Archive for August, 2010

Strong But Not Beautiful

August 29, 2010

Perhaps the most serious charge that can be brought against modern Christians is that we are not sufficiently in love with Christ. The Christ of Fundamentalism is strong but hardly beautiful. It is rarely that we find anyone aglow with personal love for Christ. I trust it is not uncharitable to say that in my opinion a great deal of praise in conservative circles is perfunctory and forced, where it is not downright insincere.

Many of our popular songs and choruses in praise of Christ are hollow and unconvincing. Some are even shocking in their amorous endearments, and strike a reverent soul as being a kind of flattery offered to One with whom neither composer nor singer is acquainted. The whole thing is in the mood of the love ditty, the only difference being the substitution of the name of Christ for that of the earthly lover.

How different and how utterly wonderful are the emotions aroused by a true and Spirit-incited love for Christ. Such a love may rise to a degree of adoration almost beyond the power of the heart to endure, yet at the same time it will be serious, elevated, chaste and reverent.

Christ can never be known without a sense of awe and fear accompanying the knowledge. He is the fairest among ten thousand, but He is also the Lord high and mighty. He is a meek and lowly in heart, but He is also Lord and Christ who will surely come to be the Judge of all men. No one who knows Him intimately can ever be flippant in His presence.

The love of Christ both wounds and heals, it fascinates and frightens, it kills and makes alive, it draws and repulses, it sobers and enraptures. There can be nothing more terrible or more wonderful than to be stricken with love for Christ so deeply that the whole being goes out in a pained adoration of His person, an adoration that disturbs and disconcerts while it purges and satisfies and relaxes the deep inner heart.

A.W. Tozer, That Incredible Christian, “The Art of True Worship”

Sincerity or Profanity? – 2

August 21, 2010

This time, in the words of Richard Weaver:

“He is therefore trained to see things under the aspect of eternity, because form is the enduring part. Thus we invariably find in the man of true culture a deep respect for forms. He approaches even those he does not understand with awareness that a deep thought lies in an old observance. Such respect distinguishes him from the barbarian, on the one hand, and the degenerate, on the other…
We turn our attention to a kind of barbarism appearing in our midst and carrying unmistakable power to disintegrate. This threat is best described as the desire of immediacy, for its aim is to dissolve the formal aspects of everything and to get at the supposititious reality behind them. It is characteristic of the barbarian, whether he appears in a precultural stage or emerges from below into the waning day of a civilization, to insist upon seeing a thing “as it is.” The desire testifies that he has nothing in himself with which to spiritualize it; the relation is one of thing to thing without the intercession of imagination. Impatient of the veiling with which the man of higher type gives the world imaginative meaning, the barbarian and the Philistine, who is the barbarian living amid culture, demands the access of immediacy. Where the former wishes representation, the latter insists upon starkness of materiality, suspecting rightly that forms will mean restraint. … De Tocqueville made the following observation of such freedmen: “As it is on their own testimony that they are accustomed to rely, they like to discern the object which engages their attention with extreme clearness; they therefore strip off as much as possible all that covers it, they rid themselves of whatever separates them from it, they remove whatever conceals it from sight, in order to view it more closely in the broad light of day. This disposition of mind soon leads them to contemn forms, which they regard as useless and inconvenient veils placed between them and the truth.”…
Many cannot conceive why form should be allowed to impede the expression of honest hearts. The reason lies in one of the limitations imposed upon man: unformed expression is ever tending toward ignorance. Good intention is primary, but it is not enough: that is the lesson of the experiment of romanticism.

The member of a culture, on the other hand, purposely avoids the relationship of immediacy; he wants the object somehow depicted and fictionized, or, as Schopenhauer expressed it, he wants not the thing but the idea of the thing. He is embarrassed when this is taken out of its context of proper sentiments and presented bare, for he feels that this is a reintrusion of that world which his whole conscious effort has sought to banish. Forms and conventions are the ladder of ascent. And hence the speechlessness of the man of culture when he beholds the barbarian tearing aside some veil which is half adornment, half concealment. He understands what is being done, but he cannot convey the under-standing because he cannot convey the idea of sacrilege. His cries of aheste profani are not heard by those who in the exhilaration of breaking some restraint feel that they are extending the boundaries of power or of knowledge.

