Archive for May, 2014

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Lives!

Marriage 3Apparently, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” didn’t die in our Armed Forces, it just moved to our marriages.    Recently, Redbook published a part-confessional, part-apologetic exposé titled, “How Affairs Make My Marriage Stronger.”  The author, who, not surprisingly, chose to remain anonymous, opens salaciously:

It’s a Wednesday night, and my boyfriend and I are drinking wine and making out in the back booth of a dimly lit bar. It feels like nothing else in the world exists…until my phone vibrates.

“It’s my husband. The kids are in bed,” I say, then put my phone in my purse and pull my boyfriend toward me.  I spend half a second staring at the diamond on my engagement ring before hiding my hand from my sight line.  It’s not a secret that I’m married, but it’s also not something I want to think about right now.

Am I a horrible person?  Without context, I know I sound horrible.  But in my marriage, having affairs worksMy husband and I don’t talk about it.  But I’m certain our don’t-ask-don’t-tell rule is what has allowed our marriage to last as long as it has.

Notice that I didn’t say we’re in an open marriage – we’re not.  An open marriage is transparent, with agreed-upon rules and an understanding of what both parties will and will not do with others.  My marriage is opaque.[1]

What a sham of a marriage – full of affairs and cover-ups.  It should be a soap opera.  Instead, it’s real life.

What I find most striking about this apologetic for adultery is how kitschy it is – even according to the author’s own admission.  In a telling line, she concedes, “The more I think about it, the less okay I am with our lifestyle, so I’ve become pretty good at shutting down that part of my brain.”  If there ever was a line that affirmed the inescapably reality of natural, moral law, this is it!  No matter what she may claim about she and her husband’s affairs, she can’t escape the feeling that something isn’t right.  As the apostle Paul explains: “The requirements of the law are written on [people’s] hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:15).

As much moral ire as this article raises in me, it raises even more sympathetic pain.  It’s hard to listen to this woman divulge her deeply held fears without having my heart broken:

Truth be told, I do worry that Dave might fall in love with someone else. That’s why when I see his secret smiles or notice him spending tons of time texting, I step it up on my end, asking him to be home on a certain night and initiating sex. I remind him how much I love him and how much our marriage means to me.

What’s the title of this article again?  “How Affairs Make My Marriage Stronger”?  What a lie.  So let’s try some truth:

I take you to be my wedded beloved, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy will; and I pledge to you my faithfulness.

You took the vow.  You made the promise.  So keep it.  You’ll be better for it.  Your heart will be filled with it.  And you’ll please God by it.

_______________________

[1] Anonymous, as told to Anna Davies, “How Affairs Make My Marriage Stronger,” Redbook (5.18.2014).

May 26, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

#Blessed

Credit:  socialmediaexaminer.com

Credit: socialmediaexaminer.com

I don’t know how many times I’ve received the prayer request.  But it’s definitely more times than I can remember.  “Pray that God will bless my…” and then fill in the blank.  “Finances.”  “Job Search.”  “Move.”  “Golf Game.”  “Baby Shower.”  And the list could go on and on.

Now, on the one hand, I have no particular problem with these kinds of prayer requests per se.  Indeed, when people come to me with these kinds of prayers, I gladly oblige.  But on the other hand, even though we pray to be blessed, I’m not so sure we always understand what it truly entails to be blessed, at least not biblically.

The other day, I came across an article by Jessica Bennett of The New York Times chronicling all the blessings she has stumbled across on social media.  She opens:

Here are a few of the ways that God has touched my social network over the past few months:

S(he) helped a friend get accepted into graduate school. (She was “blessed” to be there.)

S(he) made it possible for a yoga instructor’s Caribbean spa retreat. (“Blessed to be teaching in paradise,” she wrote.)

S(he) helped a new mom outfit her infant in a tiny designer frock. (“A year of patiently waiting and it finally fits! Feeling blessed.”)

S(he) graced a colleague with at least 57 Facebook wall postings about her birthday. (“So blessed for all the love,” she wrote, to approximately 900 of her closest friends.)

