This Is What Love Requires of You?

Last week the government rounded up undocumented workers in a way that left children crying in parking lots on the first day of school.

“Today,…we are once again becoming a nation of laws”, said Mike Hurst, US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, on the day of the raids, which impacted food processing plants in central Mississippi.

Think about this through the grid of “What does love require of me?”.  If you can make a compelling case that what love requires of you is to support a president for whom such inhumanity toward those who are not here legally is part and parcel of his policy and message…no.  Just no.  There is no such case to be made.  That’s all there is to it.

Fr. Stephen Freeman on Praying for the Dead

Today I give you a post from Fr. Stephen Freeman.  Freeman is one of the most influential Orthodox bloggers, and he blogs at Glory to God for All Things.  The post is entitled “You Have One Job – Pray – On Behalf of All and for All“.  It raises some important points on how Catholics and Protestants view the afterlife, and specifically the subject of praying for the dead.

The topics of heaven, hell, purgatory, hades, life-after-death, the judgment, etc., are not among my favorites. There is a particular reason for this: everybody thinks they know more about this than they do and most people assume the Church says more about this than it does. Much of the problem, I think, lies in the fact that we torture the faith into geographical shapes, when it belongs in relational dynamics. That is to say, we think that describing heaven and hell (and other such terms) along with the rules for how they work (as places) somehow states something important and explains life-after-death. This is not only not true, but terribly misleading. It has also been a problem within Christianity for a very long time.

The debates between Protestant and Catholic, beginning in the 16th century, often centered on the rules for life-after-death (generally subsumed under the notion of how we are “saved”). That debate tended to press Christians into saying more and more about what they did not know, and forced institutions into hardened positions of dogma where no dogma belonged. Orthodoxy is neither Protestant nor Catholic, nor did it take part in the debates of those centuries. As a result, many things that are treated as hard and fast matters of assurance and dogma by Western Christians are simply not found in a definitive manner within the Orthodox faith.

One surefire way to give most evangelicals a good hard case of the heebie-jeebies is to mention anything about praying for the dead.  Why?  Because much of the 16th-century debates that drove the Protestant Reformation centered around how to “get saved”–which of course has very strong implications concerning life after death and what that looks like.  This led the Church–both Catholic and Protestant–to make hard and fast definitions concerning heaven and hell and how those places work.  Much of this goes well beyond what the Bible actually says on the afterlife, and leads us to a conception of heaven and hell as geographical places that operate mechanistically:  it’s either one or the other when you die, and there is no possibility whatsoever of changing places.  As the tree falls, so it lies, for all eternity.  Consequently, there is no point whatsoever in praying for anyone who is in hell.  Catholics of course hedge this with purgatory, an in-between place that is neither heaven nor hell.

As a consequence, much in the way of evangelical preaching and/or personal evangelism (what many of us would call “witnessing”), is designed and intended to lead people to the question “Where will you spend eternity?”.  If you’ve ever wondered why that is, this is the reason.

But what if we’ve got it all wrong?  What if the primary driver for how the afterlife works is not geographical, but relational?  Nowhere does the Bible present a clear, systematic theology on the afterlife.  What we get instead is a variety of images, all of which point to a relational dynamic:  You are either with God, or you are apart from him.  You don’t want to be apart from him.  So the Orthodox pray for those in hell–because hell is a relational state and not a geographical place.  “The point isn’t the place or its name, but loss of communion with God and the torments associated with it.”  Freeman notes the messiness of how the Scriptures and early Church Fathers handle the subject of the afterlife, and says:

What the Church preaches is not a doctrine about places, but a doctrine of our relation and communion with God. If place-names are used, they are a matter of convenient imagery rather than a description of the topography of the larger world.

So we pray.  We pray to the God who is Lord of all and over all, over time and over eternity, this life and the next.  We believe that God wills good for all, including those who have passed beyond our sight and now dwell in realms beyond our experience, whose workings are unclear to us and–we must admit–we do not have access to the systematic theology on how said realms operate.

There is nothing beyond the reach of the Church’s prayers. This is true both in this life and the next. God is the God of all things, everywhere and at all times, and we can ask for anything of Him and make intercessions with boldness, trusting that He is good and that He wills good for us and for all.

Freeman goes on to illustrate some of the prayers used by the Orthodox for the departed.  Faithful or not, the Church intercedes for them that their sins might be forgiven and they might know eternal rest.  Even a prayer such as this is offered:  “Visit the bitter destitution of souls far removed from You; O Lord, have mercy on those who hated the truth out of ignorance, let Your love be to them not a burning fire, but the cool delight of Paradise.”

This prayer speaks to the heart of the relational dynamic of how the Orthodox understand heaven and hell.  There is no doubt that everyone is met with the love of God.  At issue is how that love is perceived–either as a burning fire or as a cool delight.  Thus the age-old Catholic/Protestant debates on heaven and hell and how to “get saved” are all a massive exercise in missing the point.

Instead, we pray. Prayer is the consistent and unending response of the Orthodox believer to the death of anyone. We trust in God who is our salvation. Jesus has revealed to us the love of God and done everything that is necessary for the salvation of the whole world. There is nothing lacking. Our prayers do not add to what Christ has done. Rather, they unite our hearts to what He has done and offer to God, with groaning, the prayer of Christ for all: “Forgive them.” If this is not the prayer of our heart, then our heart has become estranged from God, at least in that matter.

But our hope is not in places, nor in mechanical operations of salvation. Our hope is in Christ who has done all that we could possibly ask or think. When we pray, our thoughts should be towards Him, and the infinite goodness of His mercy.

