Charismatic Nuttiness: Baal Worship comes to America?

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The replica of the Palmyra Arch, destroyed by ISIS in October, 2015. This reasonably nondescript Roman archway was recreated using 3D printing technology and put on display in a New York City park. According to charismatics, this exhibit signals the arrival of Baal in the United States. It seems Baal litters the world with easily identifiable clues as to his whereabouts, in this instance an 11-tonne lump of moulded plastic.

There are those who seek for signs.

A great number of these people fall within the charismatic camp, which is a movement so frequently riven with heterodox opinions. Heterodoxy is the natural result of a small army of self-appointed “prophets” who deliver “revelations” to the charismatic faithful. These revelations range from idiotic musings to a mash of scripture and commentary, blended with a tincture of politics and a liberal splash of imminent doom.

People caught up in the movement – and I know a few – seem to live lives of ceaseless supernatural drama. They crave it. Perhaps their lives are so boring that the only way they can realise some purpose in their daily existence is to imagine a constellation of supernatural workings surrounding them, both demonic and angelic. The charismatics I know interpret every dream, every international news event, and every happening in their personal lives as a “sign”, or the voice of God, or a portend of the apocalypse. Usually a portend of the apocalypse. The nuttier drivers of the movement appear to find supernatural signs in their morning cornflakes. So ubiquitous is this characteristic of sign hunting, that it seems to be the logical and inevitable outworking of charismatic doctrines.

Our Lord, of course, warned people against seeking for signs (Matthew 16:4). God-honouring faith should not require them. Indeed, a person who lacks faith in the integrity and the quality of God’s word – as many charismatics seem to – will lack the fundamental prerequisite for meaningful knowledge of the Almighty. After all, without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Nonetheless, God in his great mercy sometimes does provide his people with authentic signs to demonstrate the reliability of his Being and purpose, and these actual signs have been recorded in inerrant scripture for our edification. As C. S. Lewis once pointed out, the authentic signs and miraculous works of God never have the quality of fiction to them. They could not ever be lifted from the script of a supernatural teen drama series, unlike the ruminations of many charismatics which seem to indeed be strongly influenced by supernatural television drama.

Too many charismatics seem to imagine that the devil and the demons litter the world around us with signs of their activity, like the exhaust of a passing engine. To wit, a few days ago, Charisma News reported the following story that follows the charismatic script to the letter.

It turns out that a 3D printed plastic replica of the ancient stone archway in Palmyra destroyed by ISIS was erected in a public park in New York City. Because this 2,000 year old Roman archway once connected a main thoroughfare to the entrance of a temple to Baal, charismatics immediately “exposed” the fact that… yes, you guessed it, that this replica archway is a sign that Baal has come to America. (Cue sinister organ music.)

(For an immeasurably more sober account of what is going on, read here.)

It is my contention that charismatics who promote this kind of nonsense bring disrepute to the gospel of Christ, which first and foremost is a reasoned and logical presentation of truth. Part of the inestimable glory of the gospel is that it is divine knowledge with a power unto itself. Humble, long-term exposure to this knowledge changes a man into a wiser creature, a more sensible creature with mature habits of thinking, who is thus equipped to really and properly enter into a loving relationship with God. One never gets the impression from the New Testament that the first Christians were jumping at shadows, or trying to divine the future by using the news headlines in the same manner that a shaman might once have employed the entrails of a bird.

These sorts of charismatic claims are juvenile and childish. They do not betoken tutored or sober minds that have been nourished by the word of God. Moreover, such claims are also utterly illogical. By the logic of the Charisma News article, any ancient archaeological religious artefact that is brought to a country must be a “harbinger” of doom or a sign of some demonic entity’s day of visitation. It must be very perplexing for charismatics, (should they consider the matter deeply at all), that most national museums in advanced Western countries hold collections of pagan religious artefacts and have done so for a long time. These artefacts are essential pieces of the historical record.

I simply refuse to accept a Christianity that is so intellectually sterile, juvenile, and fearful that a plastic replica of an ancient doorway is cause for alarm. Such a Christianity is not that of St. Paul, or of C. S. Lewis, or of St. Francis, or of Martin Luther, who despite his famous wrestling matches with the devil, was a level-headed fellow who did not engage in omni-directional emoting but produced considered argumentation. He did not interpret every change of wind as a sign of coming doom.

