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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Marian Doctrines - The Affirmed Teachings of the Church


The recent elections of November 6, 2012, have left many of us who are strong in our Christian convictions a little shaken, in that we have elected a man (Obama) again who could potentially cause a lot of damage to the US, even possibly our demise as a national entity.   As I am writing, it is the "morning after" that crushing experience, and I am still personally in a bit of shock over it.  However, despite having this person occupying the White House, it is important that I continue to do the work that I need to do, and while maintaining a spirit of resistance against these developments, I also cannot be distracted by them - neither can you, my readers, either.  We have a mission to carry out as the Remnant Church, and must be faithful to that mission.   That being said, I am continuing today with a teaching I wanted to present as I am wanting to get back to a few basics of what it means to have a Catholic faith. 

Being probably the only Catholic graduate student at a Pentecostal university, I have attracted a lot of interest from both my professors and my classmates, and 99% of it has been generally very accepting - most of them are fairly intelligent people, sincere, and although I am on a campus which has been affected significantly with postmodernist theology, one positive is that much of the anti-Catholicism that was once on this campus has disappeared, and that is something I find refreshing.   However, it is only natural that some questions do arise, and one of the common ones regards how our Church views Mary.   That being said, I want to do a brief teaching here on the basic Marian teachings that the Church has historically affirmed.  I don't expect blanket agreement with them obviously, as some of my readership is Evangelical and/or Pentecostal, but that is fine - I am not out to "convert' anyone to these views, but rather to inform as to what the Church correctly teaches so as to clear up any lingering misunderstandings. 

All Catholics - Roman and non-Roman - give the Marian doctrines importance, and for the most part they are universally agreed upon except for two which are specifically Roman Catholic innovations that many of the rest of us who are non-Roman Catholic do not accept.  The four universally-held doctrines are as follows, and each will be discussed specifically:

1.  Mary as the Theotokos (God-bearer)
2.  Mary's bodily Assumption into heaven upon her repose
3.  Mary as Ever-Virgin (the doctrine of Perpetual Virginity)
4.  Mary as an Intercessor

Our Roman Catholic brethren have two additional doctrines - the Immaculate Conception and the dogma of Mary as Mediatrix - that the rest of us do not accept as they have no basis in Scripture or in the Holy Tradition as universally accepted.  That being said, I want to now take these items and discuss them individually.

1.  Mary as the Theotokos

Many liturgical texts, especially in the Christian East, devote much attention to Mary as "Mother of God" and "God-bearer," and the popular understanding of the Greek word Theotokos is often accepted in the context of both.  However, the word itself does literally translate "God-bearer," and it emphasizes Mary's role as a sort of "Ark" if you will that bore the Holy Manna (Christ, the Bread of Life) in the same way the Ark of the Covenant held the manna in the Old Testament.  As a matter of fact, in some of the older Roman liturgies Mary is sometimes referred to by the name/title "Ark" in regard to this, and this is even more profoundly expressed in Eastern Christian iconography when the classic icon of the Theotokos, showing her with her arms outstretched and a circle in her belly with the Christ Child in it, is often seen over the Eucharistic table in a typical Orthodox or Eastern Catholic Church.  There are variations on the theme of this icon, and the one I want to give here as an example is a contemporary icon painted by Robert Lentz entitled "Captive Mother of Zion" which has Hebraic flavot, but it is nonetheless depicted in a classic form:

A more traditional Byzantine icon of this as you would see in a typical Greek church would look more like this, as composed by Fr. Luke Dingman, a gifted Orthodox iconographer:

The doctrine of Mary as Theotokos is also intimately connected to the fundamental doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ as God the Son as well, for in her title "God-bearer" she was the chosen vessel (the Ark, if you will) of bringing God Incarnate in Christ to redeem mankind.   Pokurat, Golitzen, and Peterson, in their Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church (Lanham, MD:  Scarecrow Press, 1996) that Mary's "yes!" to the divine becomes the pivot of the world's salvation, as her own obedience and reception are the model for our response as individual human beings to God's soteriological initiative (Pokurat,, p. 212).  She is thus seen as a living Temple and altar of the Presence, sharing in God's providential love as ultimately expressed in Christ (John 3:16).

2.  The Assumption of Mary into Heaven at Her Repose

This doctrine has ancient roots that go back to Apostolic times, and maintain that upon her death, Mary was raptured into heaven to be united with her Son.   The word in the East for this is the Dormition rather than the Assumption, but the same idea applies.   It is observed in the Church as a feastday on August 15th, and the Scriptural basis for it lies in John 5:24, which notes that those who have seen Jesus will not come into judgment, but rather pass from death to life.  For most of us, that entails the Rapture, that last resurrection of the dead when Christ returns for His Church, but in the case of some (Moses, Christ Himself, and in this case the Virgin Mary) it happens immediately at their repose due to a consecration/sanctification they have received in this life (in Jesus' case, He was God in the flesh and sinless).  We look to the Dormition of the Theotokos then as a witness to our own rapturing one day to eternal life in Christ.   It ties into the whole endowment of the Theotokos role Mary received as well, for she was a sacred vessel consecrated unto the Lord.  This was codified by the Roman Church as dogma in 1950, although in the East it is accepted as a fundamental teaching but is not defined as much in precise terminology (Mark Haverland, Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice Third Edition{Athens, GA:  Anglican Parishes Association, 2011} p. 66).  Iconography is also rich with the imagery of the Dormition/Assumption, as is demonstrated by the following icon:

In Byzantine iconography, you will note that when the Lord "assumes" his mother into heaven, she is symbolized by an infant.  That was fascinating to me, and led to my looking this up to see what that meant.   I found the explanation in an Orthodox catechism I had from a Bible study we attended at an Antiochian parish years back, and essentially what the author of the text said it symbolized was that Mary's soul was truly renewed as it ascended to heaven, and thus the imagery of the newborn babe (Olga Dunlop, transl.  The Living God Volume II {Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir Seminary Press, 1999} p. 384).   This is similar to some teachings I have heard over the years from even Pentecostal sources depicting a sort of age-reversal in our glorified bodies - Church of God evangelist Perry Stone talked about this in a teaching once regarding a dream he had concerning his father's passing (which he had several years before Fred Sr., his dad, passed on) in which his father was transformed from an old man to a young man almost instantly.  Who is to say what our glorified bodies will look like in heaven once we either enter there by rapture or repose, but sufficive to say we are promised that sickness and death will cease from plaguing us, and in our glorified state will will be "made new."  Perhaps this is what the iconographer who composed this beautiful icon had in mind.  

3.  Mary as Ever-Virgin

A lot could be said about this doctrine, as it is a very controversial one when it comes to our Evangelical Protestant brethren and even some fellow Anglo-Catholics.  I personally uphold it as a doctrine of the Church, and in essence it is tied into Mary's title as the Theotokos, and upholds her as a consecrated vessel.  I am not going into all the argument now about the whole "brothers of the Lord" debate, as I plan on devoting a more detailed article to that sometime in the near future, but will say that I have studied Aramaic, and was actually taught by a Syriac monk who was a native speaker.  One of the things I learned is that in some contexts, the Aramaic word for "brother" - Ahuno - is also used to refer to a cousin, and thus I can understand why some confusion arose when the translators of the Holy Scriptures came across this term - sometimes, our Western grammar doesn't quite capture the linguistic dimensions other languages have, such as Biblical languages in particular, and as a result it can lead to conflict and debate when it comes to certain verbiage being used.  As mentioned though, that is for another discussion and won't be elaborated more here except in reference to this doctrine. 

It appears that from the earliest times, many Church Fathers upheld that Mary did remain a virgin until her repose and Dormition, as she was considered a consecrated vessel.  Among the Fathers who upheld her ever-virginity were Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and Irenaeus of Lyons (David Bercot, Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs {Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998} pp 438-439).  Archbishop Mark Haverland, in his book Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice, also notes on page 64-65 that this doctrine had much conciliar and patristic support that is affirmed at the Second Council of Constantinople and the Synod of Trullo in 692 AD.   And, as Haverland notes, this was held universally by the Church from the 5th century forward.  It was also held by Protestant Reformers such as Luther, Wesley, and Zwingli, and more tacitly by Calvin, as is evidenced by their own quotes:

"The Blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as when she brought him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin."
- John Wesley

"Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb . . . This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that." - Martin Luther

"Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that 'brothers' really mean 'cousins' here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers." - Martin Luther

"I have never thought, still less taught, or declared publicly, anything concerning the subject of the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our salvation, which could be considered dishonourable, impious, unworthy or evil . . . I believe with all my heart according to the word of holy gospel that this pure virgin bore for us the Son of God and that she remained, in the birth and after it, a pure and unsullied virgin, for eternity." - Huldreich Zwingli

(The above quotes, as well as other valuable information, can be found at

The fact many Protestant Reformers affirmed the Ever-Virginity of Mary may come as a shock to many Evangelicals, and indeed some Evangelicals have even said that this was due to some "lingering taint of Catholicism" or something in their thinking.   I beg to differ, because for one thing the Reformers didn't have issues with these doctrines to begin with, and in Wesley's case, he remained a devout Anglo-Catholic clergyman throughout his life.   Also, many of these men had studied the Church Fathers in great detail, and thus they maintained much of the Apostolic faith as was codified in the early Church and its teachings.   Romophobia on the part of some staunch Fundamentalists and Evangelicals often makes them read stuff with the tainted lenses of some writers who have only been around for about 200 years, and in doing so they ignore often a lot of teaching of the early Church, even dismissing it as being a "Catholic innovation" despite the fact the modern Roman Catholic Church (which is often the target of these attacks) had little to do with the whole thing.  Taking that into consideration, I must uphold the Vicentian Canon, which affirms that I as a Christian must "take the greatest care to uphold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by everyone."   Notice that I didn't do a lot of "chapter-and-verse" quotes, and that is because it is not specifically mentioned that Mary was ever-virgin in Scripture, but the idea does have Scriptural support from John 2:1-11, 19:26-27, and Revelation 12 - it is in connection with a common typology that is accepted of Mary being a "new Eve," and as such she is a pure and undefiled vessel who also is a picture of the Church, the Bride of Christ.   However, as you can see, the doctrine of Mary as Ever-Virgin does have strong historical merit, and as a Catholic Christian myself I accept it as such. 
In Eastern iconography, this doctrine is often represented by three stars that appear on the image of Mary, usually on her head and on each shoulder.  Note the example below depicted on the famous Russian icon Our Lady of Kazan:

In short, the Ever-Virginity of Mary, just like our born-again experience and the doctrine of the Real Presence of the Eucharist, qualifies as what is called a "mystery of faith."  What that means is that it is a truth which our human understanding cannot often place into words, but the Holy Spirit bears it out as truth in our spirits.   Historical evidence, and even indirect Scriptural reference, bear out the legitimacy of this doctrine, and it is affirmed by the testimony of the Church.   Although some - in particular Western Evangelical Protestants - may have issue, it must be remembered also that this is not something upon which one's salvation rests, nor does it detract from the importance of Christ and His deity.  But, at the same time, I take a Vincentian approach and accept the truth of Mary being Ever-Virgin as it is a doctrine that the Church as a whole has affirmed for centuries.  

