Sunday, August 31, 2008
It seems from our text today, does it not, that James takes the exploitation of workers by their employers very seriously? It seems, does it not, that James warns such folks that judgment is sure to come and that the additional riches they have obtained at the expense of others will only add fuel to their fire of their own destruction on the Day of the Lord?
And so, reminded of the necessity of justice; reminded of the necessity of showing mercy to those entrusted to our care; reminded of God’s hatred for those who exploit others; let us kneel and let us confess our injustices to the Lord.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
"We civilized men . . . build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment . . . . Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. . . . [Nevertheless, our instinct of sympathy moves us to provide such care.] Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.” Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man.
Rarely in the consideration of Darwinism today do we reckon with the societal implications of the theory. Endeavoring to restrict the theory to mere science, we overlook the larger philosophical questions that are raised by it. If, for instance, we have all evolved from some lesser developed creature into a more sophisticated one, why not apply this within the human race? Could it not be that some portions of humanity have evolved more than others and that, for the good of the race, those weaker members should be eliminated? Darwin himself didn’t shrink from such questions, as the above quotation makes clear. He felt it imperative to address these issues because he was advocating, not just a scientific theory, but an entire worldview--a way to view politics, social relationships, and science. He was convinced that evolutionary theory was the key which would unlock the full potential of the human race.
The vision for societal transformation which emerged from Darwin’s theory was coined Social Darwinism. In light of its abuses in this century, it has been abandoned by those who otherwise praise Darwin’s work. Social Darwinism is the skeleton in the evolutionary closet--and evolutionists are careful to bar the door with a nervous smile whenever Christians try to get a peek inside. But their smiles don’t fool us here at St. Anne’s. Let us shove the evolutionists aside and take an honest look at Social Darwinism in the life of one of its most zealous advocates--Sir Francis Galton, cousin of the famous Charles Darwin. I am Stuart Bryan and this is Ancient Biography.
Sir Francis Galton was a highly regarded pioneer of evolutionary research in the late 1800s. Knighted in 1909 for his achievements, he openly acknowledged the way in which his theories depended upon Darwin’s book The Origin of Species and was praised by Darwin himself for his work. Not surprisingly Galton’s “science” turned out to be more personal prejudice than scientific inquiry.
The blue ribbon for Galton’s most absurd theories goes to his“Beauty map” of England. Convinced that heredity had drastically affected the physical appearances of ladies in different counties, Galton studied the women in the streets and inns of all England. As he traveled, he rated the women he saw according to their level of beauty, “attractive, indifferent, or repellent.” Galton remarked that he “found London to rank highest for beauty; Aberdeen lowest.” Such pontificating seems absurd today. Yet this is an example of the “scientific” observations common in Social Darwinism. Unfortunately the men in Aberdeen didn’t find Galton ogling at the lasses and give him a reward for his impudence.
Predictably Galton’s prejudices pressed themselves into more serious realms than Miss Universe pageants. The most serious of these was Galton’s application of evolution to what he called the “science” of Eugenics.
What is Eugenics you ask? Well, eugenics is a sophisticated name for the selective breeding of the human race. The “science” of Eugenics purported to study human breeding to determine which elements of the race should be permitted to reproduce just like a breeder of poodles selects the best stock to continue the poodle family tree. In his Autobiography Galton wrote:
"I cannot doubt that our democracy will ultimately refuse consent to that liberty of propagating children which is now allowed to the undesirable classes, . . . . A democracy cannot endure unless it be composed of able citizens; therefore it must in self-defence withstand the free introduction of degenerate stock.”This degenerate stock included such “weaker” races as the negroes and the aborigines and such “weaker” elements of society as the poor, the lame, criminals, and the mentally ill.