If it were not for the painstaking archaeological investigations of scholars both Christian and non-Christian, we would know very little about the ancient world and therefore our understanding of the biblical past would be much impoverished. Sensible Christians should never be afraid of evidence or of knowledge, which when rightly interpreted through the prism of a God-honouring intellect, always enhances and enriches our wisdom. It helps us to grow and learn, not just as individuals, but as as Church.

Charismatic nuttiness, of course, is the direct function of certain presuppositions and first principles. If a person lives in a reality where the devil leaves easily identifiable demonic signs everywhere – in this instance, an 11-tonne plastic archway in a public park – and if a person buys into the (largely American fundamentalist) idea that America is so extraordinary and exceptional that it must feature prominently in any end time prophecy, then of course these signs will form the links in the fabric of a worldview. Or more correctly, these signs will form the iron bars of an intellectual cage.

To such irrationality, I prefer scripture which is rational and sound above all things. In scripture, Paul tells us that idols are “nothing at all”. Indeed, a person may even eat food sacrificed to idols in a clear conscience (1 Corinthians 8) providing he does not violate the conscience of his brother by so doing. Now, if it is true that an idol is “nothing at all” other than a misshapen lump of wood or metal, then it is most assuredly true that a 21st century plastic replica of a 2,000 year old Roman archway that once linked a street to a temple is “nothing at all” as well.

This archway has no moral quality to it. It has no power. It is merely a moulded form that bares some resemblance to something else. It is a copy, and therefore lacks the essential qualities of the thing that it imitates. It is not being used for purposes of worship. It is not being used to revive a cult of Baal in the United States. If anything, it is being used to strike a note of defiance against ISIS – which is a real evil in the world.

The devils do not work according to the dictates of ancient and medieval superstition (or according to the silly tropes of Hollywood!), which imagined that this object or that totem could somehow take upon itself a power and must therefore be regarded as having moral agency all of itself. The devils work by corrupting men, not by inhabiting things.

This is where charismatic nuttiness becomes dangerous and even corrupting. For if you buy into the idea that this plastic archway is a revival of Baal worship, then you have to also (logically) buy the idea that ISIS were doing God’s work by destroying the ruins in the first place. Are any charismatics prepared to embrace the logical overflow of their worldview?

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No Ideology Last Forever

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A statue of Stalin, once the feared ruler of millions, lies abandoned in the dirt. The ideology of communism which he used to justify his brutality has also experienced much the same fate.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the defeat of Germany during the Second World War was the absence of Nazis. Few people acknowledged having ever belonged to the party. Its leaders scattered and tried to bury their record. Many other Germans claimed no knowledge of government atrocities like the Holocaust. Subsequent interviews of civilians often have them musing along the lines of, “We didn’t want to dig too deeply into what was happening. We just thought the removal of Jews would be good for business.

Even Herman Göring claimed not to been an active persecutor of Jews. He later said that he would never have supported the Nuremberg Laws and other anti-Semitic measures had he realised it would lead to the horror of the Holocaust. Despite this, Göring gave tacit support to the Holocaust, and was certainly complicit in robbing Jewish families of valuables. In other words, he might not have been so savagely anti-Semitic, but he knew how to make hay while the prevailing wind was blowing in a certain direction.

In Hitler’s Last Will and Testament, dictated in his bunker in Berlin in the final days of his regime, he said that he hoped Nazism would continue after his death and that “the struggle” of the German people would continue. By this, he meant their struggle against Jews and communism. Of course, Hitler did not get his wish. In fact the credibility of Nazism collapsed utterly as his regime was dissected and examined after the war.

Today, apart from a few cracked anti-Semites gathering in basements and getting a buzz from their Sieg Heils and salutes to portraits of a long-dead dictator, Nazism holds little attraction to people. The wearisome rallies, songs, racism, shouting, saluting, and its brutal, heartless use of human beings as mere instruments all seems horrendous, ridiculous, evil and sad.

In fact, although a few of my students express sympathy with some of the tenets of Fascism, none of them can understand the attraction of Nazism. None of them can fathom how such an extreme ideology could come to power, and then remain in power even when its effects on the population became increasingly deleterious. Although Nazism at its peak seemed to be unassailable and impregnable, beyond the power of a mere man to overturn, yet after a run of just twelve years it came to a bloody termination along with the group that gave rise to it. It demonstrates that human ideologies do not last forever. And when they fail – as they inevitably do – great is the fall of them.