Every group regarding itself as emancipated is convinced that its predecessors were fearful of reality. It looks upon euphemisms and all the veils of decency with which things were previously draped as obstructions which it, with superior wisdom and praiseworthy courage, will now strip away. Imagination and indirection it identifies with obscurantism; the mediate is an enemy to freedom…Barbarism and Philistinism cannot see that knowledge of material reality is a knowledge of death. The desire to get ever closer to the source of physical sensation-this is the downward pull which puts an end to ideational life. (Ideas Have Consequences)

Sincerity or Profanity?

August 17, 2010

“Being real” is all the rage in Christianity now, and some folks are sure that no one had thought of it before they did. As far as they are concerned, for two millennia Christians have been “playing church” and “hiding behind ceremonies”, and performing “empty rituals”. Consequently, they see it as their goal to expose everything that smacks of pretence, and strip away all accretions and additions of form and ritual, and be left with the pure “real-life Christianity”.

For such people, the idea of the sacred smacks of hocus pocus and sham. It sounds like incense and mumbled chants, and their goal is to get Christianity to feel like everyday living. That means showing that Sunday is just another day, and treating it as such. It means preachers ought to dress into the pulpit like they would anywhere else, and not indulge in make-believe with robes and suits and ties. It means showing that corporate worship is no more significant than if the same Christians met at McDonalds on Tuesday night. It means showing that the music one hears on the radio (“in real life”) ought to be used in worship. It means showing that if blue jeans work for everyday life, then blue jeans work for worship. It means prayer should be as chatty as if we were talking to one another. This is being real and sincere; this is breaking down all pretence, and destroying religiosity. Such people believe they are debunkers, hoping to burn off the morning fog of mindless ritualism so that the bright noonday sun of pure, real-life Christianity can shine through.

One can understand the antipathy towards pretence and hypocrisy. As long as there are humans there will be hypocrites. As long as there are religions, there will be people posturing and performing. And our Lord left us with no doubt as to how He feels about hypocrites.

However, what the realness police do not understand is what they are tearing away at. They reveal that they do not understand the difference between the sacred and the profane. They reveal that they do not understand the difference between a pursuit of transparency and desecration.

Since Cain and Abel, man has understood that when something is performed or offered or used in an act of worship, it is set apart for that purpose. It is sacred. It is not intrinsically so, it becomes so because it is so dedicated. This applies to animals, altars, human bodies, clothing, spaces, times, even whole days or weeks or entire buildings. In other words, because humans have sensed that we are more than molecules belonging to this world, we have sought to bridge part of that gap between us and the numinous by consecrating ordinary things for worship. Once a common thing or place or time is set apart for worship, it is considered sacred.

The Mosaic Law made this point in hundreds of ways. Ordinary animals, utensils, tents, clothes would be consecrated and re-consecrated through sacrifices and ritual cleansings. When something was not consecrated or ritually cleansed, it was not to be used in worship, with dire penalties for disobedience. God kept explaining that by these acts of separating the ordinary from the sacred, Israel would be taught that God is holy. He is other. And because He is other, He is not known or worshipped by what is purely familiar or common. Common things were to be left in front of the temple (Latin= pro fanum), not brought inside it.  To obliterate this distinction between what was specifically given for worship, and what was for use in ordinary life was an act of profaning the name of the Lord. To profane God is to drag God and His worship down to the level of the ordinary.

No one, in all these millennia, misunderstood the nature of sacred things. They knew that the wood of the altar is still wood. They knew that anointing oil is still oil, and that the Sabbath is another twenty-four hours like all others. They did not think that things consecrated had changed in their nature. However, they knew that they had changed in their purpose, and since that purpose was now sacred, the objects or space or time were to be considered such.

