The Brewing Civil War within Roman Catholicism

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I follow conservative Roman Catholic blogs.

It is fair to say, that I follow very conservative Roman Catholic blogs. The sort written by conservative priests who look fondly back to Old Rome – to the days when the liturgy was in Latin and ecclesiastical discipline within the ranks was iron.

These are the people whose slogan is “save the liturgy, save the world”. Yes, to all the Protestant readers who just fell off their seats, you read that correctly.

This is Rome Catholicism of the Tridentine Rite. This is the Rome Catholicism of arcane medieval mysticism. This is a Rome Catholicism that has been almost forgotten, except in small – but admittedly growing – pockets, where people desperately wish to re-barnacle their religious life in esoteric rituals that were stripped away by Vatican II.

One of the things that has become really, really clear is that there are two utterly incompatible views that now co-exist in Roman Catholicism. The liberal wing are… well, essentially theistic soft secularists, if such a thing can be imagined. They pretty much follow the culture on issues like homosexuality, feminism, abortion, environmentalism, same-sex marriage, and the whole worldview. You can find Catholics within this wing who criticise their own church’s stance on these issues. You can find large numbers of Catholics who even actively and enthusiastically embrace these elements of the culture. For instance, there are entire branches of orders of nuns who are essentially leftover 1960’s radical feminists. They go about crusading for political purposes.

But, to the other extreme, there is the conservative wing. These Roman Catholics largely live in the past, venerating historical Popes and cardinals, and glorying in a very traditional worship that consists of little other than elaborate and ornamented ritual. They reject the minimalist contemporary design of modern churches – which are often built according to zany postmodern designs – and approvingly point to articles in magazines in which pastors describe how they have transformed their parishes by installing pews, altars, candles, and all the other furniture of a heavily-liturgical religion.

(The fact that there is such a palpable thirst among modern Western populations for a deep link to the past and a desire for continuity with history, could be the subject of an entire book. Unfortunately for the poor benighted souls turning to liturgical religions like Roman Catholicism, the tradition that they are told goes back to the New Testament is often only about 500 or so years old. Most of the “apostolic tradition”, along with its attendant rites and rituals developed in the medieval period. To be deeply rooted in God’s work in history, one must turn to the pages of scripture).

Each wing denounces the other. An excellent illustration of this – at least in miniature – is found in the running clash of purpose and perspective between a very popular blog operated by the Roman Catholic priest, John Zuhlsdorf, and the National Catholic Reporter. The National Catholic Reporter occasionally prints insinuations or commentary that would reflect unfavourably on Zuhlsdorf’s website and views, characterising them as unloving or harsh. For his own part, Zuhlsdorf declares the National Catholic Reporter to be “un-catholic”. In fact, Zuhlsdorf usually refers to this publication as “fishwrap” or “the National Schismatic Reporter” and holds in low esteem the liberal Roman Catholics who comment there.

Both parties have convictions utterly removed from the other. The NCR seems hopeful for some changes on the issue of woman’s ordination. They seem to take the view that there is a possibility of having women deacons. Zuhlsdorf, for his part, is implacably opposed to women’s ordination.

Whatever we might think on the issue – and, we, evangelicals and Reformed would typically side with Zuhlsdorf on this issue – the fact remains that these are opposing viewpoints, held with extreme conviction and passion. And both seem to have emerged within Roman Catholicism at the same time and in high volumes. It bespeaks a collapse of church discipline at some point in the line. For how else could two opposing camps emerge in the one communion?

But, this is only the tip of the iceberg! Most of the folks supporting women’s ordination would necessarily (eg. it is necessary to hold these beliefs in order to arrive at their position) have very non-traditional views of the ecclesiastical authority of the Roman Catholic Church and their supposed “teaching magisterium”. They necessarily hold non-traditional views on apostolic tradition. They necessarily repudiate the past example of their own church as repressive, archaic or opposed to women. Indeed, one of the Youtube videos put out by one of these groups has a woman in mock papal attire singing, “Don’t listen to St. Paul… I can lead the way” and a woman dandying her baby wearing a shirt that reads “Mommy for pope”. In other words, Zuhlsdorf – to a certain extent – is right. These people have no theological relation to the theological universe of what once called itself Roman Catholicism.