This is an encouraging reminder for us in the 21st century. Our time is characterised by a rampant and radical secular ideology, ever more aggressively intent on toppling Christian beliefs and convictions and pushing them out of the public sphere. This is not new. Since the Enlightenment, a smorgasbord of ideologies have been part of the human experience in the West, and each of these have been variously hostile toward Christianity to different degrees. The current anti-theistic humanist secularism is more benign, (at least, in some ways), than the communism and fascism of the previous century. But it is an ideology nonetheless, with advocates who justify their programme with terms like equality and tolerance when we know that what they actually mean is unequal treatment, with some groups having rights that supersede those of other groups (e.g. Christians)

Ideologies always require government and institutional support. But if history teaches us anything, it is that ideologies that require institutional protection are fundamentally weak things. They can thrive only in an absence of any meaningful rebuttal. They can survive only when they can avoid being challenged. This is particularly true of the “social justice” shibboleths of secularism where only one viewpoint is ever presented in the professional news media; and where only one viewpoint is discussed, taught, spoken, and written. People who step out of line find a mob howling for punishment. Institutions then swing into action against the offenders, sometimes even to their own detriment. One university in my state rejected a large grant of money for a new research centre because a person was involved in the project who had made the claim that poverty was more important than climate change.

Transparently obvious truths cannot be publicly spoken when an ideology is in ascendancy. Questions cannot be asked. Things become unsayable. And the vast mass of people meekly fall into line, sensing the direction of the prevailing wind. Most people find it is altogether safer to capitulate or at least to keep quiet – as Orwell once wrote, to aim to be “free on the inside”. Those who openly chaff under the yoke of the ideology – usually Christians – pay the price for doing so. They are the bigots who must be maligned but never understood. Some activists would have people believe that the Christian faith is an evil, and that their version of godless secularism is mankind’s deliverance. Under such pressures, for the Christian faithful, sometimes it can seem as if the current ideology is permanent and unmovable.

But history teaches us that no ideology and no social arrangement lasts forever. All ideologies, by seeking to create a godless worldview and social practice, are shot through with cancerous contradictions that ultimately destroy the ideology from within. For example, communism could never be realised as Marx dreamed, because it was fundamentally unable to reshape human nature. It was a juvenile idea – that people would labour for the sheer betterment of others and not for their own advancement, and that in time government could thus wither away leaving a workers’ paradise. It was a simplistic childish notion in the extreme (as ideologies generally are), but one reinforced by a monstrous regimen of secret police, torture, massed surveillance, and barbed wire fences. The fences and walls have been a ubiquitous feature of communist regimes, whose leaders have always found it necessary to keep their people from escaping paradise.

Such contradictions led to falsified data until the Soviet Union was largely planning its economy on figures that were essentially fictitious. Everybody told lies. Atheism did not produce the seedbed of a moral life, and without God everything becomes morally permissible. The entire society participated in a great mass deception of social practice. The people themselves often came to recognise that their way of life was abnormal and that it should not be necessary to mouth platitudes or inflate production figures. They came to see their leaders as pathetic fools. Eventually, the simple human longing for a reasonable measure of prosperity overwhelmed the government machinery of fetid dreams, lies, propaganda, and a failed ideology.

Nazism was no different. Its entire existence was predicated on war. It never learned how to function in peacetime. In time, Hitler’s application of Social Darwinism to government and to society produced a brutal, radicalism that created so many enemies and so many foolish, childish decisions that the regime could not sustain itself. The same could be said for every other social ideology. All ideologies and schemes of mankind eventually run their course. They cannot survive because they do not find their origin in God, or predicated on his enduring word. Only the Church has survived century upon century, because it builds itself upon the everlasting Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So it will be for the current brand of secularism that is progressing to a soft form of tyranny before our very eyes. This secularism is also riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. It too will last for a season before it will also collapse beneath the weight of the lies it perpetuates and the ungodly, false dream it is trying to live out.

The Truth Will Set You Free: The First Steps to Christian Happiness

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There is such a thing as a miserable Christian.

It is an unfortunate reality that many followers of Christ do not live – as the Westminster Confession of Faith would have it – “enjoying God”. For that, according to the Confession, is the chief end of man. He is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Of course, most Christians take seriously the need to glorify God. Our Creator and Sustainer is worthy of praise, respect, reverence, obedience, love and worship. Yet even God-centred worship can become dry and mechanical when performed without a sense of delight in God. Worship can even become a superficial posture wherein we know that it is good to glorify God, but become painfully conscious that there is a very limited amount of passion in what we are doing. A Christian, therefore, cannot properly be said to offer to God a fulsome worship, unless this also includes an enjoyment of God. A man must find God’s company pleasant; he must find his cheer in the presence of Christ; and he must come to discover that holiness is a sweet and lovely thing.