Although the New Testament church is no longer restricted to a Tabernacle or Temple, and although it is true that all of our lives are to be offered up as worship, this does not mean that we by this fact lose the distinction between the sacred and the profane, particularly regarding corporate worship. Romans 12:1 is not meant to profane worship; it is meant to consecrate the mundane. The Lord’s Day is still His day. Ministers still ought to dress as if they were handling the most serious message in the world. People still ought to dress as if they were going to appear before God. Prayer still ought to be speech set apart to speak to the Most High. The Bible still ought to be read and heard like no other book. The space we meet in still ought to be treated like a space given over to worship. In various ways, we New Testament believers still ought to show that what we set apart for worship becomes sacred in its purpose, and therefore we treat it as sacred, and no longer common or ordinary.

However, the realness police do not understand this. They believe that since all of life is sacred, the difference between worship and life is precisely what they must eliminate. They must make worship seem as ‘real’ as driving, eating, or walking through the mall. That way, they reason, no pretence exists in worship.

But in fact, such people turn out to be destroyers. Their efforts do not elevate normal life to a state of consecration; instead, they debase everything. Instead of a deep sense of reality permeating worship, they end up with a profound sense of mundaneness. Instead of filling the Christian church with sincerity, they fill it with what is common. Life does not become elevated and consecrated; worship becomes predictable, everyday and ordinary. Awe and reverence is lost, and the small consolation is that “we’re all so real about it.”

The very gap between worship and everyday life is exactly what invests worship with its power and transformative force. The gap between the common and the sacred is what makes worship a numinous and spiritual experience. The sacredness of worship is precisely what engenders the fear of the Lord. When we tear away at form – those things and ways and acts that remind us that this occasion is sacred – we tear away at worship itself. Indeed, we tear away at our own dignity as being made in the image of God, and not mere animals concerned with the material. When we refuse the distinction between the sacred and the common, we are nothing more than what C.S. Lewis called trousered apes.

Do not despise consecration. Do not attribute the setting apart of worship as a sacred experience as a bunch of sham and pretence. Learn to embrace such consecration yourself. Recognise it is part of the way God teaches us that He Himself is holy.

Ancient Hebrew Hymnody

August 12, 2010

An interesting post on the history of hymnody.

Premodern and Postmodern ‘Converse’

August 9, 2010

Pre: I find it really disturbing that homosexuals can legally marry.

Post: You can’t say that’s wrong.

Pre: What do you mean?

Post: Well, maybe it’s wrong for you and your beliefs, but it’s not wrong for everyone.

Pre: So you’re saying something can be wrong for one person and right for another?

Post: Exactly. It depends on the situation.

Pre: So when it comes to morals and values, how do you think we should live?

Post: I think every person must try to do his best in his heart, and not hurt other people. So long as he does what he believes is right, it’s good enough.

Pre: How do you know it’s good enough?

Post: Well, it’s obvious. If we try to be good people and find our way in the world in a way that works for each of us without harming others, that’s all anyone can ask.

Pre: I hear you, but you didn’t answer my question. You just said the same thing another way. How do you know that “doing our best”, or “finding a way that works for ourselves without harming others” is good enough? Good enough for who? Who decides what’s good enough?

Post: I suppose we all decide that within. If we’re true to our beliefs, and do what we think is right, who can say that it’s wrong?

Pre: Well, that’s what I’m asking. You’ve actually been talking about the value of some things.  You said that a particular way of life is “good enough”or “all anyone can ask” or “not wrong”. When you say things like that, aren’t you saying that such ways are right ways to live? Aren’t you making a statement that to live that way is the best way to live?

Post: Nono, not for everyone. It’s right for me. It works for me. I think it’s the best way to live my life, but I don’t force my beliefs onto anyone else.

Pre: Do you get upset with people who force their beliefs on others?

Post: Yes.

Pre: Why?

Post: Well, how would you like someone to do that to you?

Pre: I wouldn’t like it at all.

Post: So?

