Yesterday I had the opportunity to go share at a church founded around people who were in recovery from alcohol and drugs. I abused them strongly when I was a high school teenager going into 20-year-old, so my story fit into what they were doing. As a modern “hip” evangelical community, they had their t-shirted, tattooed t-shirt-wearing blue-jeans-wearing under-40 young pastor and the overhead monitor with songs and videos, etc.
And, there I was in a black clerical collar shirt, black pants, and introducing myself as Fr. Ernesto. I actually fit in well and was most definitely quite accepted after the members realized that I was just like them, except a few years down the line. I say that because the congregation all looked to be about the age of our children. Of course, that may be nothing more than an indication that a 67-year-old always sees most everyone as young, LOL.
Because of my being a Viet Nam veteran, a couple of the men came up to me outside afterward to talk to me. They were Middle East veterans. One of them had been a First Responder like I had been. He had been a combat medic, and while I was never sent into combat, I have worked ambulance duty. It is a nasty business, as any EMT, emergency room nurse, emergency physician, etc., can tell you. You see them before they are cleaned up and in a hospital bed. You see them bleeding, screaming, crying for help, unconscious, comatose, etc., etc.
After a while, the other medic and I began to share “war stories.” After a bit, I realized that all the stories he and I were sharing were anger stories. We never actually talked about the patients. We talked about the times we felt like cold-cocking a physician, or throwing something against a wall, or screaming out in anger. We talked about new partners who were still learning the ropes, about bullets flying, about lucky escapes. We referred to the patients as “the gunshot in the back”, the S-shaped compound fracture, etc.
There was another person fighting addiction next to us and listening. He had become very quiet. I think a couple of times he turned a little bit green. I think both I and the other medic realized that we needed to tone down the stories. But, it was so helpful to share stories with someone else who knew what I was talking about. We both left laughing and commenting that we wanted to meet each other again for a cup of coffee or something like that. The third person in the group also said goodbye, but in a more subdued fashion.
Later, my training came back to me. I realized that I still have anger when I think of some of those stories. But, I also realize that the anger I can still sometimes experience is my substitute for the fear I felt, for the pain I felt at seeing human beings in such pain, for the inadequacy I felt when I could not make them live. Yes, of course I intellectually know that I was not inadequate and that I am not God. But, that does not stop the feelings.
For some that has led to drug addiction, homelessness, mental breakdowns, PTSD, Moral Injury, etc. There is nothing like war and/or being a First Responder to quickly teach you that when the 10 Commandments say that we should not kill that it does not simply mean murder. Yes, I realize that the commandment is specifically talking about murder. But, I also realize that both Jesus and the Church Fathers commented that killing itself is not a good thing, and neither is death and suffering.
Because we are so often trying to justify war (Just War Theory), we tend to forget that no matter how often we justify war, war was never meant to be. We were created in the image of God, who does not wish any to perish. As a result, when we are involved in death and suffering, we often experience the repercussions of having to behave in a way in which God did not originally want us to behave. While God may not punish us, we often punish ourselves because we know that we were not created to do such or to experience such.
Please keep our veterans and First Responders in prayer. A lot of us are still full of pain and anger.
What is the Cato Institute? “The Cato Institute is a public policy research organization — a think tank — dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace. Its scholars and analysts conduct independent, nonpartisan research on a wide range of policy issues.” It is a libertarian think-tank founded by one of the Koch brothers. The Koch brothers range from libertarian to very conservative, and they use their money for political purposes.
Thus, it would be fair and accurate to say that whatever the Cato Institute publishes is going to tend to come from a libertarian to very conservative mindset. The sad part is that I am having to spend two paragraphs explaining this because otherwise, their conclusions would not be accepted by all too many political conservatives. But the main point is that the Cato Institute has done more than one study on the criminality of immigrants, and researched other peer-reviewed studies.
What they found directly contradicts both what President Trump has tweeted about the criminals coming over the border and the fake news claims of most other conservative organizations. I must congratulate the Cato Institute on the careful work that they have done in this area, but more than that, I must congratulate them on an honesty that has not been much seen in the political discussions of the last several years.
Below are three quotes from their website. You are most certainly welcome to go and check out the quotes to ensure that I am not taking them out of context. I hope you will also be willing to believe them, as they have good documentation and references on their site.