At this juncture, it is important to be careful of legalism. We cannot afford to establish rigid criteria and boundaries that are not biblical. A person, after all, can still be a Christian even if he does not seem to find much delight in his Maker. A man can have salvation with the merest particle of faith in the grace that is in Christ, as evinced by the dying thief on the cross. We are saved by faith, not by joy.

But sadly, for many Christians, life and the devil has worn their faith down to the joints and marrow. Some struggle with their circumstances. Relationships, for instance, are one of the greatest causes of pain to man, and a ceaseless reminder of the selfishness and wickedness that lies within his heart. Relationships between husband and wife; between parents and children; between nations; between employee and employer – these are fraught with breakdown and frequently much pain. One of the clearest evidences that man is sinful is his inability to live in harmony with other men. At other times, Christians can carry great burdens. Worries and fears about the future. Or even existential angst, as if one’s life is passing away and one feels that so little is being achieved. Other Christians live in lands that are not prosperous and safe, and struggle against rulers and principalities and the fear of torture and death.

Never, therefore, should we look upon a weary, sad, miserable, and weathered Christian with jaded eyes, and simply dismiss them if they lack the abundance of joy that Christ has promised. In their case, it is not that Christ has failed them. Rather it is that His people often have yet to learn and discover the way to the joy that He promises to give. So, dear reader, if you lack a steady stream of joy and happiness, then this is not cause for further gloom. Perhaps in God’s sovereignty He has brought you to this blog precisely so that you too may begin to learn about true Christian joy!

Let us first begin with a foundational principle. This principle is contained in two verses that will illumine everything else that will follow in this article. I invite any reader to consider these words with a purity of contemplation. Yes, most certainly, these verses are often wrestled by mystics and charismatics; and misapplied by liberals; and even cited by civil rights activists as if they conferred God’s imprimatur on their protest marches and political campaigns. I have no intention of following such groups in their error. We will, instead, draw one or two undeniable exegetical truths from these words:

So He said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples.Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

The Lord speaks of “being set free”. Setting aside the nature of that freedom (and indeed, the nature of the oppression that makes the offer of freedom necessary), the Lord clearly demonstrates in this passage the avenue by which a man is properly set free.

Man is not set free by swords and spears or money. The Lord did not give His listeners a battle strategy against the Romans or give them all their dreams come true, as He surely had the power to do. Instead, our Lord declares that a man is set free by truth. And therefore, what Christ gave to them was words. Words uttered by humanity are so feeble and transient, but the Lord offered His words – His words, which reliably convey truth. Christ’s words contain true knowledge. They carry true information. These are the very words given to Christ by the Father himself (“These words you hear are not My own, they belong to the Father who sent me“). A man’s freedom, then, is obtained by receiving and continuing in Christ’s true words; by applying and living out the truthful information He has brought to us from heaven.

Of course, not every person who listens to the word of Christ will be set free, because many listen without faith and without any will to apply the words. For some people, His word makes no imprint in their heart whatever. Yet for those who take the Lord at His word, and believe what He says, they will find the power of truth in their life that establishes a glorious freedom. It is this true information that overturns darkness and shadow. It is this true knowledge and this true way of looking at things that liberates a man.

Now, then, what is the nature of the slavery that makes this freedom necessary? Our Lord himself tells us: it is sin. The Lord is adamant on this point – as indeed, is St. Paul when the apostle uses the imagery of slaves being mastered by unrighteousness. Sin, properly understood, exercises an enslaving quality upon every aspect of the human person. Not merely his body, which is only a small component of human sin, but more essentially his mind, heart, emotions, desires, and aspirations. Indeed, every part of the human personality is attacked and affected by sin. From physiology to psychology, all the constituent parts of a human person in his native condition is enslaved to sin and futility.

This is why the Lord’s teaching sometimes seems to be so alien to what we would expect and desire. For instance, in the New Testament, people come to Him complaining about an unfair share of an earthly inheritance. He points them to eternal treasure. People come to Him with news of frightful atrocities perpetrated by the Romans. He points them to the spiritual condition of their own hearts and the need to repent. His disciples speak admiringly of the great stones and decorations of the temple. He tells them it will come down to ruins. As our Lord is going to His death, women cry out in mourning for Him. He tells them to weep for themselves for a great tragedy will shortly befall them and their final condition would be both pitiful and lamentable (all the more so because it was entirely avoidable).

