Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 May 2012

Constitutional nonsense from The Star

"Award-winning journalist" Bob Hepburn spouts off on a subject on which he is ill-informed: The Queen: three steps for Canada to replace the monarchy.

For most of her reign, the Queen has been a symbol of stability, dedication and continuity.
But with her reign nearing an end, the time is right for Canadians to start the process of cutting our formal ties to the British monarchy, an outmoded institution that dates back to the days when Canada was a British colony. . . .
A three-step process should be considered. First, Ottawa should hold a national referendum on a Yes-or-No question: “Should Canada sever ties with the British monarchy?” A simple majority would be sufficient to proceed further.

Hepburn badly needs a refresher course in this country's constitutional history. Our governors general have not represented the British Crown since 1931, when the Statute of Westminster established the constitutional equality of the what used to be called Dominions (now Commonwealth Realms) with the United Kingdom itself. Canada retains no ties whatsoever with the British Crown. The Queen is Queen of Canada in her own right, as she is of her 15 other Commonwealth Realms. More from Hepburn:

In the 21st century, it is unfathomable that Canada, a modern, multicultural nation that champions diversity, still tolerates having a foreign queen or king as its head of state.

Apart from the fact that the Queen is by no means foreign to Canada, Hepburn fails to unpack what he appears to think is an obvious connection between diversity and multiculturalism on the one hand and Canada's status as a constitutional monarchy on the other. Whatever he thinks it is, it is not evident to everyone and requires a reasoned defence.

While we're on the subject, C. G. P. Grey explains to us the "True Cost of the Royal Family." Whether we Canadians reap any of these financial advantages is questionable. We certainly can't reap the same benefit from tourism that Britain can. Nevertheless, it does help to put things in perspective.

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15 May 2012

Warning: this bible is loaded

There can be no doubt that many people read the Bible incorrectly and unwisely, missing such literary elements as figures of speech, including metaphors, similes, &c. Reading a metaphorical passage too literally is certainly one way of misreading scripture. Nevertheless, assuming the following account is accurate, there is something disquieting about the recent conference on Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity: Emergent Christians Warn against the Bible’s “Loaded Guns”:
Carl Stauffer, professor of Development and Justice Studies at Eastern Mennonite University, warned against the Bible’s “seemingly divinely ordained violence.” Emergent Church guru Brian McLaren similarly worried about how church-going parents can give their children “loaded guns” in the form of “texts of terror” condoning war and other violence. He wondered whether unfiltered Bible-reading could “leave them with the idea that God is violent.” And he warned: “Bible-preaching/teaching/reading people are the most dangerous in the world for Muslims.”

After McLaren advised emergent parents to seek out the “texts of healing” in the Bible, he talked about how the Bible’s economic teachings could help stave off violence in society. The Old and New Testament narratives “focus on desire—especially competitive desire—as the root of violence.” The best-selling author complained, “Our entire economic system is based on rivalrous desire.” Author, educator, and panelist Ivy Beckwith explained: “Desire is another word for self-interest.”

Is the word unfiltered McLaren's, or that of Barton Gingerich, the article's author? It matters because, if it's McLaren's, it seems to imply that the Bible needs to be censored by the more enlightened — presumably the conference speakers themselves — for the benefit of the rest of us.

I personally know people who came to the faith, not by going to church or through a Christian friend, but simply by reading the Bible, a book they had not been familiar with up to then. They read it through in its entirety, including such grisly stories as that related in Judges 19-21. Despite the messiness and violence of the scriptural narrative, the Holy Spirit somehow managed to work in their hearts so that they were grabbed by it, fell in love with it and found their own place within it. They did not come to the Bible with the expectation that someone should make it "safe" for them. They never deemed it necessary to accept only those parts of scripture that they did not find offensive or that refrained from challenging their existing presuppositions. Far from it. They were cut to the quick, like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25-40), asking, not "Who can make the Bible palatable to me?", but rather "What must I do to be saved?"

Like a microscope into their own soul, reading the Bible prompted them to repent and turn to God for mercy. If some people profess to find the Bible dangerous, perhaps the world could use more such danger.

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07 May 2012

Liturgical rapprochement, political division

Ed Kilgore writes on The Widening Political Divide Between Catholicism and Mainline Protestantism in The New Republic. He notes that, paradoxically, while evangelicals and Roman Catholics have come together on moral and political issues, mainline protestants and Catholics have drawn more closely together liturgically:
The signs of this realignment are most visible in politics. A highly traditionalist Catholic, Rick Santorum, who belongs to a parish where the Latin Mass is still celebrated, became the preferred presidential candidate of conservative evangelicals. Over the course of the primary campaign, it became clear that he shares the common conservative evangelical view that mainline Protestants are largely apostates, barely deserving inclusion in Christianity.

Yet the single most notable trend in mainline American Protestantism in recent decades has been the adoption of liturgical practices associated with Catholicism, such as frequent communion and observance of liturgical seasons, particularly since Rome reformed its own liturgy during and after the Second Vatican Council Catholics and most mainline Protestants have long since adopted a common “lectionary” of scripture readings for use during worship services throughout the year. At the same time, the radical theological experiments that were once so fashionable in liberal Protestant circles have been subsiding; mainliners are far more likely to recite the historic Nicene or Apostle’s creeds during worship than are evangelicals. In other words, a growing number of mainline Protestants now worship much like Catholics. . . .

More often than not, the evangelicals who accuse denominational leaders of abandoning “orthodoxy” in moral teaching are most avid to promote innovation in styles of worship. As an Episcopal priest in Maryland ruefully told me of conservative dissidents in his parish during the 1990s: “These people come to church with a Christian Coalition tract in one hand and a ‘praise hymnal’ in the other.”

The tendency for North American evangelicals to defend the fundamentals of the faith while largely abandoning the older liturgical traditions is something that not enough observers have managed to find puzzling. On the other hand, it is also true that the major part of evangelicalism in this continent, though affirming a vague orthodoxy, lacks both a robust ecclesiology and a strong confessional identity, with only a very few exceptions. Perhaps then it is not surprising that distinctive traditions of worship should long ago have been set aside as well.

Indeed, rather than leading them towards Rome, along with their mainline brethren, or towards the Reformation traditions, as one might expect, many evangelicals have instead subordinated worship, in utilitarian fashion, to the felt imperatives of church growth and reaching the so-called nonreligious. The result is worship that is not only deracinated but amounts merely to "one damn thing after another," as one of my favourite liturgical scholars once put it.

So why is it that mainline protestants, who are scarcely less deracinated than their evangelical brethren, are increasingly reciting the Apostles' or Nicene Creed during worship?

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