting out of a demon or demons who are possessing a person. The belief in evil spirits who would harm humans, including by possessing human bodies, is an ancient and widespread belief, not confined to Christianity.

From its earliest days Christianity has believed that a personal devil, and hordes of lesser demons, sought to harm human beings as part of the rebellion of the fallen angels. In the Early Church casting out of demons was done by laypeople as well as church officers, but gradually the practice became restricted to the ordained.

While Modernity downplayed the supernatural, resulting in the loss of belief in demons and exorcisms among many Western Christians, the growth of Pentecostalism has revived the practice of casting out demons among conservative Protestants.

Traditionally, "possession" was distinguished from "oppression" and from the more general temptations and malicious work of demons. "Oppression" refers to the strong presence of demons in a person's life, perhaps resulting from willingly participating in sins. "Possession" refers to demons taking up residence in the person's body.

The Roman Catholic Church's position is that actual possession is rare, at least within Christendom. More common is Oppression, which can be handled by prayer, along with confession and repentence if needed. Possession, however, must be fought with Exorcism, the casting out of the demon through the work of an exorcist (involving prayers, rituals, sacred objects) and the willingness of the possessed to be delivered.

Raised within modern culture, I have tended not to think much about possession, or exorcism. Probably that is an area of my ministry I need to reconsider.
Category: Christian Belief
Posted by: an okie gardener
Staying with us now is a work group from a Reformed church in Slate Hill, New York. Tonight I am to do a devotional with them. I am planning to ask them this series of questions, following a reading of Matthew 28:18-20, stressing the part about making disciples of all nations.

Matthew 28:18-20

1.You are a missionary to a culture that practices polygamy. A man wants to convert to Christianity. He has 4 wives. Do you baptize him as is? Do you have him choose only one wife before baptism? A single male Christian within this culture takes a wife. Then, he wants to take a second wife to add with the first. Do you perform the wedding? If he does take the second wife, do you think church discipline is necessary?

2.Within a culture that venerates ancestors, each family keeps a shrine within its house dedicated to the ancestors of the family. A small plate of food and a small cup of liquor are placed before the shrine each day, in a short ceremony involving prayers to the ancestors. What do you do, as a missionary pastor, in regard to this practice?

3.You are a missionary pastor to a culture that is oral, without a written language. Stories are retold within families. In each village there is a storyteller whose task is to remember the history of the village and of the tribe, and to tell the history on special days. In the middle of the village is a large thatched roof shelter. When anyone comes to the village, they are expected to go to this shelter where everyone will gather to hear the news from wherever the person who arrived is from. Do you attempt to create a written language for the tribe, so that a written Bible translation can be made, or do you create a Bible translation that is purely oral, that is, unwritten.

What resources guide you in your answers? What is your thought process?

4.You are a missionary pastor to a culture in which legal divorce is easily obtained and common. A divorced woman wants to convert. Do you baptize her? A Christian man in the church divorces his wife, saying they just drifted apart. Is church discipline necessary? The man wants to take another wife; will you marry the two of them?

5.You are a missionary pastor in a culture which values sports highly. Youth soccer games are routinely scheduled morning, noon, and night on Sunday. What do you teach your congregation to do?

6.You are a missionary pastor to a culture that spends vast sums of money on weddings. Easily the sum of money that could be used as a down payment on a house. The latest trend is to do “destination weddings” in which the ceremony is to take place in an exotic location like the Bahamas. Do you participate? What do you teach your congregation?
Category: Christian Belief
Posted by: an okie gardener
Gateway Pundit has the story on the anti-refugee/immigrant rioting in South Africa. WARNING: DISTURBING IMAGES. The violence included burning people alive.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote that he could not understand liberal Christianity abandoning the Doctrine of Original Sin since it is the one empirically verifiable dogma.

When we see what people are capable of, we should take some lessons:
(1) We should watch ourselves. Chesterton has Father Brown say in one of his stories, that each of us has one murderer to watch and guard our whole lives--ourself.
(2) We should realize that liberty has more than one enemy. Chaos threatens freedom just as much as tyranny does.
(3) The mob is always to be feared; individual conscience submerged into the herd leads to bestial behavior.
(4) Conscience is formed by a variety of factors--family, society, religion. If the formative factors weaken, so does a sense of right and wrong.
Category: Christian Belief
Posted by: an okie gardener
Story here.

In Las Vegas former prostitutes and strippers evangelize their former sisters-in-sin. The names of the two evangelical groups: Hookers for Jesus, and JC's Girls.

Reminds me of an old story, I think from 19th-century England. A street preacher was holding forth on a corner, backed up by a Salvation Army band. A man in the crowd passed his card to the front to be given the preacher. It was the personal card of a famous lecturer who promoted atheism. After the sermon the lecturer and the preacher conversed, and the atheist challenged the preacher to a public debate, even offering to pay for the venue. The preacher responded, "I'll accept your challenge on one condition: I shall enter the auditorium at the head of a column of former drunkards, thieves, prostitutes, and others whose lives have been redeemed and uplifted through belief in Jesus. You will enter the hall at the head of a column made up of those whose lives have been similarly uplifed by their embrace of atheism. We then will debate.

The debate was never held.