Another example of this breakdown is seen in Ireland, where the decay of Roman Catholicism is now an unmistakable fact. Here is a country that has a long history of being a Roman Catholic stronghold. A country where 73% – nearly three quarters of the population – claim to be Roman Catholic. Yet in the 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage, 62% of Irish voters approved a constitutional change to allow people to marry without the distinction of sex.

Assuming that the 25% of the population who are non-Roman Catholic all voted in favour of this change, it would mean that 37% of the Roman Catholic population also voted in favour of same-sex marriage. And this contrary to the advice, teaching and instruction of their own clergy and church! (Although, to be honest, any fair assessment of the political campaign conducted by those affiliated with Roman Catholic Church would surely indicate a fair degree of apathy. The impression I received, at least, was that their heart was just not in it. The secular perspective had already quite clearly won – at least, according to the vote statistics – even within the Roman Catholic community long before the referendum took place.)

You can find these sorts of inroads into Roman Catholicism at every point. And most troubling for the conservatives, the secular viewpoint seems to be held by a growing number of bishops, cardinals, and priests. Many of these come in for regular excoriation from the conservative wing . On the other hand, the conservatives lionise other of their hierarchy as if they were celebrities. These cardinals and bishops receive rock star treatment because they celebrate the mass in Latin or they are fighting back against the ambitions of the liberal half of the church.

Now enter the Pope.

For all the unbiblical Roman pretensions that the Pope functions as an authoritative unifying figure, the reality is the inverse. Nobody could say with a straight face that Pope Francis believes what his medieval (or even early 20th century) predecessors believed given his remarks on a range of issues. He continues along the lines set by previous Popes who proclaim a social gospel to outsiders and a religious practice to insiders so lacking in discipline as to render it almost indifferent to the manner in which they choose to live. Among Francis’ encyclicals is the entirely forgettable Laudata si’, or the “Green Encyclical”, which was about the environment and sustainability. In Francis’ speech to the Congress, he mentions Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Abraham Lincoln but does not once make reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.

In so doing, he merely follows the example of other post-Vatican II popes, like Pope John Paul II, who was certainly no great evangelist either. When addressing the European Study Congress, Pope John Paul II spoke much about “Christianity” and even mentioned “Christ” once, but his focus was not where the conservative Roman Catholics would have placed it.

It is categorically impossible to imagine the Apostle Peter – whose authority Roman Catholics claim for their pope – if presented with the chance to address the representatives of the most powerful nation in the world, or a congress planning a trans-continental constitution that would govern 500 million people – would fail to present the fullness of the message of the good news of Christ our Lord.

But the Popes reflect the Roman Catholic Church’s culture. True there is a bit of a lag before certain cultural trends and elements get represented in a pontificate, but it shows up sooner than later. Popes are increasingly political-correct beings and mealy-mouthed, never being entirely direct. Each subsequent pope differs substantially from the one before and thus the entire Roman church is in a perpetual condition of division. Half of them will cleave now unto this pope, and the other half will cleave unto that one. Francis is beloved by the liberal Catholics, just as Benedict XVI is beloved by the conservatives – some of which freely admit to shedding tears over his resignation.

Of course, nearly every Roman Catholic holds to Pope John Paul II whose genius for more than thirty years involved the careful placation of all wings of the church by granting to each a measure of what they sought. One month he would pound the arms of his throne and thunder down the old dogmas, gladdening the heart of the conservatives. A few months later he would make a ringing declaration about women or some other group, and bring pleasure to the liberals. But in retrospect, I think it will be seen that Pope John Paul II’s seemingly stable pontificate, solved nothing. In fact, he oversaw the unravelling of the discipline and authority of his church, the continuation of the 1960’s experiment. His pontificate will be seen to mark the further degradation of the belief and allure of the (non-existent) continuity the religion claims for itself.

One could go on. The fact that there is such a staggering variety of religious orders – some liberal and some conservative – each existing side-by-side within the tent. We could examine the rot within Roman Catholic educational institutions, producing generations of Roman Catholics who are probably mostly theologically liberal. We could consider the resurgence of conservatism within many seminaries, coupled with the fact that the overall number of priests is low and shrinking. But time constrains me.

Bottom line: this state of affairs cannot continue forever. One wing will dominate eventually, or there will be a permanent schism. Many conservatives have already thrown in the towel, declared most of the post-Vatican II popes to be heretics, and have run off to sedevacantist movements and the SSPX, who generally believe that the Seat of Peter is empty and there is no legitimate pope.