4.  Mary the Intercessor

Although Roman Catholics take this to an extreme at times, almost making Mary the "fourth member of the Trinity," there is a reality that Mary does agree in prayer with us and in prayer for us, and it doesn't contradict any foundational Scriptural premise.   Mary's role as an intercessor is connected to the broader teaching of the Communion of the Saints, which we will deal with in detail at some other time.   This is also something many Evangelicals have issue with when it regards Catholic Christians, because misunderstandings abound.  For one, Evangelicals wrongly assume that when we ask Mary or any other of the Saints for prayers, we are praying to them as a form of worship.  Second, Evangelicals often say that there is a Scriptural injunction against talking to dead people.    However, both of these are not true, and a proper understanding of the Church will hopefully clarify some of this stuff.

To begin, we have to understand that the Church itself is made up of three aspects, and these are as follows:

1.  The Church Militant - that would be us, the living Christians
2.  The Church Expectant - the Communion of Saints, those who are with Christ
3.  The Church Triumphant - in the last day, this will be the glorified Bride of Christ made up of all
     faithful people, living and departed.

Mary is part of the Church Expectant, and contrary to much teaching Evangelicals have about people developing this sort of amnesia after they 'go onto glory," in reality the Saints are not even dead, but are very much alive and still the Church.  As such, they I believe pray for their living loved ones, and in some aspect they may even hear our prayers and agree with us concerning them.   To me, asking Mary or one of the Saints in glory to pray for us is like going to our pastor, prayer group, etc., and asking for their prayers - we are supposed to pray for each other, and so why not seek the agreement in prayer of our departed brethren in the faith?  And, they are not dead - they are very much alive in Christ, although the bodily resurrection hasn't happened yet and will not until Jesus returns.   Also, it must be noted that the Church is actually pretty strict about how we approach this - prayer is to God alone, as an act of worship, and is not to be directed toward anything or anybody apart from the Triune God.   But, there is nothing wrong or idolatrous about asking Mary or some other Saint to agree in prayer for us, just as it is normative for Evangelicals even to have prayer groups and "prayer partners." To put it into American Evangelical terminology, Mary and the Saints in heaven are the ultimate "prayer partners," because they have direct access to the Lord Jesus Christ!  You can't get any better prayer support than that, now can you??   And, let's say that maybe it wasn't possible to ask for saintly intercessions; it is therapeutic and doesn't violate any Scriptural injunctions, so no harm is done anyway!  But, I believe in the communion of saints, and I thank God for them, because oftentimes it is easier to ask one of them to pray for you than it is someone that is "living" on earth, and to be honest, they are far less judgmental and prone to gossip than many so-called "prayer partners" in churches on earth are (I have seen more gossip perpetrated by "prayer groups" in churches than I care to document here, and I know some of you have likewise experienced that).  Therefore, looking at it from that angle, it is then not so spacy and "heathen" to ask for Mary's agreement in prayer, is it?  If you still have a problem, I would advise then not asking anyone to pray for you then, because by your own definition this is a form of idolatry.  Hopefully, that will challenge some bad thinking.  


I suppose much more could be said, as this maybe won't answer all the questions, but it is a good simple synopsis of what we as Catholics - Roman and non-Roman - essentially believe about the Virgin Mary.   Take it or leave it, the purpose here is to inform rather than to indoctrinate, and in that spirit you are welcome to accept or reject anything said.   But, I would challenge you to read a little more carefully the writings and teachings of the earliest Christians, as you might be surprised at what you find.   God bless until next time.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ron Sider - A Response

This past Monday night, my college had a speaker on campus by the name of Dr. Ron Sider, who is the founder and director of an organization called Evangelicals For Social Action and also author of a controversial 1977 text entitled Rich Christians in an Age Of Hunger.   Our professor of our usual Monday night class had us attend this presentation, and although I have reservations about what was said, it is definitely something to pay attention to and therefore I felt maybe it was appropriate to give Dr. Sider a fair hearing.  And, so I did.  What I want to do now is to respond to Sider on some things, and I will reference an opposing text authored by Dominionist David Chilton (I normally don't agree with him either, but on this one he has some good insights) entitled Productive Christians In An Age of Manipulation, which he authored as a direct response to Sider's book.   Some good things can be gleaned from both Sider and Chilton, and I will concede that, but also both have some fallacies in their thinking that do not line up with God's Word nor do they comply with traditional orthodox Christian teaching.  It is time to rescue a lot of Christian convictions about economics, the poor, etc., from the extremes of both the Emerging Church people and the Dominionists, and to get a balanced perspective that is more in line with what Christ commands us to do.  And, that is why I am lead to write this.  I do not have Sider's book, but am instead going on some mental observations I noted from his presentation - that means I probably will not cover everything he said, but I feel I got the most important elements.  So, without further delay, let us proceed.

Essentially, Sider's presentation goes along the lines of his book, which I did read some time ago.  His main premise that he emphasized several times was that to be pro-life is to be pro-poor.   That's fair, and I do concur with that, to a degree.   Sider, to his credit, has been an outspoken voice for both traditional marriage and against abortion, and for that he is to be commended.  Although not as active in the pro-life movement as my dear friend Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life is, he nonetheless is a good voice for the sanctity of human life.   Also, it must be kept in mind that much of Sider's worldview is also consistent with his Anabaptist heritage - he does possess pacifist tendencies, and his insistence on ministry to the poor reflect that as well.  That being said, it would not be fair to hold Sider to the same degree of accountability as a Southern Baptist or a Pentecostal on those issues.   However, Anabaptists can be wrong too, and I say that with discretion as my own heritage was German/Swiss Dunkard on my mother's side and I appreciate much of that rich tradition of my own legacy.   But, I don't give blanket assent to my ancestors' church on everything either.   So, although I do concur with the basic premise of Sider's that to be pro-life is to be pro-poor, I also have to say I differ with how he expounds on that premise.  And, that will be the start of our discussion.

Sider's presentation was filled with a lot of statistics about the national debt, the fiscal budget, etc.   Some made sense, but unfortunately Sider's own shortsightedness came through when he reflected his blind acceptance of the Federal government's figures regarding foodstamps, etc.   I want to make a few observations about this if I may, and there are some specific items of his presentation I want to address.  First, he advocates more government programs, citing that only 5% or so of the Federal budget is earmarked for programs such as unemployment, foodstamps, etc.   Sider makes an error here right up-front - unemployment compensation is not Federal, but is a state program.   The individual states set up their own criteria basically for unemployment, and it is state funding that provides that.   As for the foodstamp program, Sider also mentioned that the average time a person receives that aid is approximately 8 months.  There is some validity to that, and having had to rely on that program myself in the past for brief amounts of time (3-4 months max), it makes sense.  The way the foodstamp program was organized initially was as a temporary assistance for families facing sudden hardship such as loss of employment, etc.   It was not meant to be permanent income for anyone, and people do have the option of exiting the program once their needs are met.   The foodstamp program, as it is supposed to be set up, is a good thing - it is not a handout, as many people who have to depend on it have paid taxes into it so it is their money, and sometimes even the most stable of families do get hit with circumstances that may necessitate temporary assistance like that.  Again though, for the most part the foodstamp program is a state program, although some Federal money is allocated toward it.  And, contrary to a statement that Sider made about Republicans wanting to cut the program, there are two things that don't substantiate his statement.  First, many Republicans don't have an issue with the foodstamp program - even the most conservative ones see that it meets a need, and no conservative politician to my knowledge has ever advocated the dissolution of the foodstamp (or SNAP) program.  The issue comes when some people do take advantage of it, and treat it as permanent income rather than as the temporary system it was set up to be.   Liberals often encourage that behavior, as it reinforces the individual's dependence on government and also empowers/enables government's intrusion into the right to privacy of the individual.  All conservatives want to do is to establish accountability for the program, both of the recipients as well as of the government.   Accountability is necessary too, because if someone is receiving these benefits who probably shouldn't, then a person who really needs the assistance for their very survival risks being denied due to lack of funding and other factors.  Which is why when the term "poor" is defined, we need to be more specific.  Chilton addresses that very thing in his text when he says there are different types of the "poor," and not all of them deserve the help.  Note what he says on page 55 of his text, in addressing the section "God's Law and the Poor:"

"The local administration of charity is crucial. It ensures that finds go to those who are truly needy, rather than to professional paupers. The charitable aspects of the tithe did not mean simply a handout to everyone who lined up. Charity is to be dispensed by responsible leaders of the covenant community who are in daily contact with the needs of the people. The general principle still holds: those who won’t work don’t eat. Those who attempt to live by a welfare ethic are quickly exposed in a locally-administered program, and will be unable to get away with “mooching.” Even in charity, God’s law teaches responsibility. This is in stark con- trast to the governmentally-financed “charity” promoted by Ronald Sider."
(David Chilton, Productive Christians In An Age of Guilt Manipulators, at, page 55)