Just exactly what manner of Man is this? Our Lord is constantly, relentlessly, persistently, endlessly determined to tear away from our eyes the fluttering cobwebs in which we invest so much effort and energy. The things we instinctively feel hold so much importance.

And the Lord will confer His divine blessing on none of our indulgences. He does not grant us the slightest comfort for our earthly existence, no promises of the “good life” as we so often wish it to be. Our longings for a quiet and uneventful life, with sufficient levels of prosperity, with a semi-functional family, and with regular dollops of colour, friendship and laughter may seem to us to be an entirely reasonable expectation, as if we were equals engaged in a negotiation about our future with the King of kings, and as if we could exchange our worship for a fair package deal for life. Yet, our Lord will have none of it. He speaks very little of this temporal existence, and does not permit us to bargain with Him. Our condition is too hopeless and His salvation too vital for any man to deserve a say at the negotiation table. Rather, Christ engages in unilateral spiritual diplomacy. Christ talks. He pushes the instrument of surrender at us. We accept His terms for peace. End of discussion.

It is hard to escape the Lord’s persistent long-term focus even from the briefest, most cursory reading of the New Testament.  So often we sin-damaged beings can see hardly further than the nose on our face. We are born with spiritual myopia, and the world around us and all that is in it appears to us in burred form and is often difficult to interpret. Worse still, we get so accustomed to things being blurred that we begin to believe that this is normal vision, and that we are therefore interpreting our lives correctly. We peer closely at things, beholding only small areas of their surface at a time, and then think we are geniuses because we manage to figure out what an object exactly is as it looms before us.

The New Testament ceaselessly reminds us that the Lord’s eyes are laser precise. There He stands on the mountain, far above us, gazing with incredible clarity toward the horizon. But we rush to the Lord, tugging at his garments, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear? What about now? What about here? What about my happiness?“. The Lord lowers his gaze, almost unwillingly from the glory beyond, and he points us to the horizon.

“Can you see over there?” he seems to say, “Look a little further! There are far greater concerns; richer and more glorious matters! And if you cannot see it, then you must trust Me when I tell you that I can see it, and that I am pointing you always in the right direction.”

The essential point, then, is this. If we are to begin to be happy in Christ and to enjoy God – and we all must begin somewhere and at some point – then surely the first step is to accept these basic biblical principles.

Firstly, that there is such a thing as a joy unspeakable in Christ, for He tells us this is so (John 15:11). He tells us that there is complete joy, and, indeed, that this is part of the very purpose for which Christ has given us His words.

Secondly, we must accept that we are naturally slaves to sin. And, moreover, that we have a native tendency to run back to our first master. Even a Christian sins, sometimes grievously so (e.g. St. Peter and the churches at Corinth), which is why we need an Advocate to plead our cause (1 John 2:1). At the same time, we must embrace the realisation that our psychology, our interpretations of life and our interpretations about what is happening to us, indeed, our entire view of things is wrong, and always tends toward wrongness. Even that which we feel – and too often we think our emotions give us reliable information – is subject to the same contamination. Our hearts – down to a man – are”deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

We cannot understand accurately even half of what is going on within us. Our own hearts are an impenetrable mystery much more often than they are understandable. Think how many hours we have each spent in our lifetime trying to decode our own emotional state and to figure out what it is that we feel, and why it is that we feel it! Or trying to force ourselves not to think or feel along certain lines, in order that we may think or feel along others! Given that we struggle with something so central to our being, how much less can we think that we may accurately interpret our own past or discern our own future? It is foolish. It is foolish because we are sick in our native and natural condition. We are spiritually crippled, addicted to the cause of our symptoms; allergic to their cure, and therefore in constant and terrible need of a Great Physician who deals not only with flesh and blood, but also with the spirit, with the mind, and with the heart that lies within us.

Thirdly, we must come to the realisation that the cure for our complaints lies in possessing true knowledge and true information. Christ’s truth will uplift the heart and ennoble a life. Long-term exposure to His truth will liberate a man from dread and darkness forever. Truth – Christ’s truth – applied to a life will shatter the power of sin over us, which makes men so wretched and miserable. And this will continue until we get to a point where we can sing hymns in the stocks in prison, like Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25); where we can rejoice while the blood is still wet on our backs from a beating like the Apostles (Acts 5:41); where we can encourage other people to rejoice always in the Lord even from a cell (Philippians 4:4). To advance so much in the Spirit and in the Lord’s teaching that we derive the sum of our joy no longer from time and circumstance but instead from Him alone and what he points to over the horizon, and which he ever reassures us is not actually that far off at all. Indeed, the kingdom of God is close at hand.

