Category Archives: Theology

A Brief Thought on Prayer

I was skimming around and came across an article about prayer and sports.  While the main purpose of the article to point out that it is acceptable to pray actually for the victory of one team or the other, this passage really upset me.

Sometimes we merely fill out a requisition form and call it a prayer. That is, we tell God in a clear sentence what we want and then go back to work, trusting that he gets it and appreciates that he and we are all too busy to stand on ceremony. That’s a kind of prayer but sketchy, a pale version of the full-dress form that entails hours of high-octane concentration, which is God’s way of letting us participate in his constant engagement with and intervention in human affairs.

Passing snide remarks against people who pray short prayers is upsetting, and initially the reason I found it upsetting was not clear to me. To restate the highlighted lines without the snark, and from a different perspective: ‘Sometimes we ask briefly for what distresses us most, and then return to the work of our vocation, trusting God to care for our need and to answer our cry for help.’ Then the author proceeds to call this a sketchy and pale of a form of prayer, the real version of which requires hours of concentration.

Now what bothered me most became clear during church yesterday. Being a liturgical Lutheran, orthodox teaching comes from all parts of the service.  In this case it came when the Pastor finished the special prayers and said (and I abbreviate because I am miles away from my hymnal) ‘And we join in that prayer You taught us to pray:’ after which we prayed the Lord’s prayer.

The Lord’s prayer, if you will permit me to summarize is:

  • One phrase identifying who we are praying to
  • Four phrases of praise to finish out the sentence (in English at least)
  • One short sentence asking for God’s care of our bodily needs
  • One sentence asking for forgiveness of our sins
  • And one sentence pleading for deliverance from temptation and evil

In all, I suspect it takes less than two minute to pray, even at the snail’s pace we pray out loud together in church. And it looks an awful lot like the aforementioned ‘requisition form’.

It seems to me that the author of this piece on prayer has made a grave mistake, he has snarked (though surely unintentionally) at the prayer that God Himself taught us to pray. And while I would never claim that hours of prayer are wrong, it is vital to remember the whole instruction. Here from Matthew chapter 6 (From NIV, from Bible Gateway)

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

So, the model prayer taught to us by God Incarnate is a short prayer, briefly pleading from God the needs of both the body and the soul.  To say that such prayers are pale and less worthy is at the very least a travesty of pompous misunderstanding.

For more: see the Lords Prayer section of the Small Catechism

Potential Allies

The post-modern ‘proof’ of existence seems to me to be a truncated form of Descartes. Descartes started with what he knew you could know: that, in fact, some thing ‘I’ can think. He then proceeded to prove that I was an existence, and then that God must exist. Then since God exists, everything that ‘I’ observe exists at least somewhat like ‘I’ observe it. This framework is far more subjective than I would posit, however it is a usable framework for thinking and living. I made a graph after the nature of reaction profiles. (If you have had some chemistry, you may recognize the format.) As you proceed from left to right you are following the case for the worldview and as you go up, importance increases.Untitled-1Let us contrast that to a post-modern fully subjective worldview is like.Untitled-1aThis latter figure is the new worldview. This worldview has several repercussions. For now, though, I’ll only mention one. Everything includes ideas, thoughts, truth, good, evil, right, wrong, cowardice, and valor. Since existence is defined by the mind and thoughts of the one existing, it is not necessarily the case that something observed by one is true to the other. The only reason, in this scenario, for truth and reality to be agreed upon (such as everyone agreeing on what is green) is social conditioning and pressure. There is no ground for insisting that something is wrong outside of societal norms.

This worldview is antithetical in every way to two things: religions of revealed Truth (Specifically Christianity, but that is another topic for another time.) and science. That’s why I think scientists should swallow their anti-religion pride and make some common cultural cause with the strict traditionalists of the Church in the arena of absolute, knowable, transmittable and immutable truth.

You see, if truth is only a construct of the mind, then science cannot exist. Science depends upon the core belief that the truth is knowable and constant. Our knowledge of it is flawed and in constant flux, in constant need of study, experiment, update and thought. If truth is not timeless and knowable, then a consensus of quality minds actually would define truth and therefore science. If that were the case, then the sun did indeed revolve around the earth for Ptolemy, while much later, after some cataclysmic solar revolution, it now is orbited by the earth due in large part to Galileo.geocentric

Every scientist, and probably every person not fully committed to the conclusions of this worldview, would find this ridiculous. And yet one academic department after another has fallen to this worldview. Perhaps because they are not grounded in observation, or perhaps because scientists are a particular brand of curmudgeon, the humanities have fallen first, long ago. Now however, even the hard sciences are under attack. The global warming consensus is (although it mayn’t be a consensus after all) the only consistent argument in favor of the theory and people peddle it as fact. Man-made global warming may indeed be fact, but there is not one model made to predict the future warming that predicted the current pause. When all the models are wrong, it usually means something about the assumptions of the modelers.