I have to concur with Chilton on this one, in that the dispensing of charity by responsible leadership of Christ's Church must be done with a sense of discernment.   The idea of "professional paupers" seems to be one that is often enabled and encouraged by well-meaning Christians like Sider, but in reality it does more harm than good because the element of responsibility on the part of the recipient is missing.   There are, of course, many who are of legitimate need, and of course we should always have compassion upon such people because they did not choose to be that way, and in many cases if they are afforded the right opportunity they will rise up from it.   As a matter of fact, I would argue that the truly needy seek a hand-up rather than a hand-out, and the Church should seek to help people truly get back on their feet who are in these situations.   However, a weird mentality, brought on by the "Social Gospel" movement of Walter Rauschenbusch, from whom Sider draws much inspiration, is that in order for Christians to "understand" the poor, we have to get down on their level and wallow in it with them, as it creates empathy.  However, is that what the truly needy want??  Do they want idealistic Bible college students living in cardboard boxes for a period of time as an absolution of a non-existent guilt imposed on them by leaders like Sider, or do they want someone with a sign showing them how they can escape their situation?   I would say the latter, and I do so on good authority.  You see, I grew up poor myself, and I know what it was like to not have adequate food or clothing and to rely on monthly foodstamp rations, large bricks of government cheese and butter, and visits to church food pantries just to eat.  I also know what it is like to use an outhouse, cook on a wood stove, and to have to bathe in a huge metal tub with water heated on that wood stove.  But, today, I am a college graduate, am working on a master's degree, and have come a long way from all that - I owe that to the Lord Jesus Christ by sending people to enable me to rise above where I was to get where I am.  That is what the truly needy want and where Sider and others miss it by infinity - sleeping in a cardboard box to show "solidarity" with the poor is not helping them - the truly needy want to rise above the carboard box and not have some smartalecky punk college kid setting up housekeeping in one next to them!  If we want to truly help the poor, we need to empower them to stand on their own two feet and rise above their poverty - I don't see one instance in Scripture where Jesus wallowed around in the ditch with the indigent - what I do read is Him saying "rise, take up thy bed, and walk," and I also see Him taking Peter out of the raging waves rather than drowning with him.   Honestly, if I were poor and seen some rich, yuppie college kid trying to feel guilty about his blessings in life, I would be furious at the patronization and lack of answers such a person would be refusing to give me!  However, if another college kid were to come down the street and say something like "I have an opportunity for a free education if you are willing to commit to the course, and here is a key to a house - go home, get cleaned up, and we'll see you Monday in class!" I would say that this would be meeting a need.   Thus, on that subject, I rest my case.

Moving on, Sider is obviously a proponent of big government, and he uses the Bible to justify that.  He says the government has to help the poor because it would take $1.5 million added to the budget of every church and synagogue in the country to take on the task.   Again, there are some fallacies in that argument.  To begin, that whole thing violates Romans 12:4-5, which says there are diversities of ministries in the Body.  According to Sider's rationale, every church needs the same budget to do the same thing - logically it doesn't add up right.  Some churches are gifted with people who stress education, for instance, while others are enabled with the right people to have free clinics, market co-ops, or foodbanks.  Not every church is called to do exactly the same thing, and in many cases some churches have programs that cost more, others that cost less.  So, it makes no sense whatsoever what Sider is saying.   Another thing too is that Sider underestimates the capabilities of local communities getting behind church programs - business owners with good hearts are donating land, facilities, and other resources to churches all the time to implement programs that will benefit the community, and Sider underestimates that grossly.   An example of that was the church in my town that I attended when I was in high school - the church opened, with minimal budget as well as gratis services from local professionals, a counseling center that effectively helped many people.  And, to save money on professional staff, the local administrator of a state psychiatric hospital in that town gave all of us free training to counsel people, and some of our group received professional certification at no cost.   And, I hasten to remind the reader that all of that didn't even come close to costing $1.5 million!  As a matter of fact, the investment was only a few thousand dollars for the whole program, which we called Esther's House - it was a center that provided family counseling, distributed food and clothing to the needy, and we also established partnerships with other ministries such as Foodshare and Habitat for Humanity.  Other local churches of many denominations also pitched in and helped too.   I have seen other churches institute seminars for money management for families, have agricultural co-operatives, and other neat programs that served community needs.   And, the cost was peanuts!  So, Sider is sadly mistaken in his figures, and him making such a stupid stipulation underestimates and insults many good people and churches who are impacting their communities in profound ways with little financial base to work with.   And, there is also the "GOD FACTOR" as well - if a person or church receives a genuine vision from God to do something, I think it would be a word of wisdom to say that God will open the doors, provide the means, and set everything in motion to make that vision become reality - I have seen that on many occasions too.   However, Sider has given the impression in the past, and still seems to labor under that same delusion, that government is greater than God, and therefore we have to rely on the government for all things.   He is in for a rude awakening one day.

Chilton too is fallacious in his reasoning as well though, in that being a Dominionist he feels he has to "help God along" to make some utopian theocracy come to pass.  He is about as far off as Sider on that one, and to be honest although they differ on many issues the same message seems to be communicated - according to both, God is not able for some reason to take care of people, so we have to do it ourselves.  What an insult to our Lord and Savior!  To begin, if you desire to do anything for God or his kingdom, you'd gosh-dern better seek out his direction to do it, or it's going to fail!  Secondly, it is an insult to people of faith, because in many cases there seems to be a mentality that we either have emotional detachment (Chilton's position) from the genuine needs of people, or we misappropriate Jesus' commands and try to act like them and in many cases we reinforce bad behavior (Sider's position, at least what it potentially can lead to).   Neither of these extremes are healthy, nor are they Biblical.  Therefore, there are two further positions I want to put forward, and I believe they more adequately express where we need to be.

First, it must be understood that the United States Federal government is not eternal, and indeed, if one reads the proverbial "writing on the wall" it could easily be determined that America as we know it is in decline.   Some years back, I began to study a book by journalist Joel Garreau entitled The Nine Nations of North America, and essentially the case was argued that each region of the US has attributes and resources that could sustain it independently of the USA as a nation-state.   The school of thought behind this is called bioregionalism, and it has a number of theories attached to it.  Although none of the bioregional positions foresee directly a dissolution of the US as a governing entity, all do present a scenario for that dissolution in various models - Garreau says there are nine, but I would argue for as many as 30.   A similar, more pessimistic scenario was put forth in Robert Ferrigno's Prayers for the Assassin in which he paints a future fragmented USA, the majority under Islamic rule, with the breakaway regions in armed conflict with each other.  And, it could happen easily, considering the US is losing its influence on the international stage and the European Union and China are starting to step in to fill the void.  How does Sider plan to reconcile his endorsement of big government programs to do what the Church should be doing when the USA no longer has a big government with the resources to make his little vision happen?   He needs to rethink that some.

Second, Sider discussed the issue of Social Security, and I have some thoughts to share on what he said.  He advocates, for one thing, an actual tax on Social Security for the elderly, and there are a couple of issues with that.  First off, the elderly pay a social security tax that is supposed to contribute to their benefits, so it is ludicrous to say that you want to tax a tax.  Second, although he recommends that this tax be only for the wealthiest recipients of Social Security, and again there is a problem.   Like many of the big-government liberals Sider seems to endorse, he seems to possess some confusion as to what "wealthy" is, because I can tell you personally that often it is the Democrat liberals in government that place unnecessary tax burdens on people who cannot afford them, while a Republican Presidency tends to give that money back - after all, when both Clinton and Obama were in office, I got hit with tax bills every year of their regimes (in many cases I didn't make sufficient income then to cover that unnecessary burden on our family finances either), and many times I made under $20K/year when that happened.   Yet, under the Bush Administration, I always received a tax refund, and it was Bush who sent the American people rather than the big corporations (like Obama did) stimulus checks - in 2008, one of those stimulus checks paid for our Christmas holiday!  So, according to Sider and his Democrat friends, I guess anyone who makes twenty thousand dollars a year is wealthy - I am personally flattered, but not feeling the wealth, my friends!  That being said, I want to go on record as saying that I know many elderly people, and almost all of them I know would not be considered millionaires. Therefore, this 15% tax on Social Security that Sider proposes (the man must have been eating toadstools out of his backyard to even propose this, honestly!) would kill most seniors in this country.  Yes, some do live more comfortably than others, but living comfortably doesn't necessarily equate their situation with wealth - a 15% tax burden would cripple these people despite appearances.  Besides, taxing Social Security would also be ludicrous because the benefit is a tax itself that many of these elderly people have worked lifetimes paying into - is Sider off his rocker, proposing a tax on a tax???  It simply makes no sense whatsoever. 

Another thing I noticed Sider did not address that I will is VA benefits.  I am taking it that Sider doesn't have a high regard for veterans, despite the fact he (like the rest of us) owes them much for their sacrifice.  Both of my parents served in the military during the Vietnam conflict, and I am very proud of them for doing what they did to insure my freedom.   Sider, the consistent pacifist, was hollering about the defense budget though, and what I would ascertain from him doing so is that he would advocate cutting VA benefits too - I can't say if he would say that or not, but if he does he needs therapy.   I find it all interesting in Sider's talk Monday night that he targeted defense but chose to totally ignore the real "fat" that needs to be trimmed in the budget - funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood, as well as bogus "research projects" such as the effects cow farts have on the ozone layer or the sex habits of some obscure species of Japanese quail.  We could save literally billions annually if programs like those were cut - foodstamps, education, and defense are not the issues with the Federal budget, but rather junk like that.  If someone wants to hold a gas meter to a cow's backside to measure the potency if its flatuence, I say to each his own, but at least get private funding to do it!  I don't want my tax dollars paying for such nonsense.  Also, it's time to maybe reduce some salaries of useless public officials - Senators and Representitives get paid way too much and don't do the job they are getting paid for, as do judges, Presidents (Michelle Obama's myriad vacations alone at taxpayer expense would have save millions of dollars too), and other officials, some of which there are no real purposes for in the first place.   That, along with term limits for Congressmen, would save a bundle for the American people.   And, our deserving but under-appreciated veterans could get real help when they needed it.  So, Dr. Sider, what about the vets - do you care about them?   Just some humble thoughts.