It is fantasy to imagine the staunch, Tridentine, “Latin Mass” conservatives winning this battle. In fact, their efforts are more likely to accelerate a schism since so many of them actively believe that their Tridentine mass is more legitimate than the Novus Ordo mass which is the common global Roman Catholic practice.

Certainly, the wing that shall be most badly affected will be the conservatives for whom the Pope and bishops and priestcraft is pivotal. Their entire faith is built on it. They have been taught that their church, when manifested in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, is infallible and miraculously safeguarded from error. The ructions to their faith when they realise with the passage of time, that the old Roman Catholicism is beyond revival, will be painful to bear. The conservatives are desperately placing their hope in the next pontificate. Pity them, should the next pope be another Francis. Their demoralisation will be complete.

We must keep our eyes open for these troubled souls, the recipients of a dreadful medieval corruption that enslaves and mesmerises with the false claims of historicity. We must aim to always be ready to offer to these people the gospel – for there can only be one. This gospel is the one that they have never heard. The pure gospel that elevates the Great High Priest, Christ Jesus. A gospel that speaks to the heart and redeems it by the sovereign power and grace of a compassionate and holy God. A God who does not come seeking for the utterances of empty phrases and repetitious prayers. Who does not look for hail Marys and penances. Who does not justify us based on our merits or our works. But a God who revealed himself fully through his Son; who regenerates men through his words – alone infallible and inerrant – and who sends his genuine Spirit as the down payment on future glory.

A God who once spoke words that are much applicable to these burnt out, tempest-tossed, misused, and exhausted Roman Catholics:

Come unto me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn about me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you shall find rest for your souls. 

Sunday’s Exhortation: Blessed from Before all the Ages

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:3-4)

St. Paul’s letter to the churches at Ephesus begins with what could only be described as an “outburst of glory”!

For twelve amazing verses Paul plunges into the ocean of blessings given to the believer. He surveys the scope of the glorious future of the believer and the definitive work of God. This definitive work of God, as we shall see, is to save the believer from coming wrath, to make the sinner righteous, and to fit him for readmission to paradise.

The starting point for Paul is praise – which is the natural response of any heart that has been properly brought into the light of Christ.Offering to God thanks and praise is the supreme duty of every human creature. For this end we were created. For this purpose we were saved, that we might evermore show forth the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9).

The man was formed with a mouth and eyes, ears and a mind so that he could indeed “shout to the Lord” in ceaseless joy and thanksgiving. Given the high point of man’s origin, it is a dreadful indictment on the human condition that these instruments that should have been wholly given to praise, are debased and misused. The world abounds in eyes that long to look upon iniquity; ears that delight in gossip and slander; mouths that frame lies and profanity; minds that contemplate evil. Indeed, one of the evidences of salvation is that the man begins to use his very being for praise and thanksgiving again.

Effects

Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that they have been given “every spiritual blessing in Christ“.

Immediately, this phrase brings a division between the believer and unbeliever.

To the person dead in trespasses and sins and estranged from God, this is not an impressive statement. “Spiritual blessings,” says the unbeliever, “sound theoretical, abstract and not real. They are second class blessings. I want earthly blessings. I want the blessings of prosperity, and health, and fame, and a big house, and my morning cup of coffee. These are what I consider real blessings. You can take these so-called spiritual blessings and keep them!

An unredeemed person cannot begin to understand the motives of the great saints who were put to the sword, lived in caves and holes in the ground, who went about in animal skins, were sawed in half, and wandered through the earth in “order that they might obtain a better resurrection(Heb 11:35). What madness is this! To live a life of misery solely to obtain some ethereal spiritual blessing in the hereafter? Insanity! I’ll take my pleasures here and now, thank you very much!

But to those who know the reality of God, these blessings are not second class, neither are they insubstantial. Rather the spiritual blessings are the best blessings of all.

These are not abstractions. Not in the slightest. Rather these blessings have tangible and concrete outworkings in a person’s life. Everything is affected. The manner in which a man chooses, thinks, loves, desires, dreams, labours, prays, spends his time, and reckons. The blessed believer lives on a wholly different plane of life flowing with divine life and glory.

What does God offer through these blessings? Nothing less than readmission to paradise. Our first parents were expelled from Eden in Genesis 3 and every human being since then has lived in a shadow world that is a pathetic parody of what we were created to experience. But in Revelation 22, the redeemed reenter paradise. There they take up eternal residence where the river of life, the tree of life, and the city of God exist in the endless illumination provided by Christ himself.