God has, in fact, recently blessed my network with dazzling job promotions, coveted speaking gigs, the most wonderful fiancés ever, front row seats at Fashion Week, and nominations for many a “30 under 30” list. And, blessings aren’t limited to the little people, either. S(he) blessed Macklemore with a wardrobe designer (thanks for the heads up, Instagram!) and Jamie Lynn Spears with an engagement ring (“#blessed #blessed #blessed!” she wrote on Twitter). S(he)’s been known to bless Kanye West and Kim Kardashian with exotic getaways and expensive bottles of Champagne, overlooking sunsets of biblical proportion (naturally).[1]

Apparently, Bennett has a lot of extraordinarily “blessed” friends.  She even tells the story of a girl who posted a picture of her posterior on Facebook with the caption, “Blessed.”  Really?

The theology behind the kind of blessing Bennett outlines is shallow at best and likely heretical in actuality.  The so-called “god” who bestows these social media blessings is ill-defined and vacuous, as Bennett intimates with her references to “god” as “s(he),” and the blessings from this divine turn out to be quite petty.  Frocks that fit, birthday wishes on Facebook, and financial windfalls all qualify to be part of the “blessed” life.

All this leads Bennett to suspect that these “blessings” are really nothing more than people cynically

… invoking holiness as a way to brag about [their] life … Calling something “blessed,” has become the go-to term for those who want to boast about an accomplishment while pretending to be humble, fish for a compliment, acknowledge a success (without sounding too conceited), or purposely elicit envy.

That sounds about right.  “Blessed” is just a word people use to thinly disguise a brag.

True biblical blessing, of course, is quite different – and much messier.  Jesus’ list of blessings sounds quite different from what you’ll find on Facebook:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. (Luke 6:20-22)

Poverty, hunger, mourning, and persecution all qualify to be part of the blessed life.  Why?  Because true blessing involves much more than what happens to you in this life.  It involves God’s promises for the next.

All this is not to say that the good gifts we receive in this life are not blessings.  But such blessings must be received with a proper perspective – that they are blessings not just because we happen to like them, but because it is God who gives them.  Indeed, one of the most interesting features of the Hebrew word for “blessing,” barak, is that it can be translated either as “bless” (e.g., Numbers 6:24) or as “curse” (e.g., Psalm 10:3), depending on context.  What makes the difference between whether something is a blessing or a curse?  Faith – a confidence that a blessing is defined not in terms of what something is, but in terms of who gives it.  This is why when we are poor, hungry, mourning, and persecuted, we can still be blessed.  Because we can still have the Lord.  And there is no better blessing than Him.

Put that on Instagram.

__________________________

[1] Jessica Bennett, “They Feel ‘Blessed,’” The New York Times (5.2.2014).

May 19, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

1500-Year-Old Bible Discovered! Christianity Debunked! Not Exactly.

Turkish BibleHere we go again.

I’ve been seeing it all over Facebook.  The headline reads, “1,500 Year Old Bible Confirms That Jesus Christ Was Not Crucified – Vatican In Awe.”  It seems startling.  The only problem is, it’s not true.  And, it’s nothing new.  These kinds of articles that seek to undermine the veracity of the Bible have been being published for years now.  Indeed, the discovery of this 1,500-year-old Bible is news that’s now better than two years old.  But it’s just now hitting Facebook.  And because many people are being confused by it, it’s worth a look.

The article opens:

Much to the dismay of the Vatican, an approximately 1,500 to 2,000 year old Bible was found in Turkey, in the Ethnography Museum of Ankara.  Discovered and kept secret in the year 2000, the book contains the Gospel of Barnabas – a disciple of Christ – which shows that Jesus was not crucified, nor was He the Son of God, but a prophet.  The book also calls apostle Paul “The Impostor.”  The book also claims that Jesus ascended to heaven alive, and that Judas Iscariot was crucified in His place.[1]

Let’s separate some fact from fiction here.

“Much to the dismay of the Vatican…”  The Vatican did, according to The Christian Post, make an “official request”[2] to see and study the Bible, but it was not out of dismay.  Like any theological artifact, it piqued their curiosity.  Many people desired to study this book.