Much more could be said on these matters, but we will stop there because I believe I hit on the major issues I wanted to address regarding Dr. Sider's talk, and hopefully this will bring some perspective to that table of ideas.  I probably will not be too well-endeared toward some over these issues, but you know something, I don't care about what some people think sometimes because I hear them running their mouths about stuff that doesn't amount to a hill of beans and somehow I and others with similar convictions are not worth their time to hear because they are like a ravenous pack of piranha when someone speaks something disagreeable to them.  Well, this someone has chosen to disagree, and I do not follow the well-worn trail of popular hero-worship many of the people who oppose something like this would follow.  Take it or leave it - it is just my perspective.  God bless and have a great day.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Some Further Reflections - From The Other Side

As I dealt with some theological issues in the last article, I wanted to also devote some time to addressing some concerns raised by my fellow traditionalists regarding some of these issues.   When reading these, I find much I agree with, but also find that many of these writers misunderstand some aspects of the Evangelical/Pentecostal traditions and tend to write them all off as "invalid' without knowing the real story behind them.  The other aspect of my own calling in addressing these matters is to show my fellow traditionalists that Pentecostals, charismatics, and Evangelicals themselves are a lot more diverse than many contemporary Evangelical Protestant authorities wish to acknowledge, and not all Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Evangelicals support much of what has gone on in the past 20 years or so.   In other words, not everything associated with those traditions is bad.  And, coming from that background myself, I have seen the better side of the Pentecostal and Evangelical traditions, and in reality they have much to offer us as sacramental Catholic Christians.  It is this today I wish to address to my fellow traditionalists, based on two articles I have recently read in The Anglican Way, a magazine that is published by the Prayer Book Society.

The first of these articles was authored by Dr. Gillis Harp, and was published in the recent edition of The Anglican Way under the title "Revisiting the Three Streams."   Harp primarily deals with the content of Dr. Robert Webber's 1985 book, Evangelicals On The Canterbury Trail, and the second article I will be responding to in the same magazine is a review of Webber's book by Dr. Charles Flinn.  Webber, who was one of the architects of the Convergence Movement that came into being in the early 1980's, was a former Fundamentalist Baptist who later converted to the Episcopal Church based on his readings of the Church Fathers and other writings that led him to conclude (rightly) that the original New Testament Church was liturgical and sacramental.   The term "Three Streams" first off must be defined, as it is a term that is distinctly a part of Convergence vocabulary.  Essentially, the "Three Streams" represent three aspects of Christian experience: Evangelical, Sacramental/Liturgical, and Charismatic.   What the Convergence Movement and its proponents wanted to do was to blend those "Three Streams" together as it would create a fuller picture of what the New Testament Church was meant to be.   The impetus for this movement came in 1977, when a document by several leaders in what would become the Convergence Movement drafted a document called "The Chicago Call" (see my earlier "Highways and Hedges" article from a couple of months ago for more about that, including the full text of the document itself) which called the Church back to its New Testament roots.   Before I address Harp and Flinn's articles, I want to briefly give my own evaluation on this movement, as I was both a participant in it for a brief time and it will also lay some groundwork for Harp and Flinn.

I am a former Pentecostal (I was a lay Foursquare minister for many years) who was born again in a Southern Baptist church back in 1986.   I grew up in a rather conservative Pentecostal/Holiness tradition myself (although my mother, who had become inactive in her own Christianity, was only part of this nominally later)and understand better the Pentecostal and Evangelical mindset than the writers of the magazine articles I will be discussing shortly do - both of them were cradle Anglicans, and neither really understands what a true Pentecostal is (granted, they have little to go by too in this day and age unfortunately!).   I was also attracted to sacramental/liturgical worship from an early age, and embraced it fully later on when I was received as a Maronite-rite Catholic on Easter 2000.   Prior to my entering the Church though, I was involved with the Convergence movement from at least 1994, and saw it as a move of God.   As I grew in my own faith though, I began to notice a couple of things.  First off, I believe the proponents of the Convergence movement were genuine, sincere Christians, and that they perceived a legitimate call to this.   Second, I also feel like Convergence was a stepping-stone, a transitional step, for them to be integrated into the Church in full.  Third, although I see the logic of the "Three Streams" and even attest to some validity regarding it, I regretfully must say that it also fell short because oftentimes some Convergence leaders integrated the wrong aspects of each "stream" and thus caused a problem.   Thus, we have the concern raised by traditionalist Anglicans like Harp and Flinn (among others) and this concern is definitely valid.  Convergence was never supposed to be about integrating rock bands into Masses, or esoteric terminology into Bible studies (from the latter came a more bizarre and dangerous movement, the Emerging Church), but rather about incorporating the best aspects of each "stream" into a model that was fully compatible and concordant with the Church Catholic.  Many Convergence ministries fell short of that unfortunately, thus creating more issues than they were resolving.  That is why I eventually moved away from the Convergence Movement and my participation in it, and later embraced the historic Church in its fulness while still being fully charismatic in my spirituality and evangelical (in the Barthian, rather than the American ecclesiastical sense) in my message.  Thus, now enter Harp's and Flinn's two articles.

Harp, in his article, notes that four issues are raised by what he calls the "popular conceptualization" of the "Three Streams" idea, and they are as follows:

1.  On occasion, the "Three Streams" hermeneutic can treat current theological muddles as virtues rather than incoherent issues.
2.  Some "Three Streams" interpretations tend to focus more on individual personal narratives as normative standards.
3.  Some "Three Streams" proponents subscribe to attitudes about truth that resemble postmodernism, including incompatible views.
4.  The "Three Streams" approach tends to denigrate or ignore the Anglican Reformers and Anglican Formularies. 

What Harp raises as concerns have validity, and indeed, I have seen these risks as well.  But, the danger Harp poses is that all proponents or former proponents fall into these issues universally, and that is not quite accurate.   Taking the first, "theological muddles" as virtues, let me say this.  I was relieved to read Harp saying later in the article that "Perhaps not all of the diversity celebrated by Three Streams champions should be prized," (Gillis Harp, "Revisiting The Three Streams," in The Anglican Way, Vol 35, Number 2, Summer 2012.  p. 13) and indeed that is true.   There is unfortunately a very fine line between Convergence and the Emerging Church (which is apostate) and some have crossed that.  But, it doesn't detract from the fact that some of the diversity, as long as it is compatible with Church teaching, is actually a good thing.   For instance, charismatic manifestations and people with Pentecostal-like giftings are found throughout the annals of the Holy Tradition of the Church, and those experiences are valid.  However, they are also subject to the Church's discernment, which is itself a spiritual gift.   That is why, however, I recommend that people who want to explore the validity of the charismatic experience should do so from the writings of the Church Fathers and the lives of the Saints rather than with contemporary Pentecostal literature, and I would suggest as well that the Catholic Apostolic movement of the 1830's is a more compatible model for that than the Azuza Street experience of 1906 would be.   Also, I might add - and Harp brings this up too - that Scriptural authority must always be affirmed as well.  His contention with some Convergence people (such as Webber) are that they got a lot of their influence from liberal bishops and seminary professors rather than doctrinally-sound authorities who could have been of more service.   Again, this is a very valid concern, and Harp did well in addressing it.

As to the second, regarding "individual personal narratives," it must be noted that faith is indeed a personal commitment, and we who are Christians all have a testimony.  The testimony is, in Ephesians 6 imagery, our "sword," and it is by that testimony we overcome the enemy of our souls.   However, also as Harp correctly pointed out, the testimony is held accountable to the truth of the Logos (written Word of God) and as I Thessalonians 5:21 admonishes, it needs to be tested by such.  The rhema word of our testimony should always rest on the concordant authority of the truth of God's Holy Word and the Holy Tradition of the Church.   If it does not, then heresies and non-Biblical doctrines will find a fertile ground to flourish.   I believe that Harp is more or less specifically addressing the narratives of Convergence church stories, about how they "made the incompatible compatible," and thus the risk for philosophical pragmatism.   However, the testimony of an individual congregation or ministry is held to that same accountability, so again Harp raises a legitimate point. 

The third concern, postmodernist influence, is one I wish to spend a little more detail on, as it is a major concern today.   Reading my last article, you will see that postmodernism - its newest incarnation is called "The Emerging Church," and some of its proponents include such people as Erwin McManus, Dallas Willard, Brian McLaren, Rick Warren, Leonard Sweet, and a multiplicity of others -  has spread in much of American Christianity like a cancer, and unfortunately it does have similar roots to the "Three Streams," and some would argue they overlap a lot.   Harp didn't address the Emerging Church movement, as it has little relevance for traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, but he didn't have to - the Emerging Church is a bi-product of postmodernism, and as such its influence is pervasive.  There are, unfortunately, many Convergence proponents involved in the Emerging Church movement as well, which in itself discredits its witness to tranditionalist Anglo-Catholics and others, and here is why.  Postmodernism and the Emerging Church movement that is part of it want to deconstruct and redefine the Church in such a way as it integrates into modern cultural trends, but this in itself is not Biblical - the Church is called to transform the lives of individuals who come to Christ, not conform to modern trends and changes just to make itself look "relevant."  Therefore, traditionalist Anglo-Catholics have every right to be concerned about these postmodernist "rationalistic" schools of thought because they denigrate theology, as Harp correctly and astutely points out, to mere pop-psychology and "feelings-based" spirituality that has little to do with Biblical and Catholic doctrine.   But again, caution needs to be exercised on the Anglo-Catholic side of the issue too, so as not to accidentally throw out the proverbial baby with the dirty bathwater.   Change is inevitable, argues the postmodernist, and we need to adapt to it.  To a degree this is true, but it also must be remembered that not all change is good and thus we need to be careful.  Are there some things Anglo-Catholics should change?  Absolutely - the very survival of churches such as the Anglican Catholic Church, of which I am a part, depend on it honestly.   For instance, I think an openness to charismatic spirituality would benefit the Anglo-Catholic tradition, and I also do strongly believe some of our liturgical music should be re-examined (some Anglo-Catholic liturgical music, such as the Gloria, could really use some work, quite honestly), as well as allowing a greater diversity of historic Church rites (I believe the ACC and other Anglican communions could benefit by implementing provisions for using the Eastern rites in some parishes, for one thing!) and investing more time in catechesis and spiritual formation (many traditionalist parishes, being small, only meet for Mass once a week and that is it - we need more, seriously!).   These changes are worth discussion because the average age right now of an Anglican Catholic or APA parish member is 65, and most parishes are under 15 in membership yet over 70 in median age of parishioners - that is not a good recipe for survival.   We need younger people in our parishes, and in order to get them, we need to provide some adjustments to how we "do church."  However, this in no way implies a change in doctrine or tradition - rather, it is an enhancement that is needed for community survival.   I will be eventually devoting another article to that whole subject too.