Galton shied away, somewhat inconsistently, from the use of force in the accomplishment of this goal.; however, the early part of the 20th century witnessed the consistent application of his philosophy in Nazi Germany, a self-professed Darwinist state. Applying the views of Galton in a logically consistent manner, the Nazi’s argued that they were doing the human race a favor by eliminating the weaker stock--Jews especially--from the gene pool. Dr. John Hunt remarks that
"within a year of coming to power, the Nazis had started some 250 eugenic courts whose function was to decide who was worthy to procreate. These eugenic courts took applications from social workers and physicians urging sterilizations, taking decision-making from tens of thousands of individuals. The purpose of Nazi use of eugenics courts and forced or pressured sterilizations was to keep the "unfit" from reproducing.”With this quote in mind, meditate upon Galton’s remarks on Eugenics in his Autobiography:
"I take Eugenics very seriously, feeling that its principles ought to become one of the dominant motives in a civilised nation, much as if they were one of its religious tenets. . . Individuals appear to me as partial detachments from the infinite ocean of Being, and this world as a stage on which Evolution takes place, principally hitherto by means of Natural Selection, which achieves the good of the whole with scant regard to that of the individual. Man is gifted with pity and other kindly feelings; he has also the power of preventing many kinds of suffering. I conceive it to fall well within his province to replace Natural Selection by other processes that are more merciful and not less effective. This is precisely the aim of Eugenics. Its first object is to check the birth-rate of the Unfit, instead of allowing them to come into being. . . . The second object is the improvement of the race by furthering the productivity of the Fit by early marriages and healthful rearing of their children. Natural Selection rests upon excessive production and wholesale destruction; Eugenics on bringing no more individuals into the world than can be properly cared for, and those only of the best stock.”
Note then Galton’s assertion: Eugenics is the merciful replacement of Natural Selection. Truly the Nazi’s did mankind a favor and we should be grateful for their endeavors. They purified the race; made the world safer for the rest of us. That is, if we are part of the strong stock. But who gets to define the strong? Ah, that is the nagging question.
“. . . the ideas of [Augustine] furnished the themes for the piety and theology of more than a thousand years. No one possessed the ‘whole’ Augustine, but all lived upon the fragments of his spirit . . .” Reinhold SeebergAugustine, the Bishop of Hippo from 396 to 430 AD, towers above his predecessors, contemporaries, and pupils. Few match his keen spiritual insight; few achieve his profound self-understanding; few approach the breadth of his theological vision. Phillip Schaff, the great 19th century church historian, remarked that Augustine “is a philosophical and theological genius of the first order, towering like a pyramid above his age, and looking down commandingly upon succeeding centuries. He had a mind uncommonly fertile and deep, bold and soaring; and with it, what is better, a heart full of Christian love and humility.”
A man of such merit deserves to be well known, and his writings to be well studied, within the Christian community. Unfortunatly, few have cracked any of his numerous works; and, worse still, some of those who have attempted to explore his writings have chosen the wrong place to begin. I remember as an undergraduate picking up a copy of Augustine’s On the Trinity, one of his most difficult treatises, and feeling at once confused, overwhelmed, and ignorant. I didn’t get far and gave up reading Augustine for several years--convinced that he was too abstruse and complex for my simple mind to comprehend. It is to encourage others to avoid such a mistake, and to prod others even to try to make such mistakes, that we have reviewed Augustine’s Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love.
Enchiridion is a Greek word meaning “handbook.” Augustine’s Enchiridion, then, is somewhat of an ancient Mere Christianity, an exposition of that which Augustine deemed most essential in the Christian faith. He himself claims that the book is neither so burdensome so as to load down one’s shelves nor so brief as to leave important questions unanswered. It is a tribute to Augustine’s genius that in the relatively short compass of 140 pages he is able to express his most mature theological convictions.
The immediate purpose for which Augustine wrote was the instruction of an educated Roman layman named Laurentius. Laurentius posed a number of questions to Augustine, desiring that Augustine might compose a short handbook for future reference. To make the book readily accessible, Augustine organized it around the three virtues of faith, hope, and love. Augustine reasoned that since these three virtues constitute the essence of the fear of the Lord, or true worship, one can discover the essence of the Christian faith by discussing each in turn. What are we to believe? What are we to hope for? What are we to love? These are the three questions Augustine sets out to answer.
The lion’s share of the Enchiridion, 105 of its 122 chapters, is devoted to the question, “What are we to believe?” To answer, Augustine works his way through the Apostle’s Creed beginning with our knowledge of God the Creator and ending with the nature of heaven and hell. Clearly and affirmatively, yet without mentioning any of them by name, Augustine refutes the heresies of Arianism, Apollonarianism, Manichaeism, and Pelagianism by demonstrating the necessity of the Trinity, the goodness of the creation, the sinfulness of humanity, and the priority of divine grace in redemption.
Augustine repeatedly urges the necessity of the Trinity upon his readers. “It is enough,” Augustine says when explaining the opening confession of the Apostle’s Creed, “for the Christian to believe that the only cause of all created things, whether heavenly or earthly, whether visible or invisible, is the goodness of the Creator, the one true God; and that nothing exists but Himself that does not derive its existence from Him; and that He is the Trinity--to wit, the Father, and the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the same Father, but one and the same Spirit of Father and Son.”