“…an approximately 1,500 to 2,000 year old Bible…”  Maybe.  But probably not.  There are reasons to believe this book is a forgery, probably written around AD 1500, which is, coincidentally enough, about a century after many scholars believe the Gospel of Barnabas itself was written.[3]  Timothy Michael Law, a Junior Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, has a nice blog on the antiquity of this Bible here.

“…the book contains the Gospel of Barnabas…”  Again, maybe.  But possibly not.  We actually don’t know what the book contains because it has not been widely studied.  The Christian Post quotes theology professor Ömer Faruk Harman who notes that people may be “disappointed to see that this copy … might have no relation with the content of the Gospel of Barnabas.”

“…which shows that Jesus was not crucified … and that Judas Iscariot was crucified in His place.”  The Gospel of Barnabas does indeed purport that Judas Iscariot was crucified in Jesus’ place.  But this is because this Gospel was written as an apologetic for Islam.  Indeed, it prophesies the arrival of Muhammad, but, if the 15th century dating of this Gospel is correct, it does so about 800 years after Muhammad!  In other words, its prophecies are really no prophecies at all, but polemical forgeries.

The line from this Facebook article that made me sigh the loudest is this one:

It is believed that, during the Council of Nicaea, the Catholic Church hand-picked the Gospels that form the Bible as we know it today; omitting the Gospel of Barnabas (among many others) in favor of the four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Ever since Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code, this has been a canard that just won’t die.  At no time during the Council of Nicaea did the Catholic Church hand-pick any Gospels.  The four Gospels we have today were already widely accepted by the Church by the time of this council.  If you want to read the canons issued by the Council of Nicaea for yourself, you can check them out here.  None say anything about the Gospels.  Indeed, none say anything about the canon of Scripture at all.

Ultimately, even if this Turkish Bible is indeed 1,500 years old and even if it does contain the Gospel of Barnabas, the Council of Nicaea was held in AD 325, which is still before the time of this Bible.  Thus, part of the reason the Council of Nicaea never considered the Gospel of Barnabas during its meetings is because there was not yet a Gospel of Barnabas to consider!

It was David Hannum, criticizing P.T. Barnum, who said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  Don’t be suckered by this Facebook article.  The Bible as we have it still stands.  And on it, your faith can still stand.

___________________________

[1] “1,500 Year Old Bible Confirms That Jesus Christ Was Not Crucified – Vatican In Awe,” Moorish Harem:  Man’s Greatest Accomplishments (4.28.2014).

[2] Clara Morris, “Turkey’s 1500-Year-Old, $28M Bible Linked to Gospel of Barnabas?The Christian Post (2.23.2012).

[3] See Jan Joosten, “The Gospel of Barnabas and the Diatessaron,” Harvard Theological Review 95, no. 1 (2002).

May 12, 2014 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Divorce, Remarriage, Communion, and the Catholic Church’s Existential Crisis

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

I have to admit, I’d be in awe if I got the phone call Jaqui Lisbona did.  On a Monday, a couple of weeks ago, Jaqui’s phone rang.  Her husband picked it up and was greeted by a man who introduced himself as Father Bergoglio.  You may know him better as Pope Francis.  He asked to speak with Jaqui.  Apparently, several months back, she had written a letter to the pontiff asking him if she could take Communion even though she was divorced.  Apparently, her priest had been refusing her Communion for some time now according to the provisions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions … The Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was.  If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law.  Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic Communion as long as this situation persists.[1]

In contradistinction to her priest’s ban, The Washington Post reports that the Pope told Jaqui “‘there was no problem’ with her taking Communion, and that he was ‘dealing with the issue’ of remarried divorcees.”[2]  Predictably, this set off a firestorm of controversy with the Vatican ultimately having to respond:

Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships. Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office. That which has been communicated in relation to this matter, outside the scope of personal relationships, and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion. Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.

I like Ross Douthat’s analysis of this response:  “This formulation may be technically correct, but it’s also a little bit absurd. Even in ‘private’ conversation, the Pope is, well, the Pope.”[3]  Exactly.  You can’t claim the Pope is the vicar of Christ on the one hand while having him contradict what other vicars of Christ before him have taught on the other.