The fourth concern is also a valid one - if one is truly Anglo-Catholic, they need to acknowledge those who shaped the heritage, and thus a better understanding of the Anglican Reformers and Formularies is vital.  I would hasten to include in that, however, some emphasis on John Wesley, especially in lieu of younger converts to the Anglo-Catholic faith from Evangelical and Pentecostal backgrounds.   These people need to understand that Wesley himself was never a Methodist or Holiness/Pentecostal, although both traditions claim him as one of their own - he was very much an Anglo-Catholic, and I believe Wesley is the bridge to help former Evangelicals and Pentecostals transition more readily to Anglo-Catholic theology and spirituality.   Harp didn't address that specifically, but I feel my mention of this is an addendum to his point.  

Next is Flinn's review of Webber's book, which necessarily follows Harp's article on pages 15 through 17 of the same issue of The Anglican Way.   Flinn himself is not an Anglo-Catholic, but is rather an evangelical Anglican with more of a Reformed emphasis, yet he still upholds traditional Anglican practice, which is commendable.   He notes that many Evangelical Protestants who embrace Anglo-Catholic and other ancient Church liturgical traditions is due to a failure to find in the typical Evangelical or Pentecostal church an objective basis for an individual Christian's reconciliation with God - in other words, radical individualism, which is a hallmark of Pentecostal and Evangelical faith, has little basis in Scripture.  Can faith be personal?  Of course it can, and indeed, it is a personal decision to follow Christ that places us on the pilgrim's path to salvation in Christ in the first place.   But, it is when the individual experience - as I am reading Flinn's position - becomes superior to the witness of the Church as a whole that a problem is caused.  Flinn, in typical Reformed fashion, also says that emotionalism and a "new revivalism," and it is here I see an issue with Flinn's position.  Christianity is not an abstraction, and the Church has never taught it as such - we are emotional beings, not Star Trek Vulcan stoics, because God created us with emotions.   The historic Church has never denied that either - consider the Christian East, for instance, where St. Symeon the New Theologian and others taught about the infilling of the Holy Spirit having as an evidence the "gift of tears," and the related Russian concept of umilenie.   Unfortunately, many Western Christians fail to see the emotional element in our faith, which even the Scriptures affirm, and instead a sort of detached, abstract rationalism exists that makes faith more of an intellectual exercise than the holistic gift that God intended it to be.  Reformed-minded theologians are particularly prone to that stoic, abstract concept, and Flinn unfortunately mirrors some of that in his writing.   Jesus did, after all, do a great thing for us - He died on the Cross to redeem us, reconcile us to the Father, and give us eternal life!  It is a wonderful gift, and it is to be treasured and received with joy!  If Flinn thinks this is too "emotional and subjective," then I would challenge him to maybe read some of the Church Fathers and see it for himself then.  And, I would argue that Reformed thinking is probably more incompatible with the Catholic faith than charismatic spirituality is, due to the ecclesiastical stoicism of many Reformed theologians.  Even the Anglican Mass tells us that we must be "heartily sorry" (meaning a heart-felt repentance, and that does involve emotion!) for our sins as we confess every Sunday in the General Confession found in the Book of Common Prayer, which reads thus:

"Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed against Thy divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.  We do earnestly repent and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden is intolerable.  Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honour and glory of thy Name.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen."
(The Book of Common Prayer {Glendale, CO:  Lancelot Andrewes Press, 2009} p. 494-495)

There are six emotional references alone just in the General Confession, not to mention those found throughout the rest of the Anglican Mass as well as in other historic liturgies, both East and West.   To divorce emotion from faith is unfathomable, and I have always marveled at how some Reformed-minded people do that.  I can understand though that maybe emotionalism could foster subjectivity, and indeed I have seen that in my Pentecostal days, so that is maybe a legitimate concern.  However, again, we must be careful not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater then.   And, hopefully Flinn doesn't do that either.  God himself has emotion too after all - he is a real being and not a mere abstraction, and we would do well not to reduce our sovereign God to mere abstractions either. 

Any rate, this should hopefully address adequately the articles I have discussed and read, and although probably much more could be said, we won't go there for the time being as time and space don't permit me to do so.  However, in the future there will surely be more to discuss on these issues, and we will do so as the occasion arises.  God bless and have a good week. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reflections Upon Some Issues Encountered in Graduate Work

For those that don't know, I have started my Masters in Theological Studies recently at the university I received my Bachelor of Arts at, and that is one important reason why I have not been writing here as much.   However, I have encountered a number of issues at school I felt I needed to address on my own home turf, as some things have come up that honestly have both piqued my interest as well as causing some concern.   And, I wanted to spend a little time today talking about some of those things.

The school I attend is a Pentecostal university that has been around for about 70 years.  I received my undergraduate degree at the same school back in 1996, and I have to say much has changed since those days!  For the most part, many of the changes are good - the campus is beautiful now, the academic level is superior, and there is an openness to other Christians who are not part of the denominational identity of the school that was not there before.   It is my hope that those good aspects will be permanent fixtures now.   However, I have also noted some disturbing trends as well.  For one, like much of American Evangelical Protestantism in general, it seems like a whole new and foreign set of ideas has permeated much of the ideology of this campus - post-modernism, the Emerging Church ideology, and some other innovations have started to emerge in many classroom sessions.  Although some of this may not be surprising, as the general fad-chasing character of much of Evangelicalism often has caused some issues in the past too.   But, it is alarming at the level it has permeated the school.  Also, there is almost an anti-Semitic mindset on campus now, as it seems like it has become "politically incorrect" to even mention that you support Israel, have Jewish heritage, or even desire to learn Hebrew - one professor recently went as far as to say that there was no legitimate right for Israel to exist as a political entity, and often being in support of Israel will get one branded as either "Zionist" or a "dispensationalist" (two "ugly" words that have popped up on campus recently - I am neither, by the way!).  I almost have to feel guarded in the way I express my convictions, as I really don't want conflict or to be an object of attack because of my own convictions - I am there to pursue a calling and to get a decent graduate-level education, not to start any ideological wars.  Besides, even with the offending professors, many of them are decent people, and being in their classes has been stimulating - I also would not in any way suggest that they are "less Christian" because they disagree with me either.   It is just that they are also better-educated than that, and hopefully they will learn not to apply labels to their students and others - such as "Zionist" or "dispensationalist" - because they indeed should know better than that.  Ironically, back when I was an undergraduate at the same school, we used to have a Messianic group on campus that was actually vibrant - at the time, there were at least a dozen or more of us who were of Jewish heritage.  Not any more though - I don't even see any students visiting the Messianic synagogue here in town, which interesting enough meets in an Assemblies of God church!  These things are some issues I have wanted to address, and now I need to do just that here.

Let's start with the blanket endorsement of postmodernism and Emerging Church ideology.   In our graduate-level Hermeneutics course a few weeks back, we had to read as part of the class a book by a seemingly Evangelical philosophy professor and theologian by the name of Merold Westphal entitled Whose Community, Which Interpretation?.   The purpose of the book  was to redefine theology in philosophical terminology (a common postmodernist practice) and this Westphal guy relied heavily on a lot of liberal theologians (Schliermacher for one) to do so.  And, his whole book was more or less a commentary on what another theologian, Hans-Georg Gadamer, wrote - in other words, there was little original content that was Westphal's.   Gadamer I was actually kind of neutral about - nothing was really that out of the way about what he said - but something disturbing came out as I read Westphal's book further.   Here is the quote from his own text that troubled me:

"If God can use Balaam's ass to help him see the error of his ways (Numbers 22), and if, as I have argued, God can use Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud to be prophetic voices to Christendom, then surely God can use Christians from other traditions to help us better hear, understand, and embody Scripture - if we have the humility to hear them, to listen and to learn from them." (Merold Westphal, Whose Community?Which Interpretation {Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2009} p. 140)

Note what is highlighted here - Westphal stated that his argument is that God uses people like Marx (an atheist whose ideology was responsible ultimately for the death of millions), Freud (a psychologist obsessed with sex as both a cause and remedy to mental issues), and Nietzsche (a schizophrenic, syphillitic, drug-addicted madman who contributed much to Hitler's "master race" ideology as well as saying "God is dead") as "prophetic voices," citing the use of Balaam's ass talking in Numbers 22 as justification.  First, an innocent animal is no comparison to these destructive forces.  Second, God doesn't use people who are in willful rebellion against Him; Satan used these men Westphal thinks are "prophetic voices" more than God did.  Third, this postmodernist inclusivism is incompatible with orthodoxy - it is one thing to learn something from fellow Christians of differing traditions, as we all do profess and serve the same Lord, but it is quite another to just open the doors to call everyone a "prophetic voice" - there is a danger here of universalism and the diminishing of the role of the Cross.   If everyone is a "prophetic voice of God," even when that voice contradicts God's own revelation, then why do we need Jesus dying on the Cross?  These postmodernists and Emerging Church people really need to set some boundaries as to this growing inclusiveness in ideologies.  All orthodox Christian writers - from the Patristics to Barth (Barth emphasized the centrality of Christ quite eloquently in his Church Dogmatics, which I am actually finding to be an interesting read in one of my classes now) - emphasize that the distinctiveness of Christianity is that salvation is through the person of Jesus Christ only - His death, burial, resurrection, and Ascension make it possible for us to be reconciled to God.  Westphal and other postmodernists - regardless of whether they think they are "Evangelicals" or "Conservative" - diminish this in the material they write, and they compromise that message by saying that everything is relative, etc.   Of course, this should come as no great surprise for most of Western Evangelical Protestantism, as the individualistic mindset many have ultimately leads to a diminishing of orthodoxy.   The Archbishop of the Anglican Catholic Church, Mark Haverland, expressed this more eloquently in his book Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice (Athens, GA: Anglican Parishes Association, 2011) on pages 62-63:

"However, the seeds of failure are present even in those forms of Protestantism that are doing well in the late 20th and early 21st ceturies.  For instance, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States in this period, is theologically committed to the individualistic idea of personal inspiration in the reading of Scripture and the autonomy of the local congregation.  Over time, in the context of a secular culture that is hostile to religious truth and traditional theological perspectives, such an individual and local focus will produce the same secularization found in other Protestant bodies.  Likewise, the emphasis on the authority of personal religious experience found among the 'charismatics' lends a subjective and individualist cast to their movement that will, in the long run, lead down the familiar Protestant path." 

