Scourged and Crucified: A Good Friday Reflection

In all of their glorification of the “giants of the faith,” evangelicals either overlook or ignore the fact that same giants were usually far better versed in the classics of antiquity than is common today.   To some extent this is understandable: study of these works has taken a beating the last fifty years, and we have the ignorant national discourse to show it.  But it is also indicative of Evangelicals’ own narrow view of things.  They learn enough about classical antiquity in order to read the maps in the back of the Bible, and that’s about it.

One giant of the faith who was well versed in them was G.K. Chesterton.  When he looked at the clash between Elijah and the followers of Yahweh and Jezebel and the followers of Baal at Mt. Carmel, he saw more than two competing teams: he saw a civilisational conflict between those who put there trust in the intangible and those who were driven strictly by commercial considerations.  To him the competition between the Romans and the Carthiginians (Carthage was a colony of Tyre) was just the “Western Front” of this war, and archeology has borne this out in a grisly way.

In addition to such unappetising customs, the Carthaginians brought crucifixion to the western Mediterranean.  This grisly combined punishment and execution was Middle Eastern in origin; Herodotus mentions it, probably came from Persia.  It percolated across the Levant and from there to Carthage.  The fact that it combined punishment and execution meant that, in most cases, it was deemed enough by itself.

The Second Punic War (of three) between Rome and Carthage had several classical historians document it and one of those was Livy.  His history from the start of Rome to Augustus is sweeping in its scope.  Much of the history is centred on battles and punishments, and it’s the latter we will focus on.  Although as noted crucifixion was usually considered punishment enough, Livy records two instances during the Second Punic War where people were both scourged and crucified.

The first took place after Hannibal’s victory at Lake Trasimene, in the early stages of his Italian campaign:

He (Hannibal) then ordered a guide to lead him into the territory of Casinum, as he had been informed by people familiar with the country that the occupation of the pass would cut the route by which the Romans could bring aid to their allies.  His pronunciation, however, did not take kindly to Latin names, with the result that the guide thought he said ‘Casilinum’; he accordingly went in the wrong direction, coming down by way of Allifae, Calatia and Cales in the plain of Stella, where seeing on every side a barrier of mountains and rivers, he sent for the guide and asked where on earth he was.  The guide answered he would lodge that day at Casilinum, whereupon Hannibal realised his mistake and knew that Casinum was miles away in a different direction.  He had the guide scourged and crucified as an example to others… (Livy, XXII, 13)

The second took place towards the end of the war, when the Carthiginian general Mago attempted to enter Gades (Cadiz) in southwestern Spain.  Formerly a Carthiginian ally, their change in heart proved deadly for the town’s leadership:

Mago on his return to Gades found himself shut out of the town.  Sailing to Cimbii, which was not far distant, he sent representatives back to Gades to complain of the gates’ being barred against a friend and ally; the people of the town tried to excuse themselves by saying it had been the work of a section of the populace which was enraged because the soldiers had stolen property of their when they went aboard ship; whereupon Mago enticed to a conference the sufetes of the town (the highest sort of Carthaginian magistrate) together with the treasurer, and, once they were in his power, had them scourged and crucified.  (Livy, XXVIII, 37)

The Carthiginians were hard masters, which may in part explain why the Italian allies/subjects of Rome did not bolt en masse after Cannae.  But the Romans, the supreme adapters as they were, made crucifixion part of their arsenal against those who had the bad idea of challenge or revolt against Roman authority.  Our Lord had predicted that he would be the victim of such a treatment:

When Jesus was on the point of going up to Jerusalem, he gathered the twelve disciples round him by themselves, and said to them as they were on their way: “Listen! We are going up to Jerusalem; and there the Son of Man will be betrayed to the Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law, and they will condemn him to death, And give him up to the Gentiles for them to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify; and on the third day he will rise.” (Matthew 20:17-19, TCNT.)

The Romans lived up to his expectations:

Pilate, however, spoke to them again: “What shall I do then with the man whom you call the ‘King of the Jews’?”

Again they shouted: “Crucify him!”

“Why, what harm has he done?” Pilate kept saying to them.

But they shouted furiously: “Crucify him!” And Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and, after scourging Jesus, gave him up to be crucified. (Mark 15:12-15, TCNT.)

Scourging someone before crucifixion made death on the cross more rapid, something that Pilate, mindful of the Jews’ Passover, may have wanted to take place.

But that scourging, anticipated by Our Lord, had a purpose, as did the crucifixion:

He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5 Brenton)

In his crucifixion and resurrection Jesus won a victory, not only over sin, death, and the physical pain of this life, but over those who would posit life only as an extended business deal like the Carthaginians who, with Jezebel’s co-religionists, sacrificed their own children as part of their bargain with the gods.

And that’s good news for everyone.

 

Just Because Your Alma Mater is “Christian” Doesn’t Mean You’ll Be

Higher education is a competitive business.  One of the things that educational institutions that are affiliated with a church or profess or call themselves Christian use to attract students is “your faith will be enhanced by coming here.”  Christian parents and students find that attractive, which is why many pay the premium to go to one of these institutions.

Unfortunately things don’t always work out the way we think they’re supposed to.  I didn’t have to wait until college to find that out: the one and only church affiliated educational institution I ever attended, the St. Andrew’s School, was the place where I entered an Episcopalian (the school was and is affiliated with the Episcopal diocese it’s in) and left a Roman Catholic, a move which liberal and conservative alike found distasteful.

So how did this happen?  There are basically two reasons for this.