All immigrants have a lower criminal incarceration rate and there are lower crime rates in the neighborhoods where they live, according to the near-unanimous findings of the peer-reviewed evidence. Since 1911, large nationwide federal immigration commissions have asked whether immigrants are more crime-prone than native-born Americans and each one of them answered no, even when the rest of their reports unjustifiably blamed immigrants for virtually every problem in the United States. From the 1911 Immigration Commission, also known as the Dillingham Commission, to the 1931 Wickersham Commission, and 1994’s Barbara Jordan Commission, each has reported that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. …
Cato scholars have since published numerous Immigration Research and Policy Briefs to shed light on this topic. Michelangelo Landgrave, a doctoral student in political science at the University of California, Riverside, and I released a paper today that estimates that illegal immigrant incarceration rates are about half those of native-born Americans in 2017. …
The Texas research is consistent with the finding that crime along the Mexican border is much lower than in the rest of the country, homicide rates in Mexican states bordering the United States are not correlated with homicide rates here, El Paso’s border fence did not lower crime, Texas criminal conviction rates remain low (but not as low) when recidivism is factored in, and that police clearance rates are not lower in states with many illegal immigrants – which means that they don’t escape conviction by leaving the country after committing crimes.
When someone steals a man’s clothes, we call him a thief. Shouldn’t we give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? — St. Basil the Great (AD 330-379)
From Ancient Faith Ministries
It isn’t because the affluent are unable to provide food easily that men go hungry. It is because the affluent are cruel and inhumane. — St. John Chrysostom (AD 347-407), Homily 66 on Matthew
From Ancient Faith Ministries
You have and eat; give each day to someone who is poor to eat also. — St. Raphael of Lesvos (15th century)
From Ancient Faith Ministries
While you are anxious about your wealth being diminished, you do not see that you yourself are being diminished. — St. Cyprian of Carthage (AD 210-258), On Works and Alms, Treatise 8
From Ancient Faith Ministries
He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs. — St. Maximus the Confessor (AD 580-662)
From Ancient Faith Ministries
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.
Lev. 23:22, NKJV
If one of your brethren becomes poor and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.
Lev. 25:35, NKJV
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Jam. 2:14-17, NKJV
Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.
James 5:4-6, NKJV
More and more Ancient Faith Ministries has begun quoting the Early Church Fathers concerning issues of poverty and wealth. I have added a couple of quotes from the Bible. What one can see is that there is a rich history from the Old Testament through the New Testament through the Early Church Fathers, all the way into the modern saints, of strong words concerning the duty of the rich concerning the poor.
Notice that I said “duty.” One does not find in that whole storied length the idea that the donations are simply free-will charity. Rather, the consistent witness from the Old Testament through the modern saints is that you have enough liberty to make the right choice. But, if you do not make the right choice, there is a certain doom that awaits you. This is about the same status as is given the choice to follow Jesus Christ as Lord. You have enough liberty to make the right choice, but if you do not then an unpleasant end awaits you.
For those who claim that it cannot be done by way of taxes, notice that the Law of the Old Testament required you to not harvest certain parts of your field so that the poor, and the animals, might feed from it. That is, you labored but a portion of your gains were mandated for the poor and for ecological concerns. In other words, you were taxed for the poor.
St. James’ concern is even more interesting, for there he does not write about the unemployed poor, but the employed poor. And he condemns in a vituperous manner those who pay an insufficient wage. A modern way to say it is that St. James is advocating for a living wage. Failure to pay a living wage also may doom you to a bitter end. Here one only needs to think of the parable of Lazarus and Dives to see what is meant. Think of this as a mandated minimum wage whose amount is enough to provide a living wage. In passing, in those days the husband worked while the wife was at home doing the onerous manual household work. Thus, a living wage would be enough for one person in a family to work and provide for their family in a generously adequate way. Anything short of that would appear to violate Scripture, would it not?
What one does not find in either Scripture or Holy Tradition is any argument that the money I earn is purely mine. Rather the opposite. From the Old Testament through, it is clear that you are to give cheerfully to the Temple, then to the poor. One did not only pay a tithe to the Temple in the Old Testament, one also turned over the edges of their field to the poor. There was also the tax by the King and the mandatory selective service. While I could go on, by now you should be aware that the idea that it is all yours is quite ungodly.
Does this mean that it is wrong to be rich? No, nowhere does it say that. As with many issues, it is how you use it not whether you have it. Thus, there are many examples of faithful rich people in Scripture, from Abraham through Joseph through Nicodemus through Joseph of Arimathea. But what makes them faithful is that they not only followed God, but that they also used their riches and power in the correct way. Thus, Abraham gives hospitality freely to strangers. Joseph uses his power to begin the granary system that saves so many from starvation during the time of famine. Both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea freely give from what they have even to giving away one’s own family tomb.
What you do not find is any praise to someone for merely being rich. The merely rich are often condemned. And, by condemned I do not mean merely disapprobation but rather the certainty of doom on them. What you also do not find is that the rich has any full right to their riches. Rather, the argument is often made that one was made rich so that he or she may give more generously. The Old Testament Law, which was a teaching tool according to St. Paul, even mandated the edges of the field being kept for the poor so that we might learn that we are to give and that our money is not fully ours.
