Pistis and Polis, roughly rendered from the Greek as “Faith and the City,” is the ministers’ blog from All Saints Church. Here you’ll find commentary on matters relating to faith and contemporary culture.
Jesus baptism preceded his announcement that he was the anointed one who came to proclaim liberty to the captives. His baptism signaled the inauguration of the New Creation, breaking into history. All of this was anticipated in the jubilee Sabbath of Lev. 25
Isaiah 61 is a detailed statement of the Messianic era, in which the very principle of freedom, liberty – heaven-like conditions – would arrive.
In heaven there is no debt, only the Lord’s free men; in heaven there are no slaves, only the servants of God; in heaven, no one can be dispossessed of their inheritance. In heaven there is no sorrow, because God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. In heaven there is no distinction of race, the nations will participate in the economy of the kingdom of God. The coming of Messiah to earth is the coming of heaven; it is the coming of a new creation.
Epiphany is a significant feast of the Church, older than Christmas, and it introduces a space of “ordinary time” in our calendar. It heralds the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, personified by the Magi who brought worship to the newborn king. They are the first ‘stand-ins’ for the Gentile nations who would come to Jesus – and who are still coming. The Christian claim has always been that Jesus is Lord, and that this claim is immanently relevant to the kings of the earth. Herod certainly thought so. Caesar figured it out, too.
At present, however, the visible Church seems a little obscured by the conflict raging around us. Like you, I have a sense that terrorist acts have escalated in frequency and severity. It matters not if they are coordinated events. There are a bunch of people on the planet who buy into the doctrine of Islamic Jihad, and they have awakened to their common enemy. And the common enemy is the secular, decadent, post-Christian West.
We are committed now to one thing: the secular state and the total individualization of freedom, untethered from any moral code. This manifests itself in almost every area of civil life – personal and institutional. Moreover, those who govern us insist upon governing with the creed that there is no universal or transcendent principle by which to govern. Nevermind that this commitment is in itself a transcendent, insisted upon as rigidly as the most committed jihadist. To Islam, our very existence is an affront to the prophet, and deserves annihilation. That, too, has been the claim of Muslims since Mohammed.
Which brings us down to the question in this conflict: which side will prevail? I would guess that it would be the side that has the will to push its ideology to its logical conclusion. At present, it is apparent which side is serious about taking the fight to the other. The terroristic incursions from Islam may be nothing more than sharp jabs in the early rounds of long fight, but there is little doubt that Islam is in it for the knockout.
Rallying around a military that seeks to prop up our secular monstronsity is a real temptation. After all, Vietnam taught us that we have to “support the troops” at all costs. And, of course, we live here; this is our home; and if the fight comes to our cities, we will be affected.
Just remember that both sides in this fight are each pursuing idolatry. Neither side has any use for our Lord. Both sides repudiate the claims of Jesus Christ that are promulgated through his Church. Both sides should be looking back to our Persian ancestors who found Christ, the Lord.
I tell my students that there are three great sins in America today. I didn’t get this out of a book; and maybe your list would be different than mine. These three sins, dominate the entire West – not just America – and they have one thing in common: they all militate against life. Abortion is the taking of a life; national debt chokes the life out of capital formation and economic activity that is essential to the development and use of life-sustaining resources; and gender confusion is the complete narcissism of self love that is by definition sterile and anti-life.
The Christian mystery of the Incarnation can never be contemplated without a quick glance forward to his Second Coming, at which Jesus will judge the “quick and the dead.” This helps push back a little more firmly against the culture for the nurture and cultivation of those graces of patience, selflessness, mercy, which are frequently threatened by the consumer superficiality that marks our current season. The secularization of Christmas relentlessly plays to the weakness of our being, and would pluck from us the fruit of the spirit.
Advent piety perceives that it is impossible to celebrate the Lord’s birth except in an atmosphere of sobriety and joyous simplicity and of concern for the poor and marginalized. The expectation of the Lord’s birth makes us sensitive to the value of life and the duties to respect and defend it.
Advent piety intuitively understands that it is not possible to celebrate coherently the birth of him “who saves his people from their sins” without some effort to overcome sin in one’s own life, while waiting vigilantly for Him who will return at the end of time.
The piety of Advent is shaped by the realization that the world
waited a very long time for the Messiah. The first thing we learn therefore is patience. Christian faith is characterized by what is, for Western Christians, a maddening requirement that we slow down and wait on the Lord.
The piety of Advent is also shaped by the fact that when Messiah came, it was first to the lowly, the marginalized, the unimportant. A poor Galilean girl, her hardworking husband, shepherds and the like. Walking with the Lord should put us into meaningful contact with the same kind of people. This is the heart of God.