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This is what these spiritual blessings point to: to gaining a sinless condition where there are no longer any barriers between man and his Creator. And, in losing his sin, man looses the plague and curse of sin. He is freed from death, sorrow, separation, loneliness, sickness, and misery. He is renewed and can look forward to endless trillions of years of life. Elevated into a world of love.

In the fourth verse, St. Paul takes us on a journey – soaring through space and time – back past Bethlehem, back past the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, past Moses, Abraham, Noah, and even back beyond Adam himself. Paul launches us into the time before Genesis 1:1, when, before the creation of the world, “God chose us in Christ“. Before the universe was called into existence; before Christ formed the spiralling galaxies; before the stars began to shine and the sun rose on the first day, God selected a people for paradise.

A select people! Therefore anyone who savingly meets with Christ is operating under a principle that is more ancient than the ground beneath their feet. To be lifted into glory – not because the sinner is better than anyone else, or had a particular upbringing, or some special exposure – but because God ordained an eternity ago that the sinner would meet with Jesus. And not only meet with him, but to behold his glory and love – like Moses, to “see him who is invisible” – and be brought into communion with him forever.

 

Sunday’s Exhortation: Sharing the Fellowship of Suffering

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I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:10-11)

Here the Apostle gives true voice to his heart and expresses the desire of an authentic disciple. To Paul, nothing mattered but Christ. Indeed, he had just finished describing how he counted every attainment as rubbish for the “surpassing greatness of knowing Christ”.

As a young man, Paul had been a rising star with all the advantages of the world. Undoubtedly born to a well-to-do family, he possessed coveted Roman citizenship, and studied underneath the greatest Rabbis of the period. By the age of 20, he had earned the ancient equivalent of two PhD’s in theology.

By his own assessment, he had been “advancing in Judaism” far beyond his peers. No doubt there were people who spoke of this marvellous, energetic, zealous young Pharisee as a potential candidate to become a ruler of Israel and one day ascend to the Sanhedrin Council. He was going to go far in the intellectual and religious world. “We must keep an eye on this man!” A glittering career as a reputable Rabbi lay before him, and some people may have even gone so far as to predict that he might one day become High Priest.

Then he met with Jesus on the Damascene Road.

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Paul lost everything thereafter. He was penniless. He was in and out of prison, at other times running in fear of his life. He was beaten with whips and beaten with rods. Sometimes he was cold and hungry. And doubtless there were people who looked at his life with amazement and astonishment.

You gave up your money, your career, your reputation and for what? What do you have to show for it? Only this Jesus.

Yes, “only” Jesus. That is how unbelievers (and Satan) will attack a person when they suffer for Christ. “You’ve given up [insert loss] and what do you have to show for it? Only this Jesus“. Sometimes that unworthy thought can even occur to a person within their own heart, yet the gospel – saturated in divine reality – tells us this is not so. Christ Jesus is not a mere consolation prize or a second-class inheritance to the really valuable earthy stuff that is surrendered. Rather, Christ is THE gift. To fail to see this is to fail to know him.

To share the sufferings of Christ gives a man fellowship with him and knowledge of him, which is perhaps why St. Peter writes “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ” – which is not only counter-cultural, but also deeply alien to the normative human experience. Something divine and supernaturally spiritual must occur deep in a person’s heart for them to be able to rejoice in suffering. How is that even possible for a human person? How? Because Christ meets the sufferer.

What were the sufferings of Christ?

1. Rejection: Christ was rejected by men, but rejected as he held out the hand of fellowship, friendship and salvation. It is hard enough to endure rejection from mere acquaintances or colleagues, it is harder still to endure rejection from people for whom we mean to do good. For people to whom we wish only to offer love and friendship.

2. Knowledge: Not only did the Lord have to endure rejection, but, in his divinity he knew all things and all hearts. He knew every single mind. Thus he preached mercy to crowds of people he knew full well hated him, spoke against him, and even meant him harm. There is suffering in displaying love toward people we know to be our enemies.

3. The “unfairness” of his mission: Of course, God does not ask anyone to do anything unfair or unreasonable, since his will is eminently sensible when considered in the light of facts that only God is able to fathom. But in the Garden of Gethsemane as he struggled to shoulder the penalty for other men’s sins, did that thought ever occur to him? “Why must I suffer such deep agony for other people – why can’t they be responsible for their own sins?” A natural sense of justice must surely have tempted the Lord to allow people to suffer for their own iniquities. After all, they committed the sins.