I can make an even stronger point. The Epistle of St. James makes it clear that it is the rich who are the takers, not the poor. It is the rich who have used their power to pervert justice and to hoard their riches rather than paying adequate wages and giving to the poor. Of the poor, St. James echoes Our Lord when he says, “Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man.” (James 2:5-6a, NKJV). Read the next two verses to read what St. James says about the rich who do not pay adequate wages and do not give. It is not pleasant.
So, when you talk about takers and taxes, when you talk about what you earned being stolen, be very careful. Scripture and Tradition say that it is the rich who are the thieves and the poor who have been robbed.
Finally, I would agree with you that our money needs to be spent in a financially consistent and appropriate way. But, when you use finances to again avoid your money being “taken” you are again falling into the it’s my money syndrome. The Old Testament believer had no part in deciding how either the Temple or the King would spend their money. Neither did they have a part in deciding who would harvest the edges of their field. Be careful not to use financial accountability as an excuse to hoard your money. We live in a representative democracy, which means we have much more voice in how our money is used. But, do not use that as a reason to hoard your money.
Two days ago, I wrote an article on the regulative principle, the Old Testament, and Church History. It forms the background to this addendum and can be found here.
There is a problem with those who speak of the loss of the teaching of the Apostles as early as the beginning of the second century AD. This is the theory that the Church post-100 AD no longer truly reflected the full teaching of the Twelve Apostles, and is found in the Trail of Blood lectures by Dr. James Milton Carroll, which lectures took place in the 1920s. However, the original theology dates to the mid-1800s to three Baptist pastors: James Robinson Graves, James Madison Pendleton, and Amos Cooper Dayton.
Dr. Carroll agrees with the pastors of the 1800s and positions the beginning of the fall of the “official” Church shortly before 100 AD. According to him, even before Christianity became the official state church of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, the persecution of true believers by the false Church had already started over two centuries before. He cites the “persecution” of the Montanists, Novatians, Cathari, etc. They may have mistaken beliefs in some areas, but allegedly preserve the True Church in their main approach. The official Church’s condemnation of those groups as heretics is proof of the rise and takeover of the False Church. One name for this is Landmark theology.
The problem is that ultimately those who follow that theology are saying that the Twelve Apostles (with Paul being the Apostle who replaced Judas) were insufficient teachers. I realize that those who hold Landmark theology would simply claim that Satan had not just infiltrated, but also taken over the Church. However, if the alleged takeover happened that quickly, then it points to a stunning failure by the Apostles to properly teach and prepare those under their care.
More than that, this stunning failure calls into doubt not only whether the Apostles properly passed on what they had received but also calls into serious doubt the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The Holy Spirit, which is supposed to lead the Church into all truth could not even keep the Church correctly on course past the first generation. It is not sufficient to argue that the Holy Spirit kept a few believers on course in a hidden manner, for God had kept Israel basically on course through centuries, bringing her back to sanity again and again, yet never deserting official Israel for centuries. Now, supposedly, God is unable to keep the Church on course past the first generation? Apparently, he did better work with Israel!
But, this begins to add a whole layer of doubts that are eventually seriously picked up by the classic Liberals of the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. If the Apostles are that incapable of training a corps of people to lead the Church correctly, how do we know that the teachings that they recorded in their writings are correct? In fact, the classical liberals did not believe that the Apostles recorded Jesus’ teachings correctly. That is why you have people like Thomas Jefferson putting out a Bible in which he has cut out all that was probably not accurate testimony about Jesus. After all, the Apostles already showed their incapacity!
This argument over what is really of Jesus and what belongs to mistaken records by the Apostles is an argument that goes on to this day. I am leaving out the arguments by the skeptics and full-on atheists because they make the mistake of the other extreme, that of attributing no truth to the narratives. That is a different type of error than what is being discussed here. But, there is little doubt that the argument of the failure of the second generation leads to the argument of the inadequacies of the Apostles which leads to severe doubts as to the narrative content of the New Testament.
In order to produce the regulative principle, those who follow it have to discard the second century AD and its developments. Frankly, they have to discard the late first century AD. In discarding that, even if they are not Landmarkians, they inevitably damage the reliability of the Apostles. In damaging the reliability of the Apostles, they damage the reliability of their writings. In damaging those writings, they leave us with no clear picture of Jesus and what he intends for us. It really is a set of dominoes falling in a row.