In addition to defending the Trinity, Augustine safeguards his readers from a distorted view of the created world. Because God is the Creator, the created world is in itself good. Evil, for Augustine, has no separate being but, like a parasite, is dependent upon goodness for its existence. Augustine explains:
“Accordingly, there is nothing of what we call evil, if there be nothing good. But a good which is wholly without evil is a perfect good. A good, on the other hand, which contains evil is a faulty or imperfect good; and there can be no evil where there is no good. . . . Therefore every being, even if it be a defective one, in so far as it is a being is good, and in so far as it is defective is evil.”While Augustine’s defenses of the Trinity and the goodness of creation are exhilarating, nothing equals his vigorous attack upon the notion of free will and his robust vindication of the priority of divine grace in redemption. Augustine demonstrates that while Adam possessed free-will when first created, he lost it for himself and all his descendants by rebelling against God. “For,” he explains, “ it was by the evil use of his free-will that man destroyed both it and himself. For, as a man who kills himself must, of course, be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself ceases to live, and cannot restore himself to life; so, when man by his own free-will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost.”
Because of this bondage, Augustine argues that we are unable to rescue ourselves from our fate of death and damnation. And it is this dismal picture which highlights, both in Scripture and in Augustine’s theology, the wonder of divine grace. Our entire salvation, he maintains, is an outgrowth of God’s mercy. God chooses us, gives us life, enables our wills, prompts us to holiness. Augustine’s summary is well worth quoting:
“After the fall a more abundant exercise of God’s mercy was required, because the will itself had to be freed from the bondage in which it was held by sin and death. And the will owes its freedom in no degree to itself, but solely to the grace of God which comes by faith in Jesus Christ; so that the very will, through which we accept all the other gifts of God which lead us on to His eternal gift, is itself prepared of the Lord, as the Scripture says.”Expanding on the same theme later, Augustine demonstrates the way in which this renewal of will inevitably leads to a godly life.
“This is our first alms,” he declares, “which we give to ourselves when, through the mercy of a pitying God, we find that we are ourselves wretched, and confess the justice of His judgment by which we are made wretched, . . . and praise the greatness of His love, of which [Paul] says, ‘God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us:’ and thus, judging truly of our own misery, and loving God with the love which He has Himself bestowed, we lead a holy and virtuous life.”The Trinity, the goodness of creation, the destructiveness of the Fall, and the beauty of divine grace are only a smattering of the topics Augustine addresses under the head, “What are we to believe?” In the remainder of the book, Augustine briefly addresses the two questions, “What are we to hope for?” and “What are we to love?” The answers? Hope in God not in man who is ever fickle and changeable. Love the Lord and love your neighbor as yourself, for this is the law and the prophets.
The Enchiridion, then, lives up to its name: it is truly a handbook of essential Christianity summarizing as it does the profoundly biblical theology of Augustine, that man who “furnished the themes for the piety and theology of more than a thousand years.” So curl up in your favorite chair, grab a glass of Chablis, crack The Enchiridion, and enter into one of the great classics of Christian literature.
Monday, August 25, 2008
We as sinners like to imagine that we are in control. We buy Franklin Planners and chart out our responsibilities. We rank them with our As, Bs, and Cs. We check them off when we’re done and get the little rush of endorphins. “Ah, I’m in control,” we say to ourselves. “I’ve got it all together. I am the master of my own destiny. Nothing shall stop me.”
It is this type of sin that James addresses with these words to his audience. They boasted in their arrogance. They imagined that they were the ultimate shapers and molders of their own destiny. But James calls them up short – you don’t even know, O foolish man, what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. You are nothing; your plans are nothing; your Franklin Planner is nothing; you are not in control. You are a vapor hovering over the ground subject to the blowing of the wind, the rising of the sun, a change in the temperature. If the wind begins to blow, you float away. If the sun rises, you vanish. If the temperature changes, you get lighter or heavier depending on the change. You are not the master of your own destiny.
Well, if I’m not, who is? God is. God is the master of your destiny. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Our lives rest in the hand of God; He is the Lord. He causes the wind to blow; He causes the sun to rise; He causes the temperature to change. He is the One who wields the nations like a woodsman wielding his axe. “Come and do my bidding,” he declares. “Invade the northern territories of Georgia. Unsettle their population. Uproot their democracy.” And then He declares, “And afterward I shall punish the pride of your heart; I shall overthrow your wickedness. For shall the axe boast itself over the woodsman who wields it?”