Pre: So you’re saying that such people should respect your belief system which doesn’t force itself on others.

Post: Right.

Pre: What if they don’t share that belief? What if they think it’s OK to force their beliefs on others?

Post: Well, it would be a sign of immaturity and narrow-mindedness.

Pre: But perhaps their personal belief is to be narrow-minded. Maybe narrow-mindedness is virtuous to them. Maybe that’s what it means to them to do their best in their hearts and find their way in the world.

Post: Well, then they need to leave me alone.

Pre: What if they don’t?  What if they won’t tolerate your tolerance? Shouldn’t you respect their moral views?

Post: If they can’t tolerate my tolerance, then I won’t tolerate their intolerance.

Pre: So, in fact, you’re actually very similar. You both have a sense of right and wrong. They just think they are right enough to insist upon it for all men everywhere. You think you are right enough that you won’t allow someone to interrupt your private moral world. They’re aggressive; you’re defensive. But you both believe there is a better or worse way to live.

Post: I suppose that’s true enough.

Pre: What I’m wondering is what you base your sense of right and wrong, better or worse on. Your Intolerant People  probably have some Holy Book that they base their sense of right and wrong off. Where do you get yours?

Post: I guess I haven’t thought that much about it. Maybe it’s the whole Golden Rule thing. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Live and let live. Seek happiness without hurting other people.

Pre: Why do you think all people sense the Golden Rule to be true? Why do all people feel outrage when they are victims of injustice? Why do all people hate being robbed or harmed, and know it is wrong to do so?

Post: Well, because we don’t like being harmed. Who does?

Pre: True, but if we’re all just making up the rules in our own minds, why do we get offended if others don’t obey our personalised rules?

Post: What do you mean?

Pre: Well, for example, if we all just decide our own moral paths, maybe in my universe I decide that stealing is OK. When my universe bumps into your universe, I steal your stuff. You get angry. Let’s say you get your stuff back. You’re still angry with me that I stole.

Post: Sure.

Pre: But how can you get angry at me? I’m just obeying the rules of my universe. In your universe, it’s bad to steal. In my universe, it’s good to steal.

Post: But your universe hurts others.

Pre: Ah! So there’s a third rule, a bigger rule, which must govern us both – that we must not hurt each other.

Post: Yes.

Pre: If my rule, which says that stealing is cool, and your rule, which says that it is not, must both submit to some Bigger Rule that we must not harm each other, where does that Bigger Rule come from? Because if I don’t have the Bigger Rule in my universe, I don’t have to respect it. I can rob you and feel no remorse. You must be robbed and be cool with it, because you know the Bigger Rule is not part of my universe.

Post: Well…that’s just weird. I’ve never thought of it that way.

Pre: You think tolerance and open mindedness are good things. And in fact, you think they are good enough for everyone to practise, because you get angry if others don’t practise it. You think everyone should include tolerance and open mindedness in their private moral universes.

Post: I suppose so.

Pre: So where does this Rule come from, which governs more than one private moral universe?

Post: I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.

There Must Needs Be Divisions

August 5, 2010

John Calvin on 1 Corinthians 11:19 (“For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.”):

“Heresies are when the evil proceeds to such a pitch that open hostility is discovered, and persons deliberately divide themselves into opposite parties. Hence, in order that believers might not feel discouraged on seeing the Corinthians torn with divisions, the Apostle turns round this occasion of offense in an opposite direction, intimating that the Lord does rather by such trials make proof of his people’s constancy. A lovely consolation! “So far, says he, should we be from being troubled, or cast down, when we do not see complete unity in the Church, but on the contrary some threatenings of separation from want of proper agreement, that even if sects should start up, we ought to remain firm and constant. For in this way hypocrites are detected — in this way, on the other hand, the sincerity of believers is tried. For as this gives occasion for discovering the fickleness of those who were not rooted in the Lord’s Word, and the wickedness of those who had assumed the appearance of good men, so the good afford a more signal manifestation of their constancy and sincerity.”