Imagine what it would be like to be unspeakably happy and joyful; at peace and at rest in YOUR current condition without any external changes, any editing of your circumstances, and additions or deletions! Would that not constitute riches and bring much glory to God? Most assuredly, it would.

Amy Carmichael, who poured her life out in India, wrote: There is nothing dreary or doubtful about [the life]. It is meant to be continually joyful. We are called to a settled happiness in the Lord whose joy is our strength. 

Hudson Taylor once observed: There are three great truths. First, that there is a God; second, that He has spoken to us in the Bible; third, that He means what He says. Oh, the joy of trusting Him!

The beginning of true happiness, therefore, is to renounce our own beliefs about how to obtain it, and to begin to realise that it lies not in what is in front of our nose, but over the horizon to where Christ is always pointing. How, a man may wail, can I stop believing that my happiness is dependent on my circumstances? Well, not with your own wisdom, or your own reasoning, or your own effort, or your own power. It comes from purposeful exposure to the liberating truth of Christ, and we grow into it through purposeful, diligent prayer. And then we advance to the level of our Master, who was never fazed by his circumstances, and was never miserable.

Some of the Lord’s saints have proximated to it closely, like St. Francis of Assisi who, although he had his mystic tendencies, entered a life of joyful poverty and service, and in his poverty, discovered the joy of Christ unspeakable which has eluded kings.

 

 

 

 

Human Rights vs. Human Rights

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A Soviet propaganda poster. Its message was obvious to the most illiterate Russian peasant: religious people stand in the way of progress and the development of a better world. Bulldozing them out of the way is therefore a logical and necessary step to betterment.

Anyone who has studied dictatorial regimes will recognise that classic, orthodox tyrannies always recognise the Christian Church to be an impediment, if not an outright obstacle that must be destroyed. For all of Richard Dawkins’ nonsense about Hitler being a Roman Catholic, his administration was deeply anti-church and anti-Christian and produced some of the most bizarre replacement theologies in the modern world (like Himmler’s occultic blend of mysticism and German mythology). German fascists took this view partly because Christianity was based on “Jew texts” and partly because biblical Christianity elevates virtues that the fascists regarded as weakening vices – things like compassion, care for the weak, the primacy of the reward in the world to come, and the universality of the human condition unrestricted by “blood, race and soil”. Such beliefs are incompatible with any human-centred, utopian ideology.

Likewise, communist regimes around the world – with almost no exceptions – have been equally as systematic (and in fact, usually more transparently hostile and radical than the fascists) in their opposition to confessing Christians. Russian communists were unabashed in listing the eradication of religion as one of the major objectives of their administration and ideology. Tens of thousands of churches were demolished; the overwhelming majority of Russian Orthodox clergy were shot (about 100,000) or otherwise imprisoned. In fact, the Russian Orthodox Church was very nearly extinct when the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa. It is almost unbelievable, but in all of Russia there were only about 500 functional churches left and a very small handful of clergy.

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(The Second World War is a tragic episode in human history, but is rich in examples of the Sovereignty of God. It is surely no coincidence that a residue of Christianity – albeit in the form of Russian Orthodoxy – was preserved under Stalin in the Soviet Union itself by an invasion orchestrated by an equally anti-Christian ideology.)

Whatever one may think of the orthodoxy of the Russian Orthodox Church (and as Protestants we cannot accept the bulk of its teaching as biblical), their faithful adherents nonetheless present an illustration of amazing resistance and fidelity in the face of what is probably the most intense and widespread persecution of Christian people in the modern era. The persecution lessened only after the German invasion, when Stalin gave concessions to the Russian Orthodox Church and actively sought to revive so that it might to imprint some sense of supernatural mission upon the minds of the Russian people, who could hardly be expected to fight in the name of communism alone having, by that stage, experienced it for about 23 years.

The question to consider here is why is the church such a target? The answer is straightforward, at least when considered in raw political and social terms: in revolutionary times all radicals who are intent on cultural transformation recognise the Church as an autonomous centre of opposition with its own authoritative message that demands unquestioning obedience. This cannot coexist with modern total states, although the Church can coexist with monarchical states where the king cannot rule or legislate by fiat alone.