Even worse for the Landmarkians who make the argument of the fallen Church of the second century is that the collection of books known as the New Testament is not a settled collection until the fourth (maybe the fifth) century AD. That is rather late, in comparison to the time of the Apostles, and it is settled as a collection by the supposed False Church that the Landmarkians reject. Even the non-Landmark theologians have to argue that a state church with bishops and a liturgy that they reject somehow correctly collected the very New Testament on which they rely for their regulative principle.
In order to argue for this, various versions of a theology called the Testimonium of Scripture developed. That is, somehow the books themselves were so imbued with the Holy Spirit that even the False Church (or the mistaken Church in the milder version of the testimonium) was forced to recognize them by the power of the Holy Spirit. But, here is the problem. If the Holy Spirit was going to exert that much power, why did he allow the worship, structure, and theology of the Church to undergo such a complete collapse?
Frankly, the theology of the testimonium turns the New Testament into a collection of almost magically powerful writings that sap the will-to-destroy-the-books from any who would dare keep them from being recognized as Scripture. But, the theology goes a step farther because not only were the correct books collected, but any incorrect books were kept out. Again, if the work of the Holy Spirit is that powerful, why was none of it used on the second generation of Christians?
But, we Orthodox say that of course, the work of the Holy Spirit was that powerful on the second generation of Christians, and so on. The development seen in the first few hundred years of the Church was a Holy Spirit guided development, just as the writing of the New Testament was. It is that Spirit-guided, but imperfect, Church that recognized the Spirit-guided writings, collected them, treasured them, and passed them on to future generations. This makes more sense than either Landmark theology or some type of testimonium theology.
Samuel Waldron explains the Regulative Principle in his “Exposition of the 1689” using the following example. “Mr. Anglican must use the materials of the Word of God, but has no blueprint and may use other materials. Mr. Puritan must use only materials of the Word of God and has a blueprint. It takes no special genius to discern which will be more pleasing to God.” Mr. Anglican represents the normative principle and Mr. Puritan represents the regulative principle.
Those who quote the regulative principle love to quote the various Old Testament prohibitions against false worship. They further quote the instances in which false worship was offered. In most cases, these are cases where someone is clearly sinning, instances in which I would agree there is sinful worship taking place.
The regulative principle actually sounds good at first reading. It appears to have a deep love for the Word of God, and only for the Word of God. But, deep down it makes a several claims that are actually not accurate. The first claim is that the worship of the Old Testament was so defined that it was possible for an Old Testament believer to know exactly how that person ought to worship, depending on what period in Old Testament history the person lived in. The second claim is that the worship of the New Testament is also equally easy to discern. The implied third claim is that all writings that are not explicitly New Testament writings, but speak of worship, are in error. All three of those claims are simply wrong.
It is important for the reader to realize that Old Testament worship changed continually throughout the history of the Old Testament. From Abel’s worship through Noah’s worship through Abraham’s worship through the traveling Tabernacle through the First Temple through the synagogues through the Second Temple worship was continually changing. Not all those changes came as the result of regulation from God.
I will skip the pre-Covenant worship, as it is not relevant to the regulative principle, but note that there are no regulations for worship during this pre-Covenant time period, although Cain manages to do something wrong. Under Moses, God gave the regulations for the Tent of Meeting, the original Tabernacle. The Tabernacle eventually settled at Shiloh before the ascension of David to the throne. After the capture of the Ark and the destruction of that first compound (Jeremiah records eventually that Shiloh had been reduced to ruins), the Ark is returned and moved to Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16) in the tent that “David had erected for it.” That makes sense, given that the original tent was quite probably destroyed in the destruction of Shiloh. Note that there is no record of God asking for such a rebuilding, but that is a minor quibble.
It should be noted that the regulations were not quite as strict as some would like to have them be. The early books talk about sacrifices taking place in various places, not just at Shiloh. For instance, the Mishna records:
4. Before the tabernacle was set up (in the wilderness), the high places were permitted and the (sacrificial) service was fulfilled by the first-born. But after the tabernacle was set up, the high places were forbidden, and the service was fulfilled by the priests …”
5. After they came to Gilgal (the tabernacle remained in Gilgal for fourteen years) the high places were again permitted …
6. After they came to Shiloh the high places were forbidden …
7. After they came to Nob and to Gibeon the high places were permitted …
8. After they came to Jerusalem the high places were forbidden and never again permitted …
M. Zevahim 14:4-8
Even during David’s time, you have conflicting pictures of how strictly God enforced the regulations. On the one hand, you have the death of Uzzah because he touched the Ark during its transport to Jerusalem, and on the other hand you have David eating the show bread which was forbidden to him. Yes, I know that the argument is that he was the King and a type of Christ, but he still broke the regulation. This is why Jesus cited this passage as an example of allowing his disciples to not fully follow the regulations.