So what does James have to tell us today? When you are making plans and decisions – which we all must do – when you are orchestrating a move, making an investment in some new business, selecting a spouse, organizing a date with your beloved, driving to the store to buy groceries, do so in faith, saying, “If the Lord wills, we shall do this or that.” Acknowledge the sovereign Lordship of God and hold all your plans, even those closest to your heart, in uplifted hands that are open to the sovereign intervention of our Lord. He is in control.
Unfortunately, rather than plan in faith, we plan in unbelief. We plan as though we are the master and so we get bent out of shape when our plans are thwarted. We gather all the kids and pack them in the car, getting ready to head to the store and what happens? Junior hits his sister. What is our response? Do we take this as an opportunity given to us by the hand of our loving Father to intervene and train our son? Not likely. How do we respond? With frustration and anger that our plans, orchestrated so carefully, have been thwarted. “Don’t you know, junior, how long it takes me to get everyone dressed and in the car?” But here’s the question – who thwarted your plans? Did your son? No – not ultimately. God did. He crafted this moment just for you. “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
Reminded that we often plan in unbelief and not in faith, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.
The modern church tends to devote a lot of attention to the problem of legalism. And with good reason. Legalism is a nasty sin. It packages idolatry in nice wrapping paper and pawns it off as the worship of the true God.
But for all the opposition to legalism out there, one would think that the problem itself would be well understood. Instead what one finds is a general fogginess. What exactly is legalism? “Well,” responds our fuzzy friend, “it means putting too much emphasis on the law.” Too much emphasis on the law? What does that mean? “It means,” responds another even further out on the branches, “that once the Spirit of God has taken residence in our hearts we aren’t required to keep any written codes any more.” We aren’t required to keep written codes? Why did God give us His Word? The definitions of legalism offered by most people are foggy at best and smack of anti-nomianism, opposition to all written law, at worst.
So what is legalism? James tells us today that legalism is hatred of God’s law. Did you catch that? Legalism is hatred of God’s law.
Legalism takes the law of God, which is good, holy, delightful, and life-giving through the Spirit of God, adds its own restrictions and regulations on top and then uses that to grind others to powder and speak against them.
Legalism is not paying too much attention to God’s law. Listen to the psalmist and tell me – is this legalism? “Oh how I love Thy law, it is my meditation all the day.” “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testmony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” “How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth.” The law of God, the psalmist tells us again and again, is good, delightful, a source of light and salvation when empowered by the Spirit of God. Love for God’s law is not legalism – it is life itself.
You see the Pharisees were legalists, not because they understood the law of God but precisely because they misunderstood it and misconstrued it, applying it in ways that were oppressive and destructive. They hated God’s law and loved their traditions instead. They set themselves up as lawgivers and became, as James says, not the doers of the law but judges of the law – putting themselves in the place of God Himself.
Notice then what James is and is not doing in this passage. He is most certainly not forbidding his audience from evaluating behavior based on the law of God. How do we know this? Because he has been doing this throughout his letter! What then is he doing? He is rebuking those in his audience who were tempted to make all the people of God obey their personal whims and opinions. Whether those opinions were like the Pharisees’ restriction on washing all one’s utensils carefully or whether they are more modern restrictions like complete abstinence from alchohol, or opposition to trans-fatty foods, or hatred for marmalade. There is, James tells us, but one lawgiver and judge. Who are you to judge your brother?
And so listen – learn to distinguish between principles and methods. The Word of God is given to direct us in the way of obedience and provides us with a full and complete resevoir of wisdom and instruction for life. As we apply these laws in our lives in specific ways, we will be required to utilize methods that will enable us to fulfill the principles. When your brother uses a different method, leave him alone - whether the issue is private Christian dayschooling versus homeschooling, eating twinkies or multi-grain muffins, consuming steak or cooking up a veggie burger. God’s law grants a great deal of liberty to each household in the methods they choose to implement biblical principle. So who are you to judge your brother?
Reminded that we often hate God’s law by judging our brothers based on our own opinions rather than his word, let us kneel and ask God to forgive us through Christ.
Two weeks ago we remarked that there are critical places where the modern church draws contrasts between the Old Testament and the New Testament but the Scriptures themselves make a parallel. The practical implications of this parallel come to roost in our text today. Many an earnest Christian has read the verses from James today and imagined that the proper Christian demeanor is one of sour gloominess, that laughter is not fitting for someone who is really spiritual, and that the safest course in life is to walk around with a frown.