In other words, all truth becomes subjective and orthodoxy basically will become a "narrow" interpretation to be eschewed rather than embraced.   Although I do see where the Archbishop is coming from at the end of his statement though on charismatics (it is almost a prophetic word considering some of the stuff I am seeing and hearing on this Pentecostal campus now!) it must be emphasized that charismatic manifestations and spirituality are not necessarily the problem - it is when the experience overshadows the Holy Tradition of the Church and her teachings that we have a problem, and I think that is what the Archbishop is addressing.   The more individualized and divorced from the Church and her teachings spirituality gets, the further it moves away from orthodoxy and the danger of apostasy grows greater - in this case, the apostasy of secularization.  Westphal has, I believe, fallen into that trap by his all-inclusive definition of what a "prophetic voice" is, and he embodies the concern the Archbishop is addressing in his book.   In another article Archbishop Haverland wrote in the September/October 2011 Trinitarian (our diocesan newspaper), he takes the above thought from his book even further by stating the following, and I must concur with his statement:

"the conservative anchors of creeds and tradition are absent, and the Sideliners(referring to mainline Protestant denominations like the Episcopalians and the United Methodists, among others - my add) have already shown how Scripture can be seen as justifying almost anything once creeds and traditions are jettisoned."  Mark Haverland, "Our Baptist Friends and Their Difficulties," in The Trinitarian (Vol XXX, No. 3) Sept-Oct. 2011, p. 2.

The purpose of that article was to show that there is a growing secularization among the new "Mainliners" (meaning identifiably conservative Christian denominations such as Southern Baptists and Pentecostals) that will eventually relegate them to being "Sideliners" (traditional "mainline" churches, such as the United Methodists, American Baptists, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalians, and United Church of Christ, among others), and that the roots of this growing secularization were sown long ago when many of the Protestant bodies decided to eschew their historic ties to the historic Church by stressing both sola Scriptura (which is itself not Biblical) and individualistic religious practice.   Indeed, one can little distinguish nowadays the difference in attitude for instance between the pastor of the big Pentecostal megachurch from the Unitarians downtown in many cases.   That is scary, and before I continue this discussion God gave me a vision of this campus I am on as a potential mission field - my guess is that some students will inevitably grow disillusioned with the "emerging church" and postmodernist nonsense that permeates many aspects of the campus, and they need to be reached with the truth once that happens.  I know that many on the faculty and administration of the Pentecostal college I attend would probably balk in horror at the thought that they are now a mission field, especially since this college does invest a lot of energy (as it has for many years) into its missions programs.  Yet, in lieu of what I am seeing, this Pentecostal college has now itself become the new mission field for Catholics like me, and maybe that is why I am there - who's to say?   It will take much prayer and discernment to figure that out obviously - and I covet your prayers for this as readers - but I am starting to feel what may be a burden to reach some of these people.   And, that leads to another discussion.

A certain percentage of the program I am in has to to with what they call "practical ministry," and as a matter of fact I am taking one of those courses now.   When American Pentecostals and Evangelicals talk about "practical ministry," they essentially mean one thing - the numbers matter!  What I am about to say in no way detracts from the evangelical mission of the Church - we are, as believers, definitely mandated to share the Gospel to as many as possible, a truth the Church has always affirmed.   However, when I look at much of what passes as "ministry" on this campus, and in reading Evangelical and Pentecostal literature in general, something just doesn't add up!  Then, I read something by Hebrew Catholic writer Roy Schoeman recently that more or less told me why it did not add up, and here it is:

"The testimony about how God works with mankind is clear, both from Judaism and from Christianity.  The relationship between God and mankind is not established and maintained on the basis of "averages," or on the behavior of the majority.  The majority of mankind, throughout all of human history, has always turned away from God, has failed Him, and will continue to do so.  God's relationship wiht the entire human race is established and maintained on the basis of His relationship with a 'chosen few," with those few souls who truly give their hearts to Him, in  whom He can truly find delight.   It is for the sake of these few that He pours out His mercy upon the rest.  Just as it was in the days of Noah, in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, in the days of Moses, so it was with the "faithful remnant" of the Jews at the time of Jesus who turned to the Messiah with faith and love, and so it will be with a faithful remnant among the Jews (as well as the Gentiles) at the time of the Second Coming." Roy H. Schoeman, Salvation Is From The Jews (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003) pp. 31-32.

If I can simplify this, in other words what Schoeman is saying is God works through small remnants, not large numbers!  Boy, does that blow the whole idea of these "church growth" schemes out of the water!  And, the proof is in the proverbial pudding when you look at the typical American Evangelical Protestant church today - it is concerned with butts in the pews rather than with the formation and catechesis of souls to make them stronger Christians.   The "numbers game" that is played by these churches has caused them to resort to copying the world's entertainments and trends (this ties into the secularization that Archbishop Haverland talked about) and susequentially the values systems attached to those trends.   But, who cares - the pastor looks good at the denominational conventions and councils, he has a nice bank account, and the role books are impressive; therefore, so what if we don't teach them - they are in, we have a kickin' band, the pastor has a snazzy Hawaiian shirt and skinny jeans, and most fun of all, there's a coffee house in the foyer!   Yet, how ironic that among those hundreds (even thousands) of people in that big old church there are those who are lonely, those who are struggling with addictions, and maybe some forced conversions that are not of the heart because these people have not heard about the transforming power of the Gospel - it is too offensive, after all, to mention things like "sin," "repentance," and don't even mention the idea that there is a hell and that the Cross is the only gate out of it; oh no, these things are too negative and morbid and scare people away (or, maybe the pastor wants a new Jag in his driveway and don't want to scare away the potential tithes that will buy it...hmmm!).  My spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, addresses this in his book Sacramentalized but Not Evangelized (Kearney, NE:  Morris Publishing, 2005), and although he is directing it to nominally Greek Orthodox people, it applies probably more so to American Evangelical Protestants today as well:

"Reconversion could very well require the re-evangelization of the Church, as strange as that may sound.  Cradle members should hear again the basic word of the Gospel:  God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but should have everlasting life.  The core of the kerygma or preaching needs to be proclaimed all over again.  In some parishes it is never heard, and in many others it is drowned out by social and moralistic messages." (Stephanou, p. 57)

Did you get that last part?  The Gospel is never heard or is drowned out by other things!  People hear these postmodernists like Westphal drone on about how an evil person like Nietzsche is for him a "prophetic voice of God," yet they don't hear what they need to hear.  Also, there is a lot of talk now in Evangelical ministry praxis about "contextualizing," "relevance in message," and "missional/relational preaching," yet I have a problem with this.  An example of this came up recently in our Managing Change and Conflict class where a discussion was initiated by the professor about a group of people now arising called "cultural creatives."  I won't get into a lot about what those are, but in essence they are sort of like neo-hippies, and they generally are into coffeehouses, environmentalism, the whole "gay-rights" agenda, etc., and they comprise mostly kids in their 20's and 30's (although not exclusively that demographic) who are at best spiritually agnostic or into a lot of New Age-like spiritualities.   Some Assemblies of God theologians, notably Dr. Earl Krebs, have gotten this "calling" to start churches among these people, and they are talking more about this group as a "target demographic" for evangelism.   Although on the surface it all sounds noble, and I listened with interest to Dr. Krebs talk about it on a soundbyte our professor shared with us for the class, but there are some problems.  First, the Gospel is going to reach who it reaches not through our efforts to be more "relevant," but rather through the drawing of the Holy Spirit.   Second, Krebs and others are more or less trying to reconcile the values of these people - even when they openly are opposed to Church teaching - to their doctrinal stands in order to make the message more palatable to these individuals.  I find that to be demeaning and patronizing, due to the fact it will inevitably do more harm that good.  Again, the message of the Gospel is not about the Church conforming to the world, but rather about Christ transforming the souls of man.  And, being these "cultural creatives" are of this "keep it real" mentality, in time that patronization is going to drive them off.   It is insulting to these people also - many of them are highly intelligent and possess great potential for great things - to try to imitate them just to bait-and-switch them into churches - that is not what the Gospel is about.   The more real you are to them, the better you will reach them, simple as that - so, a 75-year-old pastor of a church wearing skinny jeans and a hoodie to try to minister to these kids not only looks ridiculous (after all, who wants to see that!) but is fake.   Perhaps some of my Pentecostal friends should learn that lesson better from one of their own, the late pastor David Wilkerson who wrote The Cross and The Switchblade.   In the late 1950's, he had a burden to reach street gang kids in New York, but he was a rural, conservative Pentecostal pastor from a small Pennsylvania town.  Yet, by just relying on the Holy Spirit and being himself, he reached more kids for Jesus Christ than any of these professors teaching this stuff ever will - perhaps Pentecostals need to study their own history better on that one!  So, Professor Maynard G Krebs need not try to look like the 'cultural creatives" to reach them - rather, he should, if he has a burden for that, pray and seek the Lord's guidance as well as being who God called him to be instead of thinking he can do better; we need more David Wilkersons and less entertainers.   And, you can't reach them all - remember, and I stress again, that God works with small remnants, not large numbers.  And, it is the small remnants that will be the sweetest fruits of one's ministry, not the impressive church rolls and big building programs.  