Deuteronomy and Leviticus foresaw the time of the building of a more lasting Temple. Even then, if you compare the regulations carefully, you will see that various features of Solomon’s Temple were not mentioned in those two books, for instance, the antiphonal choirs. Worse, the Temple in which Jesus worshipped was not even the Temple ordered by God, but a rebuilt Temple in which Herod added quite a few architectural features not countenanced in the original regulations. Yet, Jesus fully considered Herod’s construction as THE Temple and only ever criticized the moneychangers and false worship.
But, the strongest example from the Old Testament is the synagogue. The synagogue is not mentioned ANYWHERE in the Old Testament regulations. It simply appears as a cultural response to the destruction of the First Temple during the Babylonian invasions. Jesus preaches and worships in an institution, in a building, following a liturgy that is nowhere spoken of in the Old Testament regulations. That, by itself, should defeat the regulative principle.
The New Testament worship is not that easy to discern. All you need do is read the writings of various Protestant groups to see how diverse the interpretation is of the few verses that are found in the New Testament concerning worship structure. What they all do agree on is that when either Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic see the Eucharist they must be wrong! LOL.
I am going to skip New Testament interpretative articles to simply say that the regulative principle can only stand if all the non-New-Testament writings of that time are discarded. Yet, I cannot resist pointing out the Book of Revelation. It is necessary for those who support the regulative principle to become some type of dispensationalist in their theology of worship. Incense is used in the Old Testament and in Revelation, but may not be used in the Church. There is an altar in the Old Testament and in Revelation, but there may be none in the Church. There are vestments in the Old Testament and in Revelation, but there may be none in the Church. I could keep going, but you get the idea. Those who believe in the regulative principle have to be a type of dispensationalist in their worship theology regardless of their apocalyptic theology.
From the Didache, through Ignatius, through Polycarp, through Clement, through Justin the Martyr, those who support the regulative principle are forced to argue that all these early writers are wrong and have stepped away from the faith. From Ignatius talking about bishops over a region, through the Didache speaking of prophets and apostles, through Justin the Martyr recording the weekly celebration of the Eucharist, it is clear that there is no Protestant regulative picture of worship in the Early Church. While the Early Church of this time period may not have an identical picture of worship, nevertheless, the worship that is pictured is overwhelmingly liturgical, with a hierarchical structure, and with an ongoing prophetic/apostolic ministry. It is no wonder that those who support the regulative principle have no choice but to discard the Church at around 100 AD and bring in the false Trail of Blood story!
Finally, those who claim the regulative principle have to claim that some type of perfect worship was delivered to the Apostles and that God had no intention of allowing any change. Thus, while the worship of the Old Testament showed ongoing development, the worship of the New Testament may show no such development. But, one of the first things that happened is that the disciples established a synagogue (read Acts). They were not called Christians for nearly two decades after the death of Christ. They appointed deacons, an order never before found in the history of Scripture. They stopped circumcising believers, receiving them only through Holy Baptism. And so on.
Those who believe in the regulative principle have to argue a twofold argument. First is that the Apostles were so special that they had the supreme power to change practice, otherwise there is no justification for deacons, loss of circumcision,etc. But, which Apostles? The New Testament does not record only The Twelve. There is a record of up to 70 apostles in the New Testament, and of some we know almost nothing. The Didache and the Revelation speak of multiple apostles. Saint Paul, by himself, establishes both Saint Timothy and Saint Titus as regional apostolic heads in his epistles to them. Both of the later Saints Ignatius and Polycarp speak of being apostolic bishops by direct appointment of one of the Twelve, and I have little reason to doubt them.
Just reading the New Testament, you can see a development taking place as the Church begins to grow. It is not only a geographical expansion, but a change in its structure, its worship, and its willingness to promulgate rules (which are later called canons). Neither in the New Testament nor in the Early Church Fathers is there any hint of the reception of a static structure and worship which must be kept in only a certain way. There is a clear indication of the reception of a set of traditions concerning worship that indeed must be kept, but the particulars keep developing through the New Testament and into the Early Church Fathers. In fact, there is little way to differentiate between the later New Testament Church and the earliest of the Church Fathers.
Just like there was development in the Old Testament from the simple worship of the Passover in Egypt to the Second Temple in which Jesus worshiped, so is there a development from that simple Upper Room first Eucharist to the more complex picture found in both the Early Church Fathers and in Revelation.
In parallel with the Old Testament, I will argue that just like the synagogue was a godly development, even though nothing in the Old Testament spoke of it, so is the liturgical development of the first few centuries every bit as godly as the development of the Israelite worship. The regulative principle is not biblical. Liturgical worship led by apostolic successors is.