4. Physical agonies: The agonies of the whip and of the cross, of the soldiers beating him, of the crown of thorns, of the indignities heaped upon his person, and the insults and spitting. These sufferings were terrible indeed, for they fell not upon the guilty, but upon the only innocent man who has ever lived on earth.

Meditating on the many sufferings of Christ will be deeply instructive, for he will join us in our sufferings if we intend to suffer in love, as he himself did.

Coup d’etat in Turkey

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News is filtering in of an attempted coup d’etat in Turkey. According to the news, an attempted military takeover involved the use of helicopters – some still commandeered by the rebels – and jet aircraft flying over Istanbul. About 60 people have been killed, although it seems that pro-government forces are gradually making progress in restoring control over the capital.

It demonstrates a number of things:

1. Civilisation is fragile. It does not take a great number of lawless people to bring a nation to a standstill, and situations like this where anarchy reigns (even temporarily), provide ample opportunities for lesser rebels to make hay while the sun shines. If you look at the crime statistics following this attempted coup, I am almost sure they will register an increase. While the police are battling to save the government, thieves and other assorted villains can do as they please. Yes, civilisation is fragile.

2. Turkey’s admission to the EU is likely to be regressed by a long time, if not forever. Public opinion in Europe was always strongly opposed to Turkey’s accession to the European Union, although the leadership of the project have always been in favour.

Turkey has been strung along for a long while now. They have been promised admission if they make necessary social and political reforms – in other words, to make Turkey align more with the pluralistic, democratic culture of Europe.

Reforms all seem rather superfluous at this point. A country that cannot control its own capital from militants, whose leader has sought to prosecute journalists across the EU for writing disparagingly about his conduct, and a regime that has some seriously awry priorities in relation to the Kurds and ISIS, does not make for a cracking good candidate.

Quite apart from Turkey’s prospects in joining the EU, I wonder whether this coup represents another nail in the coffin for the European Union in more ways than one.

France Terror Attacks

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Although details remain somewhat sketchy regarding the attack in Nice, France, it seems likely that this has been yet another Islamist terror attack, this time in a manner distinct from previous attacks. The most notable feature of this act is the use of a heavy vehicle and, from what we are told, grenades and firearms.

As depressing as these horrendous attacks are, the commentary that follows is generally not uplifting either. In our information saturated times, people are quick to jump onto social media and the comboxes offering condemnations and radical solutions.

People emote rapidly in 2016. In fact, people generally feel through issues rather than think through them. And so we are witness to a welter of anger, sorrow, confusion, and a desire for a target to blame.

We also get to see how terror has become a new normal among many people. Within hours of the attacks, a group of Americans were joking on a major news site about the need for “truck licensing” – this being a reference to gun control laws which are inevitably discussed after attacks that use firearms. And so terror on this scale is now no more than a blip for many people. Its impact is gone. Sad to say, terrorists in the future are probably going to need to dream up bigger demonstrations than merely 80 dead people to drill through the fuzzy conditioning that is now setting in.

During such situations where horror and superficiality abide side-by-side, Christians must always seek to live as a different breed of people. St. Paul reminds the Church that Christians are not to function on the same basis as the world. Christians should not think with the same mental tools – the ideologies, politics, and patterns – as unbelievers, and therefore should not emote or behave like unbelievers. Christians are “children of the day”, not of the night, and therefore see things from a perspective of clarity and purpose denied to the unbelieving world.

How should we process such terror?

1. Repent. 

The Lord Jesus Christ was told one time (Luke 13:1-3) about a terrible massacre orchestrated by the Romans in which Jews had been slaughtered while offering sacrifices in the temple. Their deaths must have been especially brutal, because it seems that their blood had mixed with that of their offerings on the altar. It is not inconceivable that their bodies had been literally thrown onto the altar to burn together with their sacrifice.

It was a horrific act of barbarity. One could even call it state-sponsored terror, since these executions probably took place outside of the rule of law and were probably calculated to intimidate the local Jewish population.

The Lord’s response is instructive:

Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

It is easy to condemn the perpetrators of horrific violence and to demand that they be brought to book. In fact, that was probably the reason this particular group of Jews had passed the news to the Lord. Was he going to condemn the Romans? Was he going to promise that the wrath of God would surely fall upon the head of the Procurator, Pontius Pilate? Would he promise instantaneous heaven to the deceased?