The first is that the school, like many in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, received an influx of sixties radicals in the faculty.  These obviously had little use for any “traditional” agenda of any kind, Christian or otherwise.

The second is that neither of the school’s head chaplains–who also taught the required theology courses–had much use for the Episcopal Church’s historical beliefs either.  I document my conflict with the second one here.

Although life at Bethesda had its moments, when I came to St. Andrew’s I was basically happy with being an Episcopalian.  By the time I left I wasn’t.  I could have just dropped out of church altogether, like many did (and do) when faced with people who had fled their post.  Thankfully I didn’t.

Christian educational institutions don’t exist in a vacuum.  They’re subject to the changes going both in the society at large and in their own church (if they’re affiliated with one.)  It’s takes a special effort–and occasionally some unpleasant staff and policy changes–to keep such an institution on course.  It’s easy to let things and people slip.  This is true for Evangelical and Pentecostal institutions as well; the firm doctrinal stand is frequently overwhelmed by the shame-based desire to be acceptable in society.  The accreditation system accelerates this process.

For me, I went to Texas A&M, which exceeded my expectations in many ways.  I’ve never been on the faculty or received a degree from a Christian institution since.

So what is to be done?  For Christian parents and prospective students, it’s time to be discerning.  Don’t accept labels and heritage at face value; things are changing too fast these days.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in his good time, laying all your anxieties upon him, for he makes you his care. Exercise self-control, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, like a roaring lion, is prowling about, eager to devour you. Stand firm against him, strong in your faith; knowing, as you do, that the very sufferings which you are undergoing are being endured to the full by your Brotherhood throughout the world. God, from whom all help comes, and who called you, by your union with Christ, into his eternal glory, will, when you have suffered for a little while, himself perfect, establish, strengthen you. To him be ascribed dominion for ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6-11 TCNT)

The Real Problem with Prosperity Teaching Isn’t Theological (Well, not entirely…)

There’s a well-known Anglican “divine” (to use the old term) in this country who’s engaged in a Facebook campaign/rant (take your pick) about African faith declarations and the popularity of prosperity teaching.  It’s gone on for some time, and the fact that he’s Reformed only adds to the persistence.  (Maybe he’s also trying to prove that doctrine, but that’s another post…)

Readers of this blog know that an family heritage snob like me doesn’t have much use for prosperity teaching as it is currently propagated by the arrivistes on this side of the Atlantic.  And that may be a big part of our Anglican divine’s problem: Episcopal churches in this Republic have traditionally been the church home of people who really don’t need “name it and claim it” or “blab it and grab it” because they already have it and know how to get it by other means.  I suspect that Anglican churches have inherited many of these people and have attracted more to their ranks, which is why it’s easy for Anglican and Episcopal divines to sniff at others not so well endowed.

But to turn sniffing into heresy hunting is a game-changer.  It’s easy if you’re a hammer to see everything else as a nail; it’s easy if you’re a minister of the Gospel to see everything that doesn’t square with what you know to be true as heresy, especially when you’ve been pummeled by the stuff from the Episcopal left.  It’s also easy to miss the forest for the trees, and I think objectors to prosperity teaching have done just that.  The real problem with prosperity teaching isn’t theological, but it’s wrapped up with the whole theodicy issue.

I’ve discussed this before, but the core problem is that Americans in particular have been drilled in the idea that life is supposed to be a “bowl of cherries” and that they’re not supposed to experience adversity or pain.  That’s an interesting idea in a country where interpersonal relationships (like marriage and parenting) are so unstable and thus cause pain by themselves.  That’s had a great deal of fallout, I’ll mentioned two examples.

The first is the opioid crisis.  Boomers act like this is something new, but face it: the generation committed to “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” put drugs front and center in life.  But why?  Why are Americans so prone to taking drugs, and have been for the last 50+ years?  Some of that blame must be put squarely on the drug companies themselves.  Leaving out the scourge of prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, so many over-the-counter drugs were sold on the idea of “take a pill, you don’t have to feel pain, everything will be fine.”  That’s a powerful concept for drugs both legal, illegal and those in transition.  But it’s left a wreckage.

The second is prosperity teaching itself.  You never learn to appreciate the “positive confession” movement until you’ve been subjected to the “negative confession” one.  But prosperity teaching here pushes very strongly the idea of the pain-free, adversity-free life, especially for people who have been primed for that idea by their culture.

And that’s where the Africans come in.  Prosperity teaching has an obvious appeal in a place as poor as Africa.  But my exposure to the Africans tells me that for the most part they haven’t bought into the pain-free, adversity-free mentality that we have here in the U.S.  Their daily life and bad actors such as Boko Haram only reinforce reality in a way that most Americans find incomprehensible.

So what’s a Christian to do?  The first thing is to define the extremes, and see what’s in the middle.  We’ve seen one extreme, the adversity-free idea.  The other is that we should just tough everything out in life and do it ourselves.  The problem with that is that it basically leaves God out as our ultimate source and strength.  A good example of that is the “Contract on the Episcopalians, ” where the promises of God were replaced by what we promised to do.

Somewhere between these two extremes is reality, that we live in a fallen world, that our God as given us the promise of eternity, that bad things happen but ultimately that the life that God has given us is good.

Finding a middle ground on anything these days isn’t easy.  In this case, however, it is both Biblical and necessary.

The Sheep Thief: An Episcopal Story

It’s another year and another opportunity to start it with a “monumental post.”  Unfortunately, as the Anglican