But we must remember that for James the Church of God is composed not only of earnest Christians who hunger and thirst for righteousness and desire to please and honor their Lord but also of hypocrites who abuse the grace and mercy of the Lord. It is to these tares among the wheat that James addresses his exhortations today. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
In reading James’ words, it is imperative to recall the life of Israel and the words of the prophets. To recall that there are those who claim the name of Christ and live in a way that defames him and causes the enemies of God to blaspheme. It is to these folks that James issues his exhortation – much like the words of the prophets Joel and Zephaniah years before – Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! For what benefit will the day of the Lord be to you? It will be darkness and not light. Put away your laughter, put away your insipid joy, repent and seek the face of God.
Notice then the way James responds to grievous sin in the Church. He does not deny that such folks are Christians in any sense of the term. Rather, he exhorts them for their unfaithfulness and their lack of genuine devotion to the Lord. He treats their hypocrisy seriously, viewing their fawning deception as a blot on the Church of God. The sin of hypocrites and apostates is far more grievous than that of an unbeliever in the same way that an adulterer is committing a far worse sin than a fornicator. One who has been baptized into the Name of the Triune God, covenantally bound to Him and identified with Christ, and who rebels and rejects this word is in far worse condition than he who never heard the word at all.
So give heed to the words of James all you who bear the Name of God. You children particularly, growing up in the midst of a Christian home, hear the word of James. Greater revelation brings greater responsibility. Do not reject the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not imagine that merely going through the motions of religiosity is a sufficient hedge against the coming judgment. Your only escape – even as it is the only escape of us all – is to throw yourself on the mercy of God in Christ and ask Him to deliver you. Shun hypocrisy. Shun worldliness. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Reminded of the need to seek the face of the Lord and to shun hypocrisy and worldliness, let us kneel and seek His forgiveness.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Recently I have been reading biographies of Christians in the early church written by other Christians in the early church. The Life of Antony written by Athanasius; The Life of Paul of Thebes by Jerome; The Life of Hilarion also by Jerome. All three of these men were instrumental in the foundation of the movement known as monasticism – where men and women separated themselves from society in order to pursue wholeheartedly the presence of God.
For all their faults - and there were many - one thing shines bright and clear throughout their lives – they knew they were at war with the evil one. They knew that Satan was out to destroy them, out to undermine virtue, out to corrupt and taint and distort whatever vestiges of righteousness he could find. And not only did these saints know they were at war – they knew which side they were on. Read the life of Antony – here was a man who hungered and thirsted for righteousness. Read the life of Paul of Thebes – here was a man who sought first the kingdom of God. Read the life of Hilarion – here was a man who panted for the living God and for streams of living water. Years and years they would wrestle and strive and fight. Why? To overcome sin and in so doing to overcome all the wiles of the evil one.
So let me encourage you – read of our fathers. Read of the monastics. Read of the martyrs. Here was faith. Here was abandon. Here was striving in the fight against sin and vice. They understood that the stakes were high. They understood that the war with the evil one was raging constantly. They understood that constant vigilance was imperative. But what of us? I fear that we are too patient with our sin. We fail to perceive the nature of life.
Brothers and sisters, we are in a war. The evil one would like to take us down. He would like to destroy us. He would like to see us corrupted. He would like us to be complacent. Do you see it? When you are tempted to ignore your wife – that’s the battle. When you are tempted to be bitter toward your husband – that is the battle. When you are tempted to yell at the kids – that is the battle. When you are tempted to disrespect your parents – that is the battle. When you are tempted to despise your sibling – that is the battle. A war is raging and many of us are playing with the little tinker toys in the corner. A war is raging and many of us are keeping uncommon close company with the enemy. A war is raging and many of us are consumed with whether we are happy rather than whether we are holy, equipped for the battle.
So listen – let us get our eyes off our navels and get to war. Let us get rid of our selfishness, get rid of our greed, get rid of our bitterness, get rid of our lust, get rid of our idolatry. Let us heed the exhortation of James – Submit to God, resist the devil. And then listen to the promise of God. He will flee from you, from little old you. Listen to the Word of God through the Apostle John, “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” You have overcome the evil one. Have you?
Peter tells us that the Spirit of God has come to give us all things necessary for life and godliness – did you hear that, all things necessary. And this is written by a man who believed firmly in total depravity. So what excuses have we made for failing to achieve it? The monastics didn’t make excuses – they did whatever was necessary to please the Lord. In this let us imitate them.
Reminded that we are in a war and that many of us are playing with the dollies in the attic, let us kneel and let us confess our sin to God.