I have talked a lot today, and am sure more can be said, but I need to wrap it up somewhere due to time constraints and other factors.  It is time for a return to orthodoxy in the Church, and a time for people to stop thinking they can do things better than God can.   Until that happens, the various Christian bodies will continue to be sidelined and stagnating.   Fasting is a lost art in the church, and that would be a good place to start.  A ministry call, regardless of who you are, is not easy - it takes sacrifice, and sometimes we have to follow our convictions rather than the trends of the times.  More importantly, it must be a ministry that affirms orthodoxy and Church witness, and cannot be a half-cocked venture to accomodate people just to inflate a minister's ego.  Please consider what I have said, and I say so with a great humility myself because there have been times I too have fallen into some of these traps, and the lessons learned were tough ones.   God bless you until next visit.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Personal Testimony

I come to the altar of the Lord
To the Lord who rejoices my youth
(Psalm 42:4, Duay-Rheims translation, and from the Maronite Liturgy)
The above passage is my signature verse, as it pretty much describes my life's pilgrimage - returning to the landmarks of my faith.   And, a pilgrimage it has been too in many aspects - I have come so far, yet still have so far to go.   Yet, I stand by what that old mountain gospel song says:
I am a pilgrim and a stranger
wandering through this worrisome land,
I've got a home in that yonder city, good Lord
and it's not, not made by hand.
We are indeed on a pilgrimage of faith as Christians, just like the one in the 19th-century Russian Orthodox spiritual classic The Pilgrim's Way that I have read now several times through.   The pilgrimage can get rough, and indeed it does, but we need to stay focused on the destination and not the obstacles.  And, that is a lesson that is lifelong, as it can be difficult to learn.  However, what I have learned is that oftentimes our own agendas can get us off-course of the pilgrim trail, and it takes a total submission to and trust in God to get us back on course again.   Such is, really, the story of my life.
My beginnings were in a tiny West Virginia town called Parsons, where on a cold November day I was born to my mother, Daisy Mae Strahin Thrower, in the local hospital there.   From that first day, God has had his hand on my life as I continued forward, and he used a lot of great people, starting with my great-grandmother, Ottie Turner, to keep me on the straight-and-narrow.  Granny was a devoutly Christian preacher's widow who spent many of her later years working in the very hospital where I entered the world as a kitchen aide.  She faithfully attended the little Free Methodist Church in our hometown of Hendricks, WV, which was three miles from Parsons, for many years although her own family was German Dunkard in background.  From an early age, she took me to Sunday School there and there was a certain holiness about that little church building - you just knew you were in God's house when you entered it, and that was both humbling and comforting at the same time.   My mother too at one time had strong convictions, although she later backslid not long after her divorce from my father, and she took up drinking and some other bad habits.  Although she never stopped believing in the basic doctrines of the faith - to this day she still knows the Bible even better than I do in some cases, and I went to school to study it! - her life has not been what it should be.  It is my prayer that she comes back to the Lord before she passes away one day.

My great-grandmother, Ottie Mary (Stevens) Turner (1902-1984)

My hometown - Hendricks, WV

The Tucker County Courthouse in Parsons, WV, about 5 blocks from the hospital where I was born

The Hendricks Free Methodist Church, where my great-grandmother attended for years and took me to Sunday School as a kid.
Interesting story about my family's religious heritage.  My great-grandmother was born and raised just northeast of Parsons in a little area called Holly Meadows, which was in a beautiful picturesque region of Tucker County called the Sugarlands.   She grew up in what was called the Dunkard Brethren (now Church of the Brethren) tradition, which is a German Anabaptist/Pietist group similar in many ways to the Mennonites, although distinctive in many ways.  She married my great-grandfather, who was a Dunkard minister from nearby Preston County, Rev. Charles Judson Strahin.  Grandad Strahin was what they called a "circuit rider," meaning that he oversaw several small congregations over a wide area that he preached in on a rotating basis over a period of a month or so.   Back in that time, automobiles were just making their appearance, and many rural Appalachian people still used older forms of transport, including horses.  My great-grandparents managed that way too, traveling to the various congregations in the circuit on horseback, often being paid with fresh produce, chickens, eggs, homemade bread, etc., which was a lot of times all the parishioners in those churches could afford.   One night while making a call to a parishioner who was sick, Grandad Strahin had to ford a rapid river on a horse, and as a result he contracted tuberculosis which later landed him in a sanitarium, Hopemont in Terra Alta, WV, where he later died in 1933 or so.  However, his spiritual legacy remains even today, as one of the oldest Pentecostal congregations in Hendricks (and the county) meets in a churchhouse that he helped build in the Hendricks subdivision of Rosendorf.   Today it is called the Rosendorf Pentecostal Church of God, and has been pastored for years by some other relatives on my maternal grandmother's side, the Carrs - the late Sister Lily Carr Plaugher was the pastor there for years, and upon her passing her brother Rev. Floyd Carr took over, and today the church is pastored by Rev Floyd's great-grandson, Adam Snyder.   It is still a vibrant congregation, and I remember years ago as a kid when Mom and Granny would go over there for revivals back when Sis. Plaugher was alive, and one thing in particular I remember was an old man named Virgil Knotts, who played the guitar with a contraption that also sported a harmonica.  It is really unfortunate that many of those great saints are gone today, but suredly they went onto a greater reward.

The old Sugarlands Dunkard Church, outside of Thomas, WV, where my great-grandmother's folks were some of the founding families.

My great-grandfather, Rev. Charles Judson Strahin

The little Pentecostal Church of God in Rosendorf, near Hendricks, which was originally a union church my great-grandfather helped establish at the turn of the last century.
As I grew older, the religious influence was still there, in particular from my step-grandmother, the late Goldie Strahin.  Goldie was my grandfather Dave's second wife after he and my grandmother, Elsie Summerfield Strahin, separated in the early 1950's.  Goldie was ill at the time with cancer, and she was also devoutly Pentecostal Christian.  Back in the day, Grandad and Goldie lived in a little sleeper town called Bedington, WV, just outside Martinsburg, and Goldie was active in a tiny Pentecostal church in nearby Falling Waters, WV, pastored by an unassuming Pennsylvania-born minister named Rev. Claude Benjamin (or "Jeff") Carbaugh.   At one time, Rev. Carbaugh was associated with the Church of God, but due to his more conservative convictions he began a small Pentecostal fellowship of several churches in Maryland, WV, and VA but unfortunately not much is out there in the way of information about them, although I did contact the WV Church of God office to obtain more information on Rev. Carbaugh's ministry with them during the 1960's.   Rev. Carbaugh passed away in 1997 I believe, and as far as I can tell the Falling Waters church he founded is no longer there.   My step-grandmother Goldie also passed away in 1979 when terminal cancer finally won the battle for her life, but as I grew older, I appreciated her witness much better and realized what a tremendous woman of faith she was too.
My mom at one time also studied for the ministry, as she served as a WAC in Okinawa during the Vietnam campaign and was led to Christ and discipled by two California-born Free Will Baptist chaplains, Ken and Judy Elits.   Although Mom lost contact with them over the years, she still attributes them as being her spiritual mentors.  However, after a messy divorce with my dad, which ended their marriage in 1974, Mom fell away from the Lord and any church involvement, began to drink heavily, and often when she was intoxicated she saw no problem mixing bawdy jokes with bad theology in the course of a normal evening - as Mom fell away, the basic "hellfire-and-brimstone" mountain religion of our roots became mixed in with some bizarre stuff from both horror movies such as The Exorcist and The Omen,  as well as some eschatology derived from some rather scary Christian movies of the day, notably Baptist pastor Estus Pirkle's docudrama The Burning Hell.  To be honest, by the time I was in my early teens, Mom had me so scared to death of this stuff that I was under the mistaken impression that all Pentecostals thought like this!  Thankfully, later as you will see I had an experience of my own that changed that, and today stuff like The Burning Hell does not bother me - as a matter of fact, that film was Biblically sound, and there was nothing wrong with the theology of it, but it was just the way Mom conveyed it that made it a bit repulsive to me for many years.  It did show, however, that Mom still had convictions, although she was by the early 1980's anything but Christian.  She always made sure, for instance, that I knew the Bible, and she always encouraged me to attend church or Sunday School somewhere too.  Also, amidst some of her bizarre stuff, Mom also appreciated good Gospel music, and I grew up with the sounds of groups like the Statesmen, the Blackwoods, and particularly the Rambos and Chuck Wagon Gang (still two of her favorite Gospel groups today).  Also, it was pretty normal for Mom to listen to Kathryn Kuhlman, whom she considered to be the greatest evangelist of all time (I also admire Kuhlman, although for many different reasons).  Generally, the routine was this - at the time we lived at my great-grandmother's in Hendricks, where Mom worked at the local Kinney Shoe plant in Parsons.  After church on Sunday and an early Sunday dinner - usually consisting of good food such as home-fried chicken, roast, or something else - Mom, Granny, and I would pile in the car and go for a Sunday drive.  With Mom's Chuck Wagon Gang tapes accompanying the trip, we visited some of Granny's old relatives, cemetaries, or just drove around the back roads.  Those were fond memories.  However, they were short-lived as an upheaval that would shape the next several years of my life was about to take place.
While at the Kinney Shoe factory, Mom became romantically involved with a female co-worker in a lesbian relationship which lasted for about a year.  In the course of that year, Mom and her "friend" moved us to Romney, WV, where we settled until the relationship fizzled sometime around September of 1978, and we once again found ourselves back in Martinsburg with Grandad and Goldie, where they now lived in a rather rough area of town on Schwartz Street.   However, things were so weird that Mom sent me to my Dad's in Georgia that year, which at that time I felt was a bad idea but later realized it was a big favor.  While in Georgia, Dad and my new step-mother, Deborah, got me involved in church again, and this time something was different.   In Brunswick, GA, the primary religion of most people in those days was Southern Baptists, but although Southern Baptists then were fairly more conservative than they are now, there was also something else that made going to a Southern Baptist church a little more of a good experience than it was for me in those little mountain Holiness/Pentecostal churches back in my native West Virginia.   Deborah and her parents attended Beverly Shores Baptist Church, which was fair-sized congregation located in a picturesque oak grove just off Benedict Road there in Brunswick.  They were a much bigger congregation than I had been used to, but so friendly, and I was immediately invited to be part of the Royal Ambassadors boys' group (a Southern Baptist version of the Boy Scouts).  I really enjoyed it, and I got to enjoy church more too.  After coming home that June though, I would find out that maybe that church was something I needed for what was to come1
After Goldie passed away, Grandad met up with and married almost immediately a woman from back home in Parsons, and Mom was not overly crazy about it and it caused a division.  During that time (summer 1979), we still lived at Grandad's house on Schwartz Street, but I experienced one of the most glaring periods of abject poverty I had ever been exposed to - Mom didn't work then, and we were reduced to eating canned applesauce and corn cakes, although on occasion an old man who lived next door at the time, "Pappy" Beavers, would give us fresh ham and stuff to sustain us.   It was a miserable time for us, honestly, and not something I wanted to repeat anytime soon.  So, Mom, who had been on the outs with my grandmother Elsie, gave her a call and they came and got us, taking us back to Augusta, WV, where they lived in this old farmhouse without pumbing or any other amenities.  And, there we lived until the summer of 1980, when Mom and I moved to Kirby. 
Our years in Kirby, WV, were very destitute as well - we survived on a combination of Dad's child support, foodstamps, and the local Community Action program which paid our living expenses for several years.  Mom picked up some odd housecleaning jobs on occasion from some rich old bubbas that lived in nearby Hardy County, and the combination thereof helped us to survive.   However, almost all of that ended in 1985, and once again, we were forced into abject poverty - this time, we survived on vegetables I heisted from people's gardens, as well as catching hogsuckers out of the local Grassy Lick Run and an occasional bit of help from the local food bank at a Methodist Church in Romney.  I vowed then and there to become a Christian if God delivered us from that place, and later that year he did.  And, I found I had a promise to keep, and so I did as well.