Actually, no. Although God’s punishment for evil men is certain (something that Jesus taught frequently), the Lord’s focus was upon the spiritual condition of the living. It is easy to condemn outrageous barbarity when it breaks out in the world. It is easy to imagine – as some people have – that the French have been a more wicked nation than others, or that the people participating in the parade were probably “godless atheists”. It is easy, in the midst of horror happening to other people to thereby fail to see that we too are in need of constant repentance and forgiveness, and we too have no idea when or how our life will come to a close. “The end of all things is near“, warned St. Peter. And indeed it is, for each person individually, if not for the world.

The question that hangs in the air, therefore, is not why do atrocities happen to “good” people. But why, on a planet full of rebellious, disobedient, sinful men and women, has God’s wrath – a cosmic truck full of cosmic grenades, so to speak – not landed upon the whole human race? For all are deserving of God’s wrath.

When encountering terrorist attacks, therefore, our first instinct should be toward greater repentance and greater zeal to do what is right in the sight of God.

2. Avoid radical ideological “solutions” – see a Sovereign God at work

It is too easy to jump on an ideological bandwagon and imagine that sharp, speedy, radical action will solve the problem of evil human hearts. “Ban Muslim immigration”, for instance, is a common refrain. People talk of rolling back the religious freedoms that also safeguard the Church, foolishly imagining that secular governments empowered to tackle Muslims will never, one day, come for us.

Muslim immigration brings into deeply secular countries – who have for several generations tried to shrug off God and live in defiance to his law – a new dynamic that secularism cannot cope with. It is shaking up the political and social certainties that many people arrogantly feel have been settled. It is putting a dent into political correctness, and “safe spaces”, and multicultural radicalism, and even knocking holes in anti-Christian sentiment. Trying to build a new, hedonistic and materialistic society without any reference to God and without any basic moral compass, is being seen for what it is: an increasingly brittle structure that cannot endure reality from the outside.

Secular philosophy cannot function in the face of another culture that comes with theistic certainties and an aggressive policing of them. Same sex marriage, advocates, for instance, have primarily gone after Christian cake shop owners, but so far, there have been very few (if any) cases of them tackling Muslim cake shop owners who also refuse to make wedding cakes for homosexual people. Why? Because Muslims are an identity group that must be honoured by secularists, yet that same group often holds views that are inimical to feminism, multiculturalism, and the sexual revolution. Most Muslims repudiate the whole liberal, secular package. In fact, Muslim values and identity logically create a tension in secularism that is not resolvable. For, on one hand, secularism must continue to allow Muslim immigration, yet on the other hand those very immigrants carry with them beliefs that are opposed to secularism on nearly every single possible level.

Gasp! That’s dreadful! Surely, as good Christians, we must salvage our secular states who have done so much to eliminate God and his Son from national discourse? God forbid. We owe a godless state no more than the first Christians owed a pagan one: payment of our taxes, obedience and respect to secular rulers insofar as the realm of society is concerned –  the Church is never to be in the business of leading a revolution – but at the same time, we are under no obligation to protect that which is visibly rotting away. Thus, these social changes should be viewed as good news for people who fear that liberalism of morals, politics, institutions and social beliefs will continue forever.

(Obviously, terror attacks are not committed by the majority of these immigrants, and therefore we should not paint them all as potential terrorists.)

As immigration continues, and as the Church has largely failed in her mission to go to “them”, we are in the blessed condition of having “them” come to us. And Muslims are far more interested in Christianity than secularists are, hence the substantial conversion rates witnessed in Europe.

So it is not all bad, and God is in control.

In the Light of Eternity

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Leonard Ravenhill died twenty-two years ago (1994). Without the advent of the internet, his memory would have remained cherished only without certain circles and his sermons traded on video cassette between a few church groups.

Thanks to Youtube, online sermon archives, audio recordings, and the new orthodox scholarship that is revitalising itself by drawing afresh from the forgotten orthodox wells of the past, Ravenhill is perhaps more widely known in 2016 than he was even during his lifetime. He deserves to be, for he addressed his mission to the Church at large, transcending denominations (most of which he predicted as far back as the 1980’s would diminish and utterly fail because their methods and motives had faded from true, biblical standards of Christianity).