With that being said, there is something to be commended in the stance that The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and even this woman’s priest, has taken with regard to remarried divorcees and Communion.  In a world that all too readily sanctions divorce and remarriage for reasons as debase and selfish as “I’m in love with someone else and I want to marry them,” The Catechism of the Catholic Church helps to remind us of the gravity of divorce as a sin in God’s eyes.

Still, it has been interesting to watch Catholics struggle to respond to this situation.  They are struggling with how to make a proper distinction between, oddly enough, the Law and the Gospel!  Consider this by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

The question of the divorced-remarried and the sacraments is taking up a lot of our time. How should we look at this?

One of the many confounding things about the Jesus of the Gospels is that He fulfills the law, even strengthens the law, and yet extends mercy to literally anyone who wants it, no matter how deep their transgressions, and adopts a resolutely passionate attitude with sinners. This is encapsulated by His words to the adulterous woman: “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

As with all aspects of our faith, structured with paradox as it is, the temptation is always to strengthen one side of the “equation” too much at the expense of the other … Jesus says, “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” One camp will say, “He said ‘I do not condemn you’!!!!!” One camp will say, “He said ‘Go and sin no more’!!!!!” …

It seems to me that the excesses go in these ways. The progressive excess is to use mercy as a (however well-intentioned) pretext to amend the law. The conservative excess is to use the law as a (however well-intentioned pretext) to refuse mercy.

Yes, God lays down the law. But God provides infinite mercy.[4]

It sounds to me like Gobry is having the existential crisis of a Lutheran and he doesn’t even know it!  He is taking seriously the full weight of God’s law against divorce on the one hand while leaning on His sweet mercy for divorcées on the other.

Gobry even seems to suspect that the partaking of Communion to a divorcée’s blessing and benefit is not as simple as a humanly contrived promise to sin no more based squarely in a person’s will:

The juridical Gordian knot here is the necessary “firm resolve” not to commit the sin again. But it is not licentious to note that for all of us this firm resolve will be imperfect. Obviously, we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But if we search our hearts, do we not find that “firm resolve” is drawn in shades of gray, rather than black or white? …

God’s law is as hard as His mercy is infinite. And none of us are righteous under the law. And none of us, if we are honest, can even be said to want to be righteous under the law, in every single dimension of our life. But, particularly in these delicate and demanding aspects of sexual life and life situations, the grace of wanting to want God’s will is already very precious and important. And is it not in those phases, where we are broken down, and all we can muster the strength to pray for is to want to want, or even to want to want to want, that the Church should be most present with the succor of her sacraments?

Gobry knows that rooting anything salvific and divinely beneficial in our actions or will is a fool’s errand.  It’s not just that we aren’t righteous, it’s that we don’t even want to be righteous.  Indeed, any righteous desire in our will is doomed to an infinite regress, rendered impotent because of sin.  We only want to want to be righteous, or even want to want to want to be righteous.  And even this is giving us too much credit.

So, what is the way out of this morass over who may worthily partake of Communion?  Martin Luther would say, “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”[5]  Our worthiness to partake of Communion is not and cannot be based in our freedom from sin, our reparations for sin, or the fullness and genuineness of a promise not to commit more sin.  With regard to the Catholic Church’s current quandary over divorce and remarriage specifically, worthiness for Communion cannot be the result of trying to fix the sin of divorce by, after remarrying, getting another divorce, for this is also a sin.  No, our worthiness to partake on Communion can only be based on faith in the One who gives us His body and blood to remedy our unworthiness.  Our worthiness must be based in Jesus because our worthiness is Jesus.

Existential crisis…remedied.

______________________________

[1] The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Collegeville, MN:  The Liturgical Press, 1994), § 1650.

[2] Terrence McCoy, “Did Pope Francis just call and say divorced Catholics can take Communion?The Washington Post (4.24.2014).

[3] Ross Douthat, “The Pope’s Phone Call,” The New York Times (4.26.2014).

[4] Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, “On Divine Mercy Sunday, Some Thoughts On Communion And Divorced-Remarried,” patheos.com (4.27.2014).

[5] Martin Luther, Large Catechism, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Section 1.

May 5, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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