From the perspective of radicals, the Church’s teachings always trumps those of the state, and therefore constitutes a serious threat to the state. The Church has a message from heaven; the state can only claim that its ideology is from men. The Church has its mandate from God; the state can only claim a mandate from “the people”. The Church has texts that are infallible, inerrant and ancient; the state can only appeal to texts that are fallible, errant, and recent. The Church is founded on God in human form – the Person of Jesus Christ; the best the state can manage is to attempt to deify a leader, president, or generalissimo. The Christian people who constitute the Church will lay down their lives for the Faith in the sure knowledge of everlasting life; the state can only command men to lay down their lives for a paradise on Earth.

In Western countries we have become accustomed to the Church being legally inviolable. Its finances are untaxed; various constitutions declare it immune from government interference; and it is usually exempted from laws that run counter to its teachings and mission. Indeed, this is a peculiar feature of Western constitutional government, which is so much a product of the Protestant Reformation.

But, times are a’changin’. We are living in the midst of a cultural revolution, primarily driven by sexual inclinations and the legitimisation of novel relationship types. And the Church is increasingly existing on an island of shrinking support in the wider culture which is growing restless at the Church’s historic immunity to state interference. And the means by which the state is being harnessed to attack this only remaining bastion of serious counter-cultural opposition is the tension between “human rights”.

Human rights are universal. They apply to all people. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a covenant devised in the ashes of the scarred, near-apocalyptic, post-Second World War era with all its traumas, and was designed to be applicable to the entire human race. It is a wonderful document, full of righteous sentiment, affirming the freedom and dignity of the individual and granting to him or her the right to be unencumbered by the unreasonable control and mastery of another. Great faith was invested in this document. It was assumed that signatory nations with their recent experience of war would remember the depths of human horror forevermore, and thereby not depart from this straight way.

Yet these rights have now come into tension – a tension that was never imagined in 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was developed. The great tension of our times is the freedom of conscience and religion as opposed to the new rights of non-discrimination, non-offence-giving, non-hate speech, and radical equality of access to individual’s service. The cultural revolutionaries adopt the attitude that, “Very well, you may have your freedom of conscience and religion, but you must never act upon it within the shared public domain“, which of course is no freedom at all.

In like manner, to say, “Yes, we uphold freedom of speech, but if you say X or Y, which was once acceptable but is acceptable no longer, then you are engaging in hate speech, calculated to offend people, and therefore is illegal and unacceptable“. Under such a view, freedom of speech is no longer freedom at all. As the Internationale put it (heaven forfend! I quote from it only this once!),  freedom is transformed into mere extended privilege. It is transformed into the right to only say what is popular; what is convenient; what is supported by the majority. To be able to say only what everybody else is saying requires, surely, no legal protection at all. You do not need a human right for that. You do, however, need the right of free speech to protect the act of saying something that is unpopular.

As soon as one is told that they may not act according to their conscience in refusing to do something – like bake a cake, or open their bathrooms to people of a certain gender, or openly declare their ancient beliefs – then the rights that were brought into focus by a devastating and tragic episode in human history have been eroded.

This is because “rights” increasingly are not thought of as universal standards that apply to all people equally and thus are meant to protect the unpopular as much as the popular. Rather they are seen as primarily about protecting the interests of select minorities from the unintended, uncontrolled, and indirect results of other people’s freedoms, and moreover doing so with a hyper-sensitivity and a higher-priority toward some groups rather than others.

For instance, in Australia there is mounting pressure for a parliamentary decision on something that is commonly called “same-sex marriage”. The conservative government has purposed to use a process similar to that of the Irish referendum, and to ask the Australian people to vote on the issue through a plebiscite. The constellation of left-wing parties are deeply opposed to any kind of popular vote. Why? Because “human rights are not determined by popular vote“. Ironically, these parties argue that the correct approach is to have politicians vote on the issue in the parliamentary chambers and be done with it. In other words, if it were carried by a majority vote by professional politicians then this “human right” would presumably enter existence as a human right within Australia.

Of course, in objective terms, it is true that human rights are not decided by a majority. That is the philosophic framework behind human rights. But this is not the case in terms of political process. After all, each signatory state to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had to ratify the covenant through their parliamentary systems. Even the United Nations itself is an organisation that functions on the basis of voting, and this has never been seen as inimical to human rights. To want human rights to enter existence without any process at all is to advocate tyranny and a fear of democracy. Yet the left-wing parties do not really believe their own rhetoric. They merely count on people not thinking it through very deeply. The reality is that they prefer a method that avoids any popular vote because it is much easier to work over a small group in the nation’s capital who will have a “conscience vote” (in other words, a vote reflecting the politician’s own conscience rather than the will of their electors). Moreover, they prefer this method because they calculate that they have the numbers to enact the legislation.