Ravenhill identified himself as a classical Pentecostal, but he was not overly partial to Pentecostals. He repudiated modern Pentecostalism with its dramatics, lights, glitz, hand waving, “praise bands” and so forth. His was a Pentecostalism of the Holiness Movement from the 1920’s; a serious commitment to holiness, to prayer, to contemplation, to reverence, to awe at God, and to the word of God. This species of Pentecostalism is as far removed from the modern variant as a wise elder is removed from a callow adolescent.

One cannot listen to many of his sermons without coming to realise that Ravenhill had a deep abiding love for God and for the holiness of God. Both qualities are rare today, even among people who identify themselves as Christians.

His commitment to God was absolute. He was well-known to pray for six or more hours a day, often beginning at midnight and praying through the early hours of the morning. And his prayers were not trite. He exemplified the very essence of St. Peter’s call to be a “holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ“. Ravenhill’s prayers were indeed sacrifices of a spiritual sort. He prayed with tears, with groaning, and with energy. Like Paul, he “travailed as in birth” in the place of prayer in the hope of bringing Christ into the hearts and lives of others – primarily, a Church bound in its 20th century winter.

Prayer was the heart of his service and the cornerstone of his life in a way that is so sadly missing in the Church today. “No man rises above his prayer life”, Ravenhill was wont to say, “No man is greater than his prayer life”, which is certainly true. Moreover, his preaching reflected this depth of prayer. There was the atmosphere when he preached of the throne room of God. Crowds would come to listen to him. At the beginning of his sermons there would often be a frothy, carnival atmosphere among some visitors, but this quickly dissipated as his sermons progressed until people were made solemn and still.

Like his close friend A. W. Tozer, Ravenhill devoted a considerable part of his life to the study of men who had a deep connection with God and who had been involved in serious, meaningful revivals of Christianity. His attention was arrested by men of God who had poured out their entire life into the service of God, and he sought to do the same. His preaching was often ornamented with references to Whitfield, Booth, the Wesley brothers, to Ann Carmichael, and so on. In like fashion, he reflected deeply on the life of St. Paul, and the service of the prophets. Through it all, the motivating force in his life was to stand approved by the One he loved on the awesome Day of Judgement.

He lived his whole life – not merely a portion of it – in the “light of eternity”. Everything in his life was centred on the grandeur and majesty of the throne of Christ before which all men must stand. Indeed, in his office, a plaque was attached to the wall bearing a single word: “ETERNITY”. That was his daily preoccupation. That is what he strove toward.

Occasionally God raises up men upon whom he has bestowed a clarity of vision about the enormity of the life of the world to come, and gives such men to the Church. These servants of Christ burst through the membrane of our pretensions. They are impassioned with the glory of Christ; hungry for eternal blessing and divine closeness in a way that defies so many in our comfortable world of seemingly settled certainties. Such men provoke and sharpen. They are sent to bring holy fire to the cold hearts of their brethren. Leonard Ravenhill was one such man.

Of all his sermons, the one which has probably had the deepest impact is his sermon titled “The Judgement Seat of Christ”, which leaves one spellbound and sombre at the thought of Jesus Christ in judgement, of the great accounting of all things at the end of the ages, of every man’s work being tried by the pure and holy Son of God. It is an uncomfortable sermon and it seriously disturbs one’s own pretensions and self-righteousness, as all good preaching should. It is a sermon that savours of the incense of the heavenly realms, and one well worth listening to and contemplating seriously.

Oh that more men might see the awesomeness of coming judgement and the vastness of eternity. Oh that the Church might arise and embrace again its commission with fervour and with faith. Enough with the rubbish of politics and social commentary. Enough with grubbing about money and risk and investment. Time indeed, to get serious about our eternal destination – infinite hell, or infinite heaven.

There are a million roads into hell, but not a single road out.” – Leonard Ravenhill.

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LRstone

The Building Blocks of Secular Tyranny

 

SHORT SYNOPSIS FOR THE TIME POOR: A detailed essay appearing in The Atlantic about speech-codes and the slide of college campuses into increased regulation of people’s behaviour, activities, and conversation.

 

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This article presents a very good analysis of the growing intolerance present on college campuses and the efforts by student groups to regulate both speech and conduct lest anyone should be “offended”. Hungry for control, anyone who does not submit to the demands of these groups is labelled racist, sexist, or bigoted (as chilling in modern parlance as the cry of “witch!” must once have been) and subject to incredible vilification. The article documents the careers trashed, the reputations permanently damaged, and the jobs lost for the sake of inadvertently causing “offence”.

