June 27, 2017

The Revival of Civil Religion

Here is an announcement from the website of First Baptist Dallas. Their pastor, Robert Jeffress, has been one of evangelical Christianity’s prime cheerleaders for President Trump throughout the past election year and since.

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President Donald J. Trump to Join Pastor Robert Jeffress in Honoring Veterans at the Kennedy Center for the ‘Celebrate Freedom’ Concert This Saturday


This Unforgettable Patriotic Evening Will Feature Music from a 500-Voice First Baptist Dallas Choir and Orchestra, a Tribute to Our Veterans from President Trump, and a Word from Pastor Robert Jeffress


DALLAS—President Donald Trump will join Pastor Robert Jeffress to honor our veterans at the “Celebrate Freedom” Concert at 8 p.m. July 1 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The event, which is being co-sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Dallas and Salem Media, will be a night of hope, celebration and commemoration. President Trump will deliver a powerful address honoring our veterans, hundreds of whom will be coming from D.C. area to attend the event, including patients from the Walter Reed Medical Center.

“The Kennedy Center, known for presenting the greatest performers and performances from across America and around the world, is the perfect location for an unforgettable patriotic evening that honors our veterans, celebrates our country, and proclaims a message of hope,” said Pastor Robert Jeffress. “We are honored the president of the United States will be joining us, but we are not surprised. We have in President Donald J. Trump one of the great patriots of our modern era and a president who cherishes the sacrifice and service of those in our armed forces.”

Stirring patriotic music will come from the renowned choir and orchestra of First Baptist Dallas, under the direction of Dr. Doran Bugg. The First Baptist Dallas Choir & Orchestra is no stranger to our nation’s most prestigious concert halls, having been the first church music ministry invited to perform at the world-famous Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas and host of the radio and television program “Pathway to Victory,” seen in 195 countries, will also bring a message of hope and encouragement.

The “Celebrate Freedom” Concert is free and open to the public, but tickets must be reserved in advance by going to http://www.ptv.org/washington.

The “Celebrate Freedom” Concert rally will be the capstone of a weeklong series of events Pastor Robert Jeffress will host through the nation’s capital including speaking at a Bible study for Congressional staffers in the Capitol, a tour of Washington highlighting our country’s Judeo-Christian foundation, and personal visits with various others numbered among our nation’s leadership.

“I’m grateful that President Trump has created an atmosphere in which Evangelical Christians feel at home once again in our nation’s capital,” said Pastor Jeffress.

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I have no problem with the idea that devoted Christians can love our country and appreciate the influence faith, and Christian faith in particular, has had on our history and development. I’m also fine with Christian citizens working to pass laws and maintain governmental institutions that are just and beneficial for society.

I don’t believe, except in the broadest possible terms, that the U.S. is or ever has been a “Christian nation.” In their genius, our founding fathers separated church and state, rightly suspicious of allowing state-sponsored religion. This has allowed both political freedom and religion to flourish for much of our history.

I also understand that many Christians are sentimental for what they think was a more stable moral and prosperous period in our history in the mid-20th century. However, in my opinion, much of that is, in fact, only sentiment. There were no “good old days.” There were, however, days when certain forms of “Christian” morality held more rhetorical sway in the halls of power and the public square. In other words, many actually long for the day “when we were in charge” and “when the things we saw in public were more to our liking.”

Frankly, I don’t find this a particularly “Christian” attitude. No matter what kind of world and culture we live in, the Christian’s duty is to follow Jesus Christ. In the Bible I read, that means loving God, loving my neighbor, and indeed, loving my enemies. Nowhere do I see that it involves avidly promoting the civil religion of any particular nation or political party, seeking power at all costs, and triumphantly waving the flag and the cross in the face of fellow Americans who hold other views. I get the idea that a lot of people are saying, “Well, they (whoever they is) had their turn, now it’s ours. Let them sit back and see what it feels like.” What are we, in third grade?

In my view we must always beware the dangerous mixing of God and Caesar, no matter how “Christian” Caesar and his minions may appear.