Schwartz Street in Martinsburg, WV, where my grandparents lived in 1979 in one of the rowhouses on the left.

Dad and Deborah's old house, at 2008 Ellis Street in Brunswick, GA, as it looks today.

Beverly Shores Baptist Church, in Brunswick, GA.

Nellie Cox's old store in Kirby, WV, where we lived from 1980-1985.
It wasn't until January 27, 1986, on a blustery winter night, that I gave my heart to the Lord and accepted Him as my Savior.  At around that time, we had moved to Rowlesburg, WV, about 20 miles from where I was born in Parsons, with my grandparents.   It was a rough move, and although I was glad to be out of Kirby and making a new start for my life, it was a tough transition.  Luckily, my step-grandfather's sister, the late Betty Rydzewski, lived across the street and on one Sunday she invited me to go to church with her.  In 1980, the Southern Baptists had begun a group Bible study in Rowlesburg that developed into a church, which by 1985 had a pretty good membership.  Betty and her husband Ted started going there, and both of them became born again and active in that church.   Betty never had to pressure me to go either, and unlike some of the more aggressive Holiness/Pentecostal people of my earlier childhood, she didn't have to badger me into going with some hellfire-and-damnation spiel either.  I was in a state where I was ready to go to church, and I went willingly.  The pastor of the church and his wife, Olen and Linda Phillips, really reached out to me and it had an impact.  I began to struggle within myself, more so than I ever had before, and by the night of January 27th, which if I recall was a Wednesday, I approached Pastor Olen after the service and told him I wanted to be saved.  So, he led me in the "sinner's prayer," and I became born again!  And, despite a few months of challenges - I got a lot of opposition from Mom, which surprised me - within a year I was actively involved in a mission of the Rowlesburg church, Evergreen Chapel in nearby Terra Alta, where we lived there (Mom took a job as a live-in caregiver for a nonegenarian lady named Myrtle Masters on Salt Lick Road between Rowlesburg and Terra Alta).   But, I am getting ahead of myself - Olen baptized me on February 9, 1986 in a service at the Kingwood Southern Baptist Church (the only one that had a baptistry at the time), and that summer when I went off to church camp at Cowen, WV, I got a call to the ministry one night at a fireside assembly outside.   My life had been transformed, and would continue to be so for years to come.
Betty Rydzewski, my step-grandfather Alonzo Lipscomb's older sister, who got me back into church again.
The Rowlesburg Southern Baptist Church, Rowlesburg, WV - this is where I was born again on January 27,1986.
Rev'd Olen Phillips baptizing me on February 9, 1986, at the Kingwood Southern Baptist Church in Kingwood, WV.
Another part of this story is also worth mentioning.  At the time, just before I was born again, I was also invited by two Lebanese Maronite ladies, Mrs. Freda Faris and the widow Bertha Nassif, who also lived in Rowlesburg, to attend Mass at St. Philomena's, the local Catholic Church in Rowlesburg.  Now, I have always had an appreciation for the Catholic tradition, so much so that some years later I became part of it!  From an early age, Mom even encouraged it - I often went to Mass with my cousin Gayle Schroeder when I was in kindergarten when we lived in Baltimore, and there were so many things about the Catholic Church I loved.  Of course, after I was baptized and we settled down in Terra Alta later in 1986, I became very active in the little Southern Baptist mission, Evergreen, there.   The new pastor then, a bearded Maryland native in his late 40's who looked more Amish than Baptist, was Frank Brubaker, and for the remainder of my high school years I got to be very close with him not only as a pastor, but as a friend.   Frank was not what you'd call dynamic as minister by any stretch of the word, but he gave me the discipleship and stability I needed, as well as giving me opportunities to serve in the local church - by age 17 I was teaching Sunday School, and by 18 I was also editing the church paper.   And, I became very interested in denominational affairs as well, and loved attending the conventions, etc., that occurred throughout the year.   But, I had one problem - my earlier fear of my Holiness/Pentecostal roots made me somewhat ambivalent towards the Pentecostals, and I thought they were all flakes, an attitude I held up until a certain book was published in 1988 that educated me profoundly.  1988 was the year that Stanley Burgess and Gary McGhee, two outstanding Assemblies of God scholars, published the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements.  With the money I was given for gifts for my high school graduation that year, I ordered a copy of it through the local bookstore in nearby Kingwood, and got it practically on the day I graduated.  It turned out to be a valuable resource, and as I went off to Georgia with my father that summer before I started college in Graceville, FL, at the Baptist Bible Institute (now known as Baptist College of Florida), I began to understand through reading that dictionary that Pentecostals were actually quite diverse, and I started to open up to them more.  The next step, naturally, was to actually attend a service at what I felt like was a quintessential Pentecostal church, and I just happened to find one near where Dad lived - the First Pentecostal Holiness Church (now called Potter's Wheel PHC) over on Newcastle Street in Brunswick.  One night though it happened - the church was having a revival and this evangelist from Michigan was there preaching about the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, and as he was doing so, I felt like he was talking directly at me!  So, at the end of the service, they gave two separate altar calls - one was for people to receive Christ, and the second was for people who wanted what they call the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.  I felt led to go up on the second, and at that altar this group of little old Pentecostal ladies crowned with their "glory buns" started praying over me.  The lady pastor of the church, Sis. Mayfield, also was leading in the prayers.  After a few minutes, all of a sudden I felt this sensation like a gushing water hose in my innards, and it bubbled up, and up - then I started talking and didn't know what in the Sam Hill I was saying!  That, folks, was my first time ever speaking in unknown tongues, and it is an experience to this day I have not forgotten, and it is also something I still very much believe in.   However, it would cause some issues at the Baptist College I was going to that year, and boy, did it ever!

The old First Pentecostal Holiness Church (now Potter's Wheel PHC) on Newcastle Street in Brusnwick, GA - this is where I first received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and had my first experience with tongues.

My old church, Evergreen Southern Baptist Chapel in Terra Alta, WV.  They had built this a year or so after I went to college, as they met in a storefront originally when I went there. 
As mentioned, although my newfound Pentecostal experience was something I received great joy from, I was later to learn that the Baptist college I went to didn't look very highly on this, and therefore I was later compelled to leave the Southern Baptists for good and instead became part of the Foursquare Gospel denomination.   Foursquare is one of the oldest, and perhaps most controversial in its origins, Pentecostal bodies in the US.  It came into being in 1923 solely through the evangelistic efforts of Aimee Semple MacPherson.  The reason I became interested in Foursquare was due to one person - Dr. Jack Hayford, pastor of Church on the Way in Van Nuys, CA, which then was the largest Foursquare congregation in the US.  I loved Dr. Hayford's teachings then, as they mirrored a lot of my own convictions, and I wanted to be part of that church.  So, in February 1990, I contacted the nearest Foursquare church, which happened to be in Midland City, AL (just outside Dothan), and met later with the pastor, Rev. Everett Rowe.   I formally joined the church later that year, and for a while it was OK until some in the congregation got involved in some abusive practices - they were "naming demons" in people who didn't agree with them, and the pastor's messages became very harsh and almost condemning.  Although I would stay part of Foursquare for many years afterward, when I transferred from BBI to Southeastern College in 1992, it was a real blessing.   However, my spiritual growth was still doing things with me, and I was about to have another paradigm change in my life that would impact me in a great way.

This is me back in my BBI days in Graceville, FL (the school had just changed its name from Baptist Bible Institute to Florida Baptist Theological College in 1989, shortly before I started.) I later transferred to Southeastern College in Lakeland, FL, where I earned my undergraduate degree and am now working on a Masters.

New Life Tabernacle Foursquare Church in Midland City, AL, where I attended from 1990-1992.
Although I attended a Pentecostal college now (Southeastern) by 1994 I was having some odd pangs that God was leading me a different direction.  That all had a backstory too, as in 1988 I became interested in a group of people called the Assyrians, a largely Christian ethnic group that had undergone centuries of persecution by Islamic powers that ruled over them because they themselves were neither Muslim nor Arab - their roots went back to the Assyrian Empire of old.   Although the first nation to become Christian, the Assyrians had a testimony written in the blood of their martyrs.  After initially contacting Fr. Qasha Klutz, who served as secretary to the bishop of the Assyrian Church in the US in Chicago, I received a lot of information on them, and as I did, I began to feel like maybe I had a calling to them, and so I began to prepare for that accordingly.  As I did, I gained a greater appreciation of Eastern Christianity, and as I did I began to see that something was missing from those Pentecostal services I attended, and thus began a journey for me.  In 1995, Barbara and I (I had married in 1992, which I forgot to mention!) began attending a charismatic Episcopalian church, Christ the King, here in Lakeland.  In time, as I grew and evolved in my own spirituality, I eventually was drawn to an even more traditionalist church and was chrismated a Maronite-rite Catholic myself on Easter Saturday 2000.   Although validly Catholic, I was not overly impressed with the growing liberalism in the Roman Church, and beginning in 2007 we began to identify ourselves as "independent primitive Catholics" and became involved with an Anglican Catholic parish, first in Pinellas County where we lived at the time, and then over here when I moved back to pursue graduate studies.   Essentially, that is my testimony, although much more could be said and I feel like I may have left some details out.
Then there is today!  In recent years I have learned so much as I began studying my own family history as well as beginning to write down my life story.   One thing I have discovered was that sometimes you have to look back to move forward, and indeed I have done that.  For roughly ten years now, I have been seeking to recover much of the best of my past and incorporating it into my present in order to get a fuller picture of the person God wants me to be.   Keeping a journal also has helped me sort out a lot, and I thank God everyday for the miracle of the internet, because I can find so many things here to fill in the gap as well!  Another thing God has taught me all too well, especially in recent months, is this - sometimes our agendas get in the way of his plans, and we have to let God be trusted with control of our lives.  That is one of the most difficult lessons I have personally ever had to experience, and at times I still struggle with it.  Ultimately though, our obedience to God will reap its own rewards, and that today is the major lesson of my own story that I hope will impact others.  God bless until next time.