It is tempting to dismiss this as madness isolated to the bubble-world of college campuses. However, this is a worldwide phenomenon. Although the article looks mostly at American college life, the same rush to control people is being replicated around the world with a number of notable examples of this behaviour recently arising at universities in the United Kingdom. Moreover, if history teaches us anything, it is that ideas that gain credence among the intellectual elites of a community eventually filter all the way through the social structure. That is why it is now possible to hear from the mouths of the most uneducated people the same pop-psychology theories that were current in the 1980’s and 1990’s. People who have scarcely read a book, who have hardly spent any meaningful time at study, and whose life has been a trajectory of criminality or poverty, somehow have acquired these ideas which they put into service to alleviate their culpability for their actions. Ideas which yesterday were the sole province of social sophisticates, today have become the mental furniture and worldview of many.

This new generation of political-correctness-on-steroids has developed a root-and-branch theory to support their efforts to control speech. They equivocate any exposure to challenging academic material with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. There is also the concept of trigger warnings, micro-aggressions, and even Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder. All of this portends a new era in human interactions that will not end at the boundary fence of college campuses. Eventually these concepts will spread through the wider community and we will have to deal with it in one form or another. We are facing a future era in which people demand to be free from any idea, words, photographs, or material that makes them uncomfortable.

It is not difficult to project how this will play out, or what it means for Christians and the witness of the Church. After all, there is nothing more offensive than the offence of the cross. And many Christians in the West – at least Christians who are properly evangelical and thoughtful, and who understand society through the same lens as our Blessed and Infallible Lord – can see the writing on the wall. Persecution of believers is inevitable. It always has been. The Church is relieved from persecution only ever for a season. And now, in 2016, as element after element; brick after brick goes into the edifice of a new secular tyranny, one can only marvel at how thoroughly absurd it all is, yet how sinister and cruel. Secularism and godlessness can only terminate in absurdity, rank hypocrisy, and the smashing of what is true and properly moral, good and righteous. It has a warm fuzzy exterior, but hides blades of steel. For it means to dispossess you, dear Christian, of your livelihood if you dare stand against the currents of the age. It means to imprison you, fellow believer, if you run afoul of a hate-speech code in the cause of Christ.

The inerrant St. Paul understood this long ago. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” – and when one reads this article, there is ample evidence for that folly corresponding to the conviction that this is high wisdom.

Some examples of incredible follow from the article include a student who objected to the rowdy behaviour of African-American women who were making a disturbance at night, and used a common epithet for noisy people from his native Israel. This resulted in a charge. Apparently the words he used were more egregious than preventing other people from sleeping:

Among the most famous early examples was the so-called water-buffalo incident at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1993, the university charged an Israeli-born student with racial harassment after he yelled “Shut up, you water buffalo!” to a crowd of black sorority women that was making noise at night outside his dorm-room window. Many scholars and pundits at the time could not see how the termwater buffalo (a rough translation of a Hebrew insult for a thoughtless or rowdy person) was a racial slur against African Americans, and as a result, the case became international news.

Another except:

Claims of a right not to be offended have continued to arise since then, and universities have continued to privilege them. In a particularly egregious 2008 case, for instance, Indiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis found a white student guilty of racial harassment for reading a book titled Notre Dame vs. the Klan. The book honored student opposition to the Ku Klux Klan when it marched on Notre Dame in 1924. Nonetheless, the picture of a Klan rally on the book’s cover offended at least one of the student’s co-workers (he was a janitor as well as a student), and that was enough for a guilty finding by the university’s Affirmative Action Office.

 
These examples may seem extreme, but the reasoning behind them has become more commonplace on campus in recent years. Last year, at the University of St. Thomas, in Minnesota, an event called Hump Day, which would have allowed people to pet a camel, was abruptly canceled. Students had created a Facebook group where they protested the event for animal cruelty, for being a waste of money, and for being insensitive to people from the Middle East. The inspiration for the camel had almost certainly come from a popular TV commercial in which a camel saunters around an office on a Wednesday, celebrating “hump day”; it was devoid of any reference to Middle Eastern peoples. Nevertheless, the group organizing the event announced on its Facebook page that the event would be canceled because the “program [was] dividing people and would make for an uncomfortable and possibly unsafe environment.”

 

Read the whole article here.