We watched in horror as Notre Dame (Paris) burned. We gasped as the spire dropped. News stations around the world began to go live with the burning of the Cathedral, some even keeping the image going for hours. And, then, we saw the moving images of hundreds of people gathered to watch, as they began to pray and to sing the Ave Maria, and other hymns common to the Roman Catholic Church in France.
It was the images of the people praying and singing that caught my sight and my imagination. All of a sudden, I was not simply seeing the people in front of Notre Dame, I was also seeing the people standing in front of the Cross. I could just imagine the Virgin Mother, the relatives, the followers, the disciples, watching the death of their beloved son, relative, teacher, master.
And, I began to realize that in seeing the reaction at Notre Dame, I was probably seeing, and in a small way experiencing, what those early believers experienced. Just like the French were watching a crucial part of who they were dying in front of their eyes, so were the disciples of back then watching as their Lord died in front of their eyes. I could barely begin to imagine the horror that was felt, as I felt my own small bit of horror watching the cathedral burn.
It was the reaction of the French, though, that deepened my understanding of the Passion. For the French did not simply stop at horror. They ascended into prayer and worship. Even in the midst of one of the most terrible days in their country’s current history, an event even worse to them than the Paris bombings, they arose in prayer and worship. Rather than destroying them, the horror raised them up into a spirituality that I doubt many French had felt in a while. And they are convinced that Notre Dame shall rise again!
It would have been the same that Passion weekend. Even after the horror of Jesus’ death, the Scriptures record that the disciples were gathered in the Upper Room to pray. They may very well have also been in hiding, but they were gathered to pray. The death of their Messiah had driven them to gather together in prayer. It was in that prayer that Peter and John received the news of the empty tomb and ran to verify that news. It was in that prayer that the Risen Lord came back to meet with them. It was in that sadness that the Lord met the disciples going to Emmaus so that they might receive the news, as the bread was broken, and return to their brothers and sisters in joy and gladness. He is Risen!
So, in the French reaction, I have caught a small glimpse of the human reactions to the Passion. In the French reaction, I can see how horror can lead to an increased spirituality. In the French, I catch a glimpse of the weekend of the Resurrection and the joy of the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days later.
Now, Passion weekend makes more sense to me thanks to the French. «Après la pluie, le beau temps.»
“St. James’s epistle is really a right strawy epistle, compared to these others [Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Peter, and 1 John], for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.”
Martin Luther, 1522, preface to his German translation of the Bible
Since the Reformation, the Epistle of James has caused problems for Protestants. Its view of faith and works, as well as its view of social relationships is not in accord with either the Reformation or with the economic systems that were present in Western Europe at the time of the Reformation. Much has been written on the relationship between faith and works. I will not be writing on that today. It is enough to say that the clarion statement found in the epistle has reverberated throughout the centuries. “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Sola fide (only by faith) has no meaning if there are no works. Or, as Saint James so pithily explained faith without works, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!”
What most modern believers miss is the context in which those verses are found. Faith without works is in the middle of a set of arguments that have to do with mercy, the tongue, and–most important for this blog post–the rich and the handling of their money and influence. Let me tell you that I have heard many sermons on the tongue and on acts of mercy. I have heard even more sermons on why it is faith alone and that works cannot earn you your salvation. That is actually true, but in the context of James, it is a clear misuse of the Scripture. Yet, to this day, I have heard almost no conservative sermons on the rich and the handling of their money and influence, and none that I can easily remember.
Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.
James, chapter 5
In the context of James 2, in which he first takes on the faith-less rich, he makes the interesting comment about those who come with gold rings being shown to special seats, while the poor are ignored. It is worth noting that our American Founding Fathers sold space for box pews in their churches so that the rich might have preferred and private seating while the less well off and the poor were crammed into the rear of the church. Thus, from the beginning of this country, the Epistle of James and its advice to the rich was indeed treated as an epistle of straw. Note: the Free Methodists’ name comes from the fact that their pews were to be free and not to be sold, and because they were for freeing the slaves. As late as the 1800s, pews were for sale in the USA.
But, that brings us to the quote above from chapter 5. You see, another thing happens in chapter 2, and that is that the word murder is brought up in the context of saying that you may not be guilty of murder, but if you are guilty of adultery, you are guilty of the entire law. Here in chapter 5, he accuses the rich of murder. Not physical murder, but murder by inappropriately low wages then using the profits gleaned by fraud [Saint James’ word, not mine, read the quote again] to live an inappropriately luxurious life. He says that they are being fattened for the slaughter. Another way to put it is that their faith is dead, regardless of how much they may otherwise support the Church. For, if you are guilty of one, you are guilty of all.
