Month: June 2014

Hoc Est Corpus Meum

In honor of yesterday’s feast of Corpus Christi, in some Latin liturgical calendars, here is a narration of my experience leading up to my first communion.  I remember how I described those events at the time, without Christian jargon which was then unfamiliar to me, because of the impression they made on me, both because of their force and because of how unexpected they were.

When I decided to become a Christian, I started visiting churches on Sunday mornings, and in the course of four weeks I visited three churches, one a Calvary Chapel and the other two both Presbyterian churches.  I think none of these churches offered communion more than once per month, but in four consecutive weeks I was offered communion three times. (more…)

Advertisements

The Miracle of Communication

I am a convert to Christianity, out of an aggressive form of postmodernism which denied any subject-independent reality.  In other words, my world’s only mine and your world’s yours, and how dare you tell me anything about the way my world is!  I thought we are really locked into our own separate worlds, and never the twain shall meet.

Such an extreme version of postmodernism ran into a problem: communication.  Somehow, people who have never had unmediated access to each other’s experiences of world, figure out a way to share ideas and describe experiences in ways the other can understand.  And this happens all the time.  It’s not even considered particularly remarkable. (more…)

Gratitude

It is a common false belief that when things are going the way we want, then it’s God’s kindness to us, but when things are going contrary to our wishes, then it’s the devil or the world or some other oppositional force.  Some times God gives us difficulties that we need, and sometimes he allows things to go the way we want even when that is harmful for us.  But when things do go well for us, we can be grateful for his goodness, all the same.

Moving tally:

  • Caring landlords who are willing to do work on the house we’ve rented, and they’re also Christian.
  • A sublet that we rented for longer than we thought we’d need, which is now coming in handy.
  • First church visited in town seems very good, and also happens to fulfill most of my and my wife’s preferences.  (We accept a broad range of Christians and churches that we will worship with, but we also have a long list of less essential things that we prefer, such as that the congregation will accept theology nerds…)
  • Found good new primary care doctor on first try.
  • 10th anniversary.

Moving is still a painful experience, but these good parts have been surprising (okay, apart from the anniversary; we saw that one coming).  Thank you, God, for your kindness in providing us with what we need!

A Starting Point for Practical Ecumenism

In response to my long essay about the similarity, or lack thereof, between the earliest Christians and various denominations today, one commentator, Anna, offered insights which can jump-start practical ecumenical discussion among Christians.  In her first comment, she opened the door to a principled ecumenism with a rejection of the extremes, both of judgmental conservatism and of mindless liberalism:

But I would like to suggest that there is a middle ground in between “you’re going to hell” and “all paths are equal”. The middle route says, “Yes, it does matter; but you’re not screwed if you get it wrong.”

She then established the value of ecumenical contact among Christians by pointing out how great it would be if we all took upon ourselves what each denomination does well: (more…)

Church Shopping: A Discourse on Method

Since I argued in a previous post that “church shopping” is not necessarily evil, and is perhaps necessary, the next question becomes how to do it.  I see several options, most of which I have tried or heard reports from numerous other people who have tried.  This post is less of an argument regarding rights and wrongs than a clearinghouse of pros and cons. (more…)

Salvation Through Childbirth

Among the odder verses of the letters of Paul is 1 Tim 2:15, which many people interpret as saying that women will be saved, in some sense, through childbirth.  This is an interpretation which strikes many Protestants as oddly in tension with salvation by grace, and it seems especially odd to Christian women who, for a variety of reasons, are not likely to give birth (such as nuns, single women, and infertile women).  Here are a few common Bible versions of the verse, taken from a range of different families of Bible translations:

  • NIV: But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
  • NASB: But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.
  • RSV: Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
  • NLT: But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.
  • Douay-Rheims 1899 American: Yet she shall be saved through childbearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety.

On the other hand, reading it through again today in Greek, I noticed something I hadn’t previously: the first verb is singular (“she will be saved”) while the latter is plural (“they continue”).  Here are a few versions that preserve the swap: (more…)

Discomfort and Redemption

A year ago my wife and I moved to a cheap apartment in the next town over.  We did a lot of research, and had a number of distinct requirements.  Among them we were concerned about pests (we’ve had bad experiences before) and cigarette smoke (my wife is allergic).  We settled on one apartment, and then its current occupants decided not to move out, so we found two other options in the same building.  They had the same floor plan, but one faced the parking lot and the other a golf course.  Since we love green, we settled on the one overlooking the golf course.  I asked about pests and was assured there was no history of pest-related service requests.  Then when I brought my wife for the sniff test (her nose is much keener than mine), we smelled cigarette smoke. (more…)

The Argument from (Dis-)Similarity

Will the real Church please stand up?  Go to a phone directory of any moderately sized settlement and see if the listings for “churches” don’t rapidly get bewildering.  Indeed, such an exercise is often an education into varieties of Christianity we didn’t know existed!  How should those who worship Christ sort through this denominational chaos?

One method frequently suggested by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Disciples of Christ (along with a few Baptists, on occasion) is to look at the evidence for early Christianity and see which contemporary denomination is most similar to the churches of the apostles and their successors.  This is the argument from similarity.  I recently read a blog post making this argument against Protestants of all stripes, and a commentator here pressed me to consider the same line of reasoning.  It was not the first time.  I have heard this argument made in favor of multiple different branches of contemporary Christianity.  I like to imagine the question by asking which church would look most familiar to the apostle Peter or any of the other earliest Christians, if he were sent on a time-travel expedition from AD 60 to the present.  I prefer someone else to Jesus for this exercise because Jesus is the God who knows the hearts, and this is usually posed as a question about external appearances. (more…)

Church Shopping

Tomorrow I should have regular wireless again, but I found a way to wish you all a happy Pentecost!  Among the “joys” of moving, I strongly dislike “church shopping,” the process of bouncing from one church to another looking for “the church for me.”  It always feels too self-centered.  I don’t want a church to be “for me”; I want it to be “for Jesus”!

But the reality is that when one moves a long distance, one must find a new congregation to worship with.  In the US, at least, this typically involves a fair amount of individual choice, as there are several churches which may be acceptable.  (This is not just a Protestant thing; I’ve watched traditional as well as liberal Roman Catholics pick their parish based on the theology of the local priest, and the competing jurisdictions of Chalcedonian Orthodox churches has given various American Orthodox friends of mine the freedom to prefer one congregation over another.)  How does one exercise this individual choice without elevating one’s personal preferences over Christ’s purposes for his Church, thus setting oneself in judgment over the people of God?  (“And who are you to judge the servant of another?” wrote Paul in Romans 14.)  If individual choice on this matter is inevitable, can it avoid being evil?

It can, I think, when exercised with the right goal.  The goal of finding a new church is not picking a congregation who is like me, or who will like me, or whose theology/worship style/dress code/architecture I find appealing or comfortable.  Those matters are not irrelevant, but they are also not the goal.  The goal is to serve our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Head of his body, the Church.  The other body parts go where the head tells them to.  If I move from one region to another, I am moving from one part of Christ’s body to another, and my job is to figure out where my Lord would have me serve, as part of his body in this new location.  Choosing a church as part of a move is not the same as picking a new phone company or a new internet service.  Instead, it is a matter of discerning my Master’s wishes and fulfilling them.  There are big questions about how to discern God’s will, but prayer is a necessary starting place, and looking for where one is called to serve Christ will raise different questions than judging whether this congregation is comfortable or appealing.

This doesn’t make it easy to find a congregation in a new location.  (Or at least, not usually.)  But it can make it less prideful and self-serving, and therefore not necessarily evil.