I find it particularly appalling that Christian leaders like Robert Jeffress are so gung-ho over such a transparent snake-oil-selling president as the one we have now, who has adopted “white evangelicals” as an integral part of his base but who, by any account, shares nothing in common with them except the lust for power and control.

It is hard not to be completely cynical and despairing when observing the current situation.

Wisdom for Ordinary Time: Eugene Peterson on Leviticus 19:18

Love. Photo by Susanne Nilsson

During Ordinary Time this year, I am reading and meditating on Eugene Peterson’s new book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God. This book captures sermons from Peterson’s twenty-nine years as a pastor in Bel Air, Maryland.

Today, Peterson’s sermon focuses on Leviticus 19:18 — “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” — and the Apostle John’s exposition of it in the letter of 1 John. Here is an excerpt.

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Love is the most context-specific act in the entire spectrum of human behavior. There is no other single human act more dependent on and immersed in immediate context. A dictionary is worthless in understanding and practicing love. Acts of love cannot be canned and then used off the shelf. Every act of love requires creative and personal giving, responding, and serving appropriate to — context-specific to — both the person doing the loving and the person being loved. Because of the totally personal, particular, and uniquely contextual community dimensions and inescapably local conditions — there is a sense in which we cannot tell a person how to love, and so our Scriptures for the most part don’t even try.

Instead of explanations or definitions or generalizations, John settles for a name and the story that goes with it: Jesus. “We know love by this, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16, NRSV). Then he lets us find the particular but always personal and relational way to do it in the Jesus way: “We love because he first loved us” (4:19, NRSV).

Friends, we are immersed in great and marvelous realities. Creation! Salvation! Resurrection! But when we come up dripping out of the waters of baptism and look around, we discover to our surprise that the community of the baptized is made up of people just like us: unfinished, immature, neurotic, stumbling, singing out of tune much of the time, forgetful, and boorish. Is it credible that God would put all these matters of eternal significance into the hands of such as we are? Many, having taken a good look at what they see, shake their heads and think not. But this is the perpetual difficulty of living a life of love in the community of the beloved. We had better get used to it.

…Every sentence in this elaborate pastoral exposition of the five-word command in Leviticus comes out more or less the same: God loves you. Christ shows you how love works. Now you love. Love, love, love, love. Just do it.


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Photo by Susanne Nilsson at Flickr. Creative Commons License

2nd Sunday after Trinity: Cantata & Pic of the Week

Barren Land 2015

(Click on picture for larger image)

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Internet Monk has often noted the absence of lament in much of American church culture. Today, we present an example of a Bach chorus of lament from his cantata “Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein” (O God, Look Down from Heaven).

It seems, when lamenting, we humans are wont to return to basics, to strip away frills and embellishments, to simply fall on our knees and cry out to God. The opening chorus from this cantata exemplifies that impulse. In the words of Simon Crouch:

When Bach had to set a severe subject, as he has to here in this chorale cantata based on Luther’s paraphrase of psalm xii., he often reached for musical procedures that were considered archaic even in his own time. In the opening chorus here, he uses a style of choral motet that is associated with Pachelbel, where the accompaniment simply takes the form of a continuo. The result is austere beauty, the altos hold the cantus firmus in long notes while the other parts sing a fugue about them.

In like manner, Julius Mincham comments that, in this work, Bach “reasserts traditional values,” presenting a piece which is raw, bare, and fundamental.

The chromatic harmony induces a harsh and arid quality to this movement which, to the modern ear, may well invoke the cold, lifeless scene of a waterless and barren planet surface. It is reminiscent of the language of some of the later works such as the Musical Offering or the Art of Fugue. …Nevertheless, Bach’s immediate message is that when we live in an environment where God’s word is absent, life may be bare and sterile.

While this may not be the uplifting, delightful Bach, BWV 2 represents the essential, realistic Bach. God’s Word has come to the desert, to make it bloom again. But much remains barren, awaiting resurrection life.

Ah God, look down from heaven
and have mercy yet upon us!
How few are Your saints,
we poor ones are abandoned;
Your Word is not upheld as true,
and faith is also quite extinguished
among all mankind.

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