What the inability to pay appropriate wages shows is the utter blindness of the owners/employers who were paying the wages. Their inability to perceive the suffering of those under their control because of the wages they paid them showed that they had no real understanding of the concept of mercy and grace. For them the faith could be little more than fire insurance to keep them safe, a mere intellectual assent with no practical outcome.
We are in the midst of an economic debate in this country, and have been for nearly three decades. It is a debate that has slowly made it almost impossible for the head of a household to support their family on one 40-hour full-time job. The lowest paid jobs in our society no longer support a living wage. That is, in many areas of the country, it is impossible for someone working a lower-paid job to even make enough money to rent a reasonable apartment or house for their family, with money to feed and clothe their children.
At the same time, rather than the ephemeral and false “trickle-down” that was supposed to have happened, the money gushed upwards, so that fewer and fewer people now hold more and more of the money of this country. Those who proposed that theory in the 1980s expected a certain reciprocity on the part of the rich. Instead the greed of capitalism is what controlled, as we went more and more in a laissez-faire direction. And so, Saint James has been shown to be true in his warnings.
One would think that as a supposedly Christian country there would be sermons, and examples by rich Christians of higher wages. But, no, instead we have received speeches on how minimum wage at a fast-food restaurant was never meant to apply to working adults, but was to encourage the young to learn responsibility. Frankly, that is an even worse argument. You are deliberately underpaying the young because you can get away with it on the grounds that it teaches them responsibility???
We have, in fact, received many speeches from Christians. And, the silence from conservative churches on the issue of the wages that cry out to the Lord of Sabaoth is deafening. Instead, the word “taker” has entered our vocabulary, so that helping the poor, as Saint James counseled in chapter 2, is seen not as mercy but as encouraging bad habits. Takers are those that have the nerve to say they deserve to be paid more. Takers are those who have contracted severe medical bills but have no adequate insurance and no riches to support them. More and more, takers are actually those whose care Saint James commended to us.
Many Christians pray “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” But, we do not turn from our wicked ways. Conveniently, too many Christians have labeled wicked ways as that which others do. Conservative churches do not approve of abortion or of LGBT+ marriages or euthanasia, etc. Therefore, it is rather easy to be against those. It is harder to repent of one’s own wicked ways. And, it is very hard to repent when money is involved. It is no wonder that the love of money is the root of all evil.
It is that corrupted love that keeps the rich owner from raising the basement-level wages of the poorest workers. In order to raise the wage, the owner has to lower his or her wage. In order to raise the wage, the corporate board has to stand up to the shareholders and say that their profits will not be as large this year. But, it is easier to love the money, to keep the power, to let the wages of the worker cry out to the Lord of Sabaoth, to have faith without works.
If Christians really want God to hear from heaven, then Christians must turn from our own wicked ways, which includes dealing with the issues raised by Saint James in chapters 2 and 5.
And then wonder took him, and a great joy; and he cast his sword up in the sunlight and sang as he caught it. And all eyes followed his gaze, and behold! upon the foremost ship a great standard broke, and the wind displayed it as she turned towards the Harlond. There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it, and a high crown above it, the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count. And the stars flamed in the sunlight, for they were wrought of gems by Arwen daughter of Elrond; and the crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold.
Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Lord of the Rings: One Volume (p. 847). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.
We all love reading this scene from the Lord of the Rings. We all forget that it is a scene that comes after intense suffering by various of the characters in the novel. Frodo and Sam go through intense suffering. Boromir is dead. Theoden is dead. Many others are also dead. After the war is over, Frodo shows all the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a heroic time. But, it is also a terrible time.
When Scripture and Tradition picture either the end times or the suffering of the saints, they picture a time that is most akin to the suffering through which Frodo and Samwise passed. They do not picture a time of easy victories, but rather a time when the saints must pass through incredible hardship. This is the total opposite of those who preach that we only need to claim the blessings to experience them.
Most of the Global South would not see it the same way. Christians are dying in Egypt, Nigeria, and other places. Starvation in Sudan does not play favorites. Christians are dying right alongside other religions. If you are Arab, you have to contend with American Christians who have no problem with Jews pushing you out of your land and establishing forbidden settlements. Worse, as an Arab Christian, you realize that American Christians do not consider you as their fellow Christians.
And yet, there is hope. There is the hope that the King will return and straighten out his people. There is the hope that the King will return and correct the errors. There is the hope that our sins will be forgiven and that our mistakes will be corrected. There is hope! This passage from the Lord of the Rings expresses that hope. It expresses the hope that a once and future King will return to establish his kingdom. It expresses the hope that what is wrong will be reversed and healed. It expresses the faith that the one who claims to have created the world did indeed create it, and that he will see it come to fruition.