Again, if truth is only a construct of the mind, objective religion cannot exist. Religion is demoted to ‘something that makes you feel better’ which puts it into the category of whiskey. woodford

If that is the case, then anything in the religion that makes you feel upset or threatened must not be true –for you. Maybe someone else feels better knowing that God condemns sexual immorality of all sorts, then this religious belief is true for them.  And if a large enough group of spiritual people agree that something is acceptable for god, then, it must be. That of course leads to the absurd idea that god was pleased by the Mayan human sacrifices. If that were the case, then you could very easily argue not just that societies make their own gods in the image that pleases them, but that god must also actually exist for their believing created it. I am sure this scenario sounds more plausible than the Ptolemy scenario above. That feeling is just the result of the overwhelming nature of the subjective worldview in every domain but the hard sciences.

So that is why I recommend not just a peace treaty between traditional Church leader and scientists but active cultural cooperation. The Church is not in any danger of being wiped out by a fleeting theory in the minds of men, but science may well have to come and take shelter inside the doors of the Church, running for sanctuary from those that scientists currently think are science’s friend.

If this happens, you can count on churchmen to preserve everything they can, just like last time the forces of nihilism swept the western world. But before that, why not pick up a sword and fight in the streets of civilization (the enemy is long through the walls) alongside the Church for Truth and civilization and life?

Immaturity

This is certainly the most difficult thing for me to write. If I say that someone needs humility, that sounds awfully proud doesn’t it?  If I say that someone has immature faith that sounds even worse. After all, I’m young yet; I shouldn’t lecture anyone on anything other than Chemistry, the thing I know best. Perhaps that would be good advice for writers, movie stars, and celebrities of every sort. When these people are new Christians whose time and energy is spent on their primary work, I think we can forgive a little Spiritual immaturity. However, there is one type of spiritual immaturity that I must comment on. I am reminded of it every time I read Andrew Klavan talking about homosexuality. He is an author I admire, and he deserves it; he tells gripping stories with real insight into the nature of man. But there seems to be a disconnect on this topic. He argues quite persuasively that Christians should not participate in censorship, using persuasion instead, and here I couldn’t agree more. However, he displays his lack of discernment, or his lack of understanding in articles like this one:  Is Jesus Against Kooky Gay Guys?

It seems in this case that Klavan is demanding that Christians who think homosexuality is a sin shut up. He wants us to censor ourselves because (if I gather correctly over several articles like the one linked, where this exact topic is slightly tangential.): ‘From my reading and studying of the Bible, Jesus is concerned with re-directing your soul through him back toward its creator. Your soul, not someone else’s. He’s very specific about that. If you’re passing judgment on another guy’s soul, you’re thinking about the wrong thing.’ And because he has nice gay friends who are really happy together and he doesn’t think God forbids it, or at least, it isn’t that bad.

For the first, immature Christians are very obsessed by the ‘Do not judge’ passages. (In the article above, Klavan refers to the parable about the speck in your neighbor’s eye.) I find this also fairly prevalent in the Christian Novel Contest I help judge … 🙂 … Here is the problem. If we ‘do not judge’ as Mr. Klavan seems to mean, then are we to never say something is a sin? Are we never to say to someone: This or That is a sin? I certainly don’t suggest that we incessantly tell non-Christians that this specific thing is a sin. They must be first convinced that sin is real and that it is a threat to their eternity before they can even care what specific things might also be sins. But if, as Christians, we cannot point to behaviors, actions, or thoughts of our own, or of others, and say ‘This is certainly a sin.’ Then how, should sanctification proceed? If a Christian who through study of scripture and consultation with those who know more than himself becomes convinced that God abhors homosexual behavior then should he  censor himself? Or should he speak up?

And here is where a level of maturity is required. Simply because I believe that homosexuality is sinful does NOT imply that I find it the only sin, or the worst sin. Strangely enough, I hold to the traditional merciful Lutheran teaching that homosexuality is no worse a sin than adultery. They are both sexual perversions, and, without repentance and faith in Christ, they both lead to damnation. It is harder to have one sin be worse than another when they both lead the soul to damnation. But guess what: other sins known to lead to damnation include pride, avarice, sloth… the 7 deadly sins certainly. And since I am not a Catholic, I do not see anywhere any distinction between mortal and venial sins. I see it nowhere in Scripture, so I do believe that gossiping and the desire to commit a sin, even if never acted upon is worthy of damnation. (If those aren’t venial sins, my Catholic friends will correct me, but the point remains the same.)