In other words, it is precisely because they think they have enough numbers in parliament to win on the issue that they have chosen to belittle a more democratic approach. And in so doing, they are essentially claiming that these human rights exist in some ethereal place and that they can be determined by a select group (i.e. themselves) who need not apply a democratic procedure to their recognition, or even acknowledge and seek out the true will of the people they represent. After all, they have the numbers.

They are therefore practising the very thing they claim to oppose: the use of numbers to birth a human right in Australia.

Another, and more instructive argument that they have made, however, is that debating same-sex marriage and voting on it would be cruel, divisive, and raise uncomfortable arguments and issues that could lead to great harm among people who practice homosexuality. In essence, (and it has been seriously put this way) the exercise of popular democracy could lead to deaths among practising homosexuals who might be tempted to commit suicide due to exposure to people and ideas that oppose their particular lifestyle. This, of course, raises a great many questions about how far democracy should be curtailed in order to prevent bad things from happening to people who might have mental vulnerabilities. For instance, is it the case that parliament should not debate same-sex marriage in case it is so hurtful and divisive that it causes people who practice homosexuality to commit suicide? If a public debate is harmful and would unleash dark forces, so might a parliamentary debate. After all, both would hit the television screens.

Moreover, is it the case that parliament should not discuss taxation in case it drives the poor to despair and leads to suicide? Should there be no freedom of speech on certain issues like war, in case soldiers’ widows become traumatised and commit suicide? If, as these left-wing group argue, the precautionary principle must be applied to protect people from unknown future harms, then just how far are we to take the precautionary principle? Indeed, arguments are beginning to surface to the effect that religious freedom itself should be curtailed precisely on the basis of the precautionary principle. To allow religious people to speak their message could result in harm to people whose lifestyle they disapprove of. Therefore, in the interests of human rights, the human right to the free exercise of religion must die. It seems, in the new economy, not all human rights are equal.

Lutherans Regret Abolition of Women’s Ordination in Latvia

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The German Evangelical webpage featured an article that outlined the regret among various Lutheran leaders when Latvian Lutherans voted to abolish women’s ordination.

There is nothing particularly groundbreaking about that, of course. The mainstream churches of Europe have so deeply sunk into secularism and theological liberalism that true Christianity now resides in exceptional pockets. It is no longer the norm. One needs to go as far afield as Africa or Asia to find mainstream churches that faithfully retain their deposit of orthodoxy.

What is instructive about this article, however, are the arguments made by supporters of women’s ordination. Their arguments bear the unmistakable imprint of secular reasoning. It is a powerful indication that feminist philosophy has deeply infiltrated the Lutheran World Federation, (not that there was ever much doubt about that). [Read more]

New Roman Catholic ‘Social Gospel’ Advertising

The new “Catholics Come Home” videos show unmistakable evidence of the “Francis Effect”. Check out these millennial-friendly, gospel-void advertisements… no, not for a mobile soup kitchen or an environmentalist lobby group, but the Roman Catholic Church. You could get confused!

 

 

Bishop of Durham Dies

DJ

The Bishop of Durham has died, at the age of 91.

As bishop, he was famous for denying on television the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ. In fact, not only denying the resurrection but actively ridiculing it.

Three days after being consecrated in 1984 in York Minister, the building was struck by lightning and devastated by the subsequent fire. Not unreasonably, for those who believe in a Sovereign God, this was interpreted by some people as a sign of God’s divine displeasure. Predictably, this was ignored by the Church of England for whom God’s wrath is now merely a remote theory, probably reserved for people who do really evil things like owning shares in a petrochemical corporation.

In 2005, he was one of the first clerics in England to participate in the blessing of a civil partnership between two homosexual males. In 2006, he was banned from preaching in a number of his local churches for using language deemed irreverent – terms like “bloody” and “damn”.

Well we may mourn such a man’s passing. To deny the resurrection is a sure sign of being outside of the orbit and boundary of salvation, of never having met the risen and glorified Christ at any point on our personal Damascene Road. Furthermore, to promote conduct explicitly repudiated in God’s word does indeed bring the wrath of God – in this life or the next. “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). This text rules out any hope that a person who wilfully, persistently, and stubbornly preaches error will enter the kingdom of heaven.

The bishop’s long life – evidently blessed with child, and an equally long-lived wife – is a testament to the long-suffering and kindness of God who lavishes grace and generosity even upon his enemies. May we bless God for his goodness toward men, and watch unto our own souls, examining ourselves “to see whether we be of the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5).