So, let us hope. Let us work for that hope. Let us show ourselves to be the fools of the world in order that we might be the wise of God. Let us proclaim the hope of the Resurrection and the hope of the Second Coming.
Yesterday, I had one of those bang your head on the wall type of liturgical services, and it was all my fault. So, I invite you to laugh with me. The thumping sound you hear is me trying to find the personal humor in the situation.
The Greek Orthodox celebrate a liturgical services called Salutations on the Fridays of Lent. There are several liturgical preparations that one needs to make. As it turns out, the head priest had to go to Archdiocesan headquarters for a committee meeting then was delayed by traffic upon his return. The assistant priest had an unexpected member death in another city and had to go there to be present at the funeral home. So, I was asked to lead the Salutations that night, which I have done only a couple of times before.
I thought I was ready. I really did. Sigh, so much for self-delusion.
Salutations is supposed to be led with blue vestments. Since this was Lent, I put on purple vestments. I knew it was supposed to be blue vestments. I really did. But, my mind burped. As it turned out, the head priest was able to make it back just as we were starting and put on his vestments. A retired priest was also present, looked at us, and put on purple vestments. About 10 minutes into the service, the head priest suddenly realized that we had the wrong color on. So, while the chanter was reading a couple of long Psalms, we three slipped to the back and quickly put on our blue vestments.
I thought it was all done. Nope, it was not. A few minutes later, one of the older men of the congregation slipped quietly into the sanctuary area and motioned to me. He asked about the icon of the Virgin Mary. It is supposed to be center front during the Salutations. It was not. I had forgotten to move it to its spot. So, one of the men from the congregation quickly took care of that, of course in full public view.
So, I thought it was all done. Not so, padewan! During Salutations, there is a section called the 9th Ode. The entire church is supposed to be censed during that time. The head priest turns to me and asked me to do it. My mind blanked and I had to ask him what he meant. I am so glad that I am retired because I know that I saw the 30-some year old priest looking at me with a certain degree of compassion as he quietly explained what I needed to do. I am sure that he is convinced that he now needs to treat the old man with a certain degree of gentleness, compassion, and watchfulness. I proceeded to cense the church.
Lent is a time to humble yourself. Lent is a time to learn again that you are not God’s gift to humanity. I guess I needed a little help with that this past Friday.
“The beauty of woman is the greatest snare. Or rather, not the beauty of woman, but unchastened gazing! For we should not accuse the objects, but ourselves, and our own carelessness. Nor should we say, Let there be no women, but Let there be no adulteries. We should not say, Let there be no beauty, but Let there be no fornication. We should not say, Let there be no belly, but let there be no gluttony; for the belly makes not the gluttony, but our negligence. We should not say, that it is because of eating and drinking that all these evils exist; for it is not because of this, but because of our carelessness and insatiableness. – Chrysostom, Homily 15 on the Priesthood
Homily 15 on the Priesthood — John Chrysostom
Just the other day, I read about a mother who wrote to the University of Notre Dame newspaper complaining about the women students wearing leggings to class, to Mass, etc. While she carefully claimed that she was not against women wearing leggings, she warned about how this would distract men, and to consider the poor male students who had to gaze upon them. I find this interesting because she clearly wrote that she saw them being worn at Mass, but apparently, they caused no problem for the priest.
I find that a key statement. They caused no problem for the priest. This tells me that this may have been more an issue of scrupulosity or over-sensitivity for the mother than a real problem for the university. As well, despite her claim that the women could wear what they wanted, it was obvious that–in her viewpoint–the women could not really wear what they wanted as they were in danger of inciting men’s lust.
So, I thought it worthwhile to quote St. John Chrysostom. Read the quote above again. Notice that he makes it clear that it is not women that are the problem, but “unchastened gazing.” He comes out in defense of women, their dress, and their beauty so strongly that he leaves no doubt that he would be in agreement with many of today’s women that they are not the problem, but rather the victims. This is quite literally a case of the sin being in the eye of the beholder rather than in the person being beheld.
My favorite part of the quote is where he points out that the cause of gluttony is not the stomach, but our negligence. As he points out, it would make no more sense to blame a woman for her beauty than it would to blame the belly for obesity. Given our current obesity levels in this country, including my personal weight issues, this is a point worth remembering
It is worth noting that St. John is talking about women who are not deliberately trying to incite people into sexual activity. Thus, in other writings, he holds short shrift for those engaged in prostitution or attempting to incite an encounter. Yet, it is important that you notice that he does not spend one word on a standard of dress for the otherwise innocent woman. All his words have to do with the person gazing upon the woman and the glutton indulging to excess in food and drink. It is neither the woman nor the food that are the problems, but the person who is consuming the woman with his eyes and the food with his belly.