But here is the thing, if all sins lead to damnation, then when a Christian points out that homosexuals are sinning, especially ones who are open to the message of Christ and Him crucified, showing someone their sin is the first step to sharing the Gospel. As for the people who speak specifically stridently about homosexuality, (Some of them are obviously, horrifically wrong: Westboro Baptist jumps into the mind). many people single out this sin since it is currently the one that is on a campaign to be normalized as ‘acceptable’ not just throughout  the secular culture, but in the church as well. And on this front, Mr. Klavan is on the wrong side. Jesus does stand against normalized sin in his Church.

And this brings up the other immaturity so rampant among the newly Christian, and the denominations that have deserted their heritage; forgetting to hate the sin. Being a follower of Christ, an imitator of Christ, means to do your very best to love what Christ loves and reject what He rejects. Christ certainly loves the sinner, but you cannot love the sinner without rejecting the sin. Christ, the only one who was qualified to cast the first stone and does not, certainly loves the sinner. Then what happens?

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

He doesn’t just stop at ‘Neither do I condemn you.’ He also commands her to go and sin no more. He never says that her adultery was acceptable, or not that bad. He forgives her sin, and tells her not to do it again.

And that, that is the other side of the coin. We must search out what God himself despises as sinful behavior, and recognize it as such. And if we find ourselves in disagreement with God, well, that too is sinful and we must repent and learn to submit our opinions to the knowledge of God. So, for the many Christians who find themselves in disagreement with traditional church teaching about what constitutes a sin should do something about it. I do not suggest that they must automatically accept the traditional teaching, (again, I’m not a Catholic) but they absolutely must take it into consideration. This is especially true if for almost two thousand years, every Christian group taught something was sinful. This includes those that are schismatic, even those considered to be heretical amongst each other. In this case, the weight of that consensus should demand a careful, prayerful consideration of what the Scriptures do indeed say on the topic. And if you find that you disagree with the Scriptures, remember that you are the one that is wrong.

The belief that God permits homosexuality, so popular in many modern denominations, is a few decades old aberration out of almost two hundred decades of Church history. It also happens to be most popular in denominations that have just as recently abandoned the teaching or doctrine that the Scripture is the inerrant Word of God, and also, frequently the teaching or doctrine that there is only one path to God. It seems from my point of view that these churches are confounded by heresy, and their acceptance of homosexuality is perhaps the least of their problems.

There, I hope that I don’t come across as prideful, but the scriptures say that:

 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’

So just between you, reader, and me  🙂

Prayer

I was reading an article: The Collapse of the Liberal Church and was struck by something at the end. First, however, I was struck by the very nature of the piece. It is not very popular to discuss the death of churches that have abandoned preaching Christ and Him crucified. This article specifically notes the lack of prayer in the church.

In the past few years, Mr. Ewart (A retired pastor) has spent time hanging out with evangelicals – people who actually talk about loving Jesus. He admires their personal, emotional connection to God. Lately, he has even started praying. Perhaps he could pray for the church in which he spent his life to stop its self-immolation. But it’s probably too late.

This is a pastor of the Canadian Anglican church, and lately (retired now) he has begun to pray. Liberal churches like this are dead, and any churches that are now emulating this are terminally ill. the only thing that can heal the sick churches and resurrect the dead ones is the power of Christ in the Gospel, and of course, prayer.

This led me to think of the excellent post by my friend medievalotaku on the topic of prayer. While I do think here and there in the article he confounds together Justification (passive faith that saves) and Sanctification (Active faith in love for Christ) a bit,  it is certainly true that without prayer, the Christian is willfully cutting himself off from God, which is highly dangerous and to be repented. However, medievalotaku discusses the topic thoroughly and you definitely should read his advice on prayer.

Remember that the unassisted human will or intellect will fall without God’s aid.  So, all serious falls may be attributed to people trusting too much in themselves or being too proud to beg.  (The Latin verb for to pray, orare, also means beg.)  Remember Martin Luther’s last words: “We are beggars.  This is true.”  And especially in our reliance on God, nothing is more true.  Nor should we despair of gaining the object of our prayers, especially if we pray “(1) for [ourselves]; (2) things necessary for salvation; (3) piously; and (4) with perseverance.”  (From St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica Second Part of the Second Part, Question 83, Article 15)  Did not Christ say: “And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent?  Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13)

It is a thoughtful and excellent exposition, to it is worth reading the whole thing. (all those links are for the same page 🙂 seriously go read it 🙂 )