Fr. Stephen Freeman: Theophany

Today I give you a post from Fr. Stephen Freeman.  Freeman is one of the most influential Orthodox bloggers, and he blogs at Glory to God for All Things.  The post is entitled “Theophany:  Showing the World to be the World“.

One of the problems with sacramental thought is the notion that when a thing is blessed it somehow becomes something other than what it really is.  (And this is why many evangelicals recoil at the sacramental way of looking at things.)  There is a problem here:  If this is true, then it limits the work of God in the sacrament to the church, the altar, the font, etc.  This creates a two-story sacramental order in which an object becomes blessed but the rest of the world around it remains exactly as it is.

Freeman lays out an alternative view in which the sacraments show us things as they really are.  It is us who fail to see things as they really are.  The Jordan is the Jordan, but we don’t see it as the Jordan, we just see it as a bunch of water flowing over a bunch of rocks.  This is secularism, the great heresy of our age:  a denial of the sacramental character of the world.  The world is not a material thing that exists apart from and devoid of God, rather it is the means by which God shows himself to us.  That is, n essence, the sacramental way of looking at things.

Read:  Theophany – Showing the World to be the World

Pat Robertson Is Back

I’ve said it before:  If I could set up some kind of Google news feed on Pat Robertson this blog would practically write itself.

Just when you think Pat Robertson can’t get any crazier, he always manages to one-up himself.  With a major hurricane out in the Atlantic this past week threatening to make landfall over the Carolinas, this is what he did:

Well, at least Robertson kept the hurricane out of Atlanta, Georgia.

Morgan Guyton: I’m Tired of Auditioning to Be Your Pastor

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Morgan Guyton.  Guyton is a Methodist campus minister in New Orleans, Louisiana, and he blogs at Mercy Not Sacrifice.

In this post Guyton speaks of the dual existence he leads as a college minister:  On the one hand, being a pastor to those students who have chosen to have him as their pastor, while on the other hand dealing with those students where he is “auditioning” to be their pastor:

…It’s a world not dissimilar from the one inside the Hillary Clinton campaign revealed in those email leaks where everything is meticulously calculated. It’s a world at the mercy of the mysterious human psychological forces called momentum and traction and buzz. It’s a world where I’m supposed to be perfectly hip and on-point at all times. Where I’m supposed to be lighthearted and not have any actual emotions other than intuitively mirroring back whatever vibe is in the room. Where I’m supposed to exude the indifferent, playful confidence our culture calls cool that innately attracts people to me so that I never have to pursue anyone. Where I’m supposed to be endlessly available and not at all bothered when nobody shows up.

In the world where God happens, I’m having a great ministry with a small group of people. Among the students with whom I’ve developed spiritual intimacy, my heart gushes with love and joy. I’ve watched several students who had been exiled from the church because of their queer identity blossom and discover their spiritual gifts. I’m able to relax and be myself. I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to manage every conversation that we have, because silence doesn’t feel like it’s my fault.

But in the world where I’m auditioning to be your pastor, I’m failing miserably. Sometimes you’ve given me some pretty obvious hints that you want me to go away. More often you’re sending me legitimately mixed signals. Sometimes you don’t respond to several messages inviting you to events, but then when I ask you how you’re doing, you answer without any annoyance or hesitation. I suppose what ruined me vocationally is that I was a union organizer before I was a pastor. And union organizers are trained to keep calling and leaving messages until you pick up the phone and say don’t ever call me again.

Read:  I’m Tired of Auditioning to Be Your Pastor by Morgan Guyton

Grudem Pulls Support from Donald Trump

In the wake of recently surfaced video footage of Donald Trump making glaringly misogynistic comments, Wayne Grudem has now pulled his endorsement of Donald Trump, as reported by Sarah Pulliam Bailey of the Washington Post:

Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem was one of Donald Trump’s most surprising endorsers earlier this year, saying that the Republican presidential nominee was “a morally good choice.” Grudem’s endorsement set off a wave of controversy among evangelicals, who have been deeply divided over this election.

Some evangelical leaders who support Trump said they continue to back him, many of them denouncing his recently revealed comments about sexual assault but saying they still see him as the best choice. But Sunday, Grudem, a conservative theologian respected in many evangelical circles, pulled back his support and called for Trump to withdraw. The move could signal a loss of support for Trump from evangelicals, many of whom see him as a better option than Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Read the full story here

Pastor Tullian is In the News Again

tullianTullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham with the funny name, is in the news again.

Some of you may remember last summer, when he resigned as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in the Miami area after admitting to an extramarital affair.  Since then, he had been participating in a restoration program at Willow Creek Presbyterian Church, also in the Miami area and not to be confused with Willow Creek up in Chicago, which included a position on staff at the church.  But just this past week, news of an additional, previously undisclosed affair came to light.  Willow Creek decided this was more baggage than they could handle and let him go.

Let this be a reminder that, as noted last week, repentance is not a one-shot deal.  Repentance is a process and a journey, in many cases fraught with unexpected setbacks and crazy detours.  Our churches have to be communities where this process can happen in real time, in real life, even if it is imperfect, even if it involves lots of setbacks and lots of crazy detours.  Where people are at all sorts of different stages in the journey from “And that is what some of you were” to “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…” and are free to talk about it openly, even if only with a few close and trusted friends.  As a resurrection people who follow a resurrected Savior, we have to believe that repentance and spiritual transformation can happen in our midst.  That there is no sin, and no sinner, who cannot be reached by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.