The piety of Advent thus gives us a motivation and a means to “hit back” against the grossly commercialized and indulgent habits of secular “pieties” of the sacred season. It really is hard to overstate the distraction that mass advertising is to the true peace and comfort this season is intended to cultivate.
Feeling stressed at Christmas? You didn’t get the right gift yet? Does your gift have to be ordered on the internet now in order to get here on time? Is this complicating your life? You’re probably missing the whole point.
In the last 80 years he United States, following its counterpart nations in Western Europe, has developed the full welfare
state. Setting aside the reasons for this aspect of public policy, many of which were likely noble, and had to do with justice and mercy, we should acknowledge the plain fact that it is unsustainable. The
country spends more than half its money – and borrows more – to pay for this and that public assistance program. The borrowing that is necessary over the next fifty to one hundred years to pay for these unfunded liabilities is conservatively in the $85 trillion range. Other models place it above $200 trillion. Few in government talk about this; I have heard no credible plan to address it.
My opposition to this state of affairs runs deeper than dollars. Any program this big certainly helps people in the short run. My own relatives have benefitted from Medicare, Hospice and other federal programs. That doesn’t necessarily justify it, but I’m not arguing that point.
There are a few basic principles regarding public charity that we find in an unlikely place, the Old Testament. In no particular order, they include the following:
First, charity was voluntary. The ancient Jews were commanded in the Scriptures to care for the poor. It wasn’t optional. That said, failure to show charity did not invoke a civil penalty, tax, or other sanction by the civil authorities, from the local elders all the way up to the king. Charity thus remained radically decentralized, and intensely local. Part of the alms given in the Old Testament was paid to the Levites, who were not only supported by them, but who were also tasked with matters of public health and welfare. This is was a function of the priestly order.
Second, charity was never bureaucritized into a permanent dole. Even in the early tradition of the church, widows who were certainly the most vulnerable were not to be “put on the list” unless they were sixty or older. A permanent dole tends toward permanent poverty. Charity to relieve temporary distresses had the effect of moving the able-bodied into productivity. It is precisely because an entitlement dole deadens the work ethic that we never find this in the Scriptures. To the contrary, St. Paul would quip, “if a man does not work, neither shall he eat.”
Thus, third, charity required work. It was easy enough in an agrarian culture to invite the poor to glean the fields during the harvest. For this purpose farmers were required to leave the corners of their fields uncut, and to “leave handfuls on purpose.” Those who needed food were then able to apply themselves to the business of harvesting it themselves. Granted, we should not necessarily construe “corner-cutting” to be sufficient for sustaining life year-round. After all, harvests only came seasonally. The principle, however, is clear: work is part of the solution to poverty.
Here we encounter hundreds of objections regarding those whose circumstances preclude them from productive labor, because of health, disabilities and a host of other conditions. That needs to be addressed, but at present, we are dealing with general principles.
Fourth, charity was personal. The beneficiaries of any services were known to those who were offering them, or they were relatively close. While the entitlement state has created vast swaths of low-income housing, it also creates a ghetto – perhaps unintentionally – which locks its inhabitants into neighborhoods that cut off association with charitable givers. Properties decline. Crime develops. An unbreakable cycle of dystopian civilization emerges. On the other hand, personal, local charity was dispensed with clear moral judgments brought to the foreground. This is perhaps the greatest rub presented to us by advocates of the secular welfare state. Distinguishing between the “worthy” poor and the “unworthy” poor is unthinkable, with recipients not only entitled to cash, but to total privacy and without relational connection to those who support them.
This runs deeper than money. It means that recipients of charity are cut off from models of work and family structures that may have salutary and didactic effects on them. Because they are dis-integrated from the culture that supports them, they have no expectation of rejoining that society as a productive member. The charity of the Old Testament was clearly aimed at maintaining the integration of the poor into the family, business and synagogue, without regard to economic standing.
Any approach to Christian charity must involve the principles of this older model we find in the Scriptures. It necessitates voluntary charity, work, and accountability for how that charity is given and received.
I went down to hear Jeffrey Lacker this morning at Lynchburg College. He’s the President of the Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond. He’s educated, articulate and has been a dissenting voice in Fed policy decisions since the mid-2000’s. That alone makes me warm up just a bit. Today’s lecture was part of a fed tour through the region collecting data and other wonky things, I’m sure, but this morning’s stop was an opportunity for business leaders to get a look at the belly of the beast.
To the topic – workforce development. For some time the Fed has not only been tasked with monetary policy with the trickier task of promoting maximum employment. The state of that affair can be affected by monetary policy, but Dr. Lacker’s point was to distinguish between the cyclical unemployment (the kind you hear reported on FOX or NPR), and the rate of unemployment which caused by structural changes in the economy.
For example, a down-turn in the economy may produce layoffs of a cyclical nature and widely thought to be affected by monetary stimulus. But when a long-term trend occurs, such as off-shoring textile jobs to Bangladesh or China to take advantage of low labor costs, this is understood as structural unemployment. No amount of tinkering with monetary policy will fix it, because those who lose jobs in that environment don’t always have the skills to transfer to other kinds of work. This results in the paradox of a large pool of unemployed persons, but a shortage of the kind of labor that is needed in the new market.
Why is this important? Dr. Lacker went on to show that employment prospects for newly minted college grads or for the nearly-retired baby boomer, are influenced by factors beyond formal schooling. Skills “such as following instructions, patience and work ethic — lay the foundation for mastering more complex cognitive skills and may be just as important a determinant of future labor market success. These basic emotional and social skills are learned very early in life, and it can be difficult for children who fall behind to catch up: Gaps in skills that are important for adult outcomes are observable by age 5 and tend to persist into adulthood.”
These are the kinds of things that should be taught at home, but are often pushed aside in schools. They are exactly the kinds of things we emphasize at New Covenant Schools.
It’s easy to fall prey to the idea that a college degree is my child’s best ticket to a middle class life. It is true that those who earn a college degree will earn on average $2.3M over a lifetime, compared to $1.3M by one with a high school diploma. That’s sobering, but it’s not the whole story.
Boatloads of students will arrive at college this fall, many of whom will be dazed and confused by an environment for which they are ill-suited, ill-prepared, or both. This accounts for the fact that only 60%, 6 out of 10, students graduate from college or university. Let that sink in. It tells us that not every student is or should be college-bound, and it tells us that we have to be careful that our academic planning makes students aware of the larger opportunities available in fields not channeled by a college degree. As Dr. Lacker says, “If…students believe that the only reason to complete high school is to attend college, they might not see much value in graduating. But learning about alternative career and educational opportunities that also require a high school degree could increase the perceived value of high school completion…A growing number of vocational or apprenticeship programs offer specialized training in areas that are in high demand, such as health care and advanced manufacturing.
Indeed, 27% of the economy in Campbell County, VA is manufacturing and requires skilled labor. That’s more than double the national average for one sector of a diversified economy. One would think that with 5.6% unemployment in Central Virginia, manufacturers could fill the jobs. Instead, they struggle to find qualified labor. A student who didn’t find himself comfortable spending $100K for a major he didn’t like, while racking up thousands of dollars in student loans, might find that vocational and advanced training in certain places makes a lot of sense.
I would urge my colleagues, parents and students to consider that our economy is changing and that is undergoing structural changes that will not correct with the next business cycle. Preparing for the future will require you to entertain options you may not have considered before.
This is my contribution to our local op-ed page in which assertions were made about what Jesus’ political affiliations might be, were he alive today. Of course, he is alive today, and his affiliation is King of the World. Nevertheless, here is my response to two local gents who differ with me.
It’s nice to see that Andy Schmookler, in his May 25 column, and Art
Costan, in his June 22 letter to the editor, are appealing to the Bible in support of their political agenda. When Christians like me do that, we’re routinely shouted down and told that the Bible is a hide-bound collection of condemnations of our culture’s cherished sins.
Except when it comes to caring for the poor. Political liberals
love Jesus, not because he saves them from their sins, but because his message is so easily hijacked into fitting their narrative of compassion. Indeed, Jesus indicted the political powers of his own day for their oppression of the poor. He taught that in his kingdom they would find compassion, justice and mercy because people in his kingdom, when they are shaped by the Gospel, tend to behave justly and compassionately.
Thus, Costan points out rightly that the early Christians were sharing communities. He overlooks the fact, however, that St. Peter himself declared that Ananias and Sapphira were free to do with their own goods as they pleased — voluntarily. They were not coerced by either the church or by Caesar. Nor were they struck dead for lack of generosity. Check your text; they were punished because they pretended to be more generous than they were and lied about it.
I don’t know any of Jesus’ followers today who are against helping the poor. I do know a bunch who resent a government that coerces compassion and pretends that it’s mercy. These are the same people who are least likely to vote for those who would perpetuate the charade and raise our taxes further. The moral demands of Christian faith become terribly twisted when they flow from the barrel of a gun. When Representative Jones extorts money from Citizen Smith so that Bureaucrat Bobby can give it to Smith’s neighbor — that’s not compassion; that’s not how mercy works. It buys food stamps, of course, and it buys Section 8 housing, and did I mention? It buys votes.
Come with me to downtown Lynchburg and I’ll show you what else it buys. It buys the American nightmare of multi-generational poverty, disconnected from successful education and meaningful work, and it locks in a permanent underclass which is contained in its own zip code nice and tidy. When the state takes our tax money and sends it down there, it doesn’t fix a problem, it just segregates it. It grants me the illusion that I can help the poor, and thankfully, makes it possible for me to avoid meeting poor people, to be offended by their dirty clothes or to put up with how they talk. I don’t actually have to personally give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. The state gives it in my name. In short, the whole arrangement is rigged so that I don’t have to have a relationship with them.
This is the tender mercy of state enforced compassion. I don’t object primarily because it increases my tax burden. I object because it is an obvious failure and it overlooks the core of Jesus teaching to love your neighbor, which means compassionate relationships. Helping the poor requires far more than the kind of giving that the state and its shiny coercion gun creates. But if you insist upon measuring compassion by money, who cares most? We can paint by the numbers here. When it comes to private philanthropy, private generosity, Americans are far more generous than Europeans. Inside America, the red states are far more giving than the blue states. Christians of every stripe are far more generous than secularists. Protestants are more generous than Catholics. And the evangelicals that Schmookler despises are way more generous than the Protestant mainliners. That’s a fact.
Saturday, June 21, was a great day for Teddy Huizinga and Tabitha Hindman. They were married that afternoon. Here’s what I said to them.
Today is a great day because it is your wedding day. Today we get to tell a story – THE story. In the Christian tradition a wedding tells the whole story, its beginning, middle and end.
It begins in a garden where God took a man and a woman and married them himself. Together they were made in his image, and they were a reflection of the love and reciprocity that existed in the Trinity. That act set into motion God’s plan for man’s happiness in the sojourn of this life, and created one of the great theme’s of history.
The story ends in a city where we find that God has prepared a bride, daughter Zion, for his Son, Jesus Christ. The last book of the Bible anticipates the wedding of the two and a great supper to follow. Thus, our Christian faith tells that history and eternity is structured around marriage.
Marriage tells us something about the middle of the story, too. When our Lord Jesus came to visit us, he opened his ministry with a dramatic miracle at a wedding in Cana. By it he showed us that the kingdom of God is characterized by joy and celebration, the end of which was union with God. We are to experience God and one another with love.
Today, the wedding of Teddy and Tabitha is a telling of the Christian story writ small. Today, you are the image of the eternal God and you are a reflection of his purposes for mankind. Today, history and destiny meet in you.
But in our fallen estate, we do not love perfectly, and because of that you do well to take heed to St. Paul’s familiar exhortation to husbands: “Love your wives as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it.” And to wives, “Honor and submit to your husbands.” When you do these things, you will share the great joy that God has prepared as his great gift to you.
Today’s Epistle contains a word both difficult and unfamiliar, in the statement that God “loved us and sent His Son to be the *propitiation* for our sins.” This word propitiation occurs only twice in the NT; the only other occurrence is at 1 John 2:2, which we all know by heart as the last of the “Comfortable Words” (BCP p. 76). Paul uses a slightly different form of the same word at Romans 3:25, “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, by his blood.”
The word propitiate means to placate, to appease, to assuage wrath. Therefore the word has had a rough time with modern liberal religion. It is hard for non-Christians, semi-Christians, or lukewarm Christians to accept the idea that God is truly angry with sin. Modern translations of the Bible have tended to eliminate this word. The RSV replaces it with the more palatable term expiation (which means to drive out sin). Another translation uses the term “atoning sacrifice.” The 1979 Prayer Book has “perfect offering.” Those who reject the correct historic term propitiation cannot seem to find another word they like.
The word propitiation refers unmistakably to an essential Biblical idea, that is the reality of God’s wrath. As Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). Or as St John wrote, “he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
What sort of a god would not be angry with sin? When we reflect on the violence and cruelty of this world, do we kid ourselves into thinking that God can be as indifferent and shallow as we are? When we recall the holocaust of Hitler’s era, or give any thought to the holocaust of abortion in our own time, what sort of god could merely blink at this? Such a god would be a false god, an idol invented by modern liberal substitutes for the religion of the Bible.
Our faith never suggests that a vengeful god waits for his creatures to find some way of placating him, appeasing him, or assuaging his wrath. That is a caricature of what the Bible reveals. Such falsehood is a sorry excuse for suppressing a sound Biblical term. Each time this word “propitiation” appears, we are told clearly that the holy angry God Himself takes the initiative in providing the reconciling sacrifice. “He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” “We love Him, for He first loved us.” When we look upon the Cross drenched in the blood of sacrifice, there we see the love of God which subdued His wrath, the love which propitiated for our sins.
Our faith tells us that our Saviour has made perfect satisfaction, has paid the “uttermost farthing” of our penalty, has truly subdued the holy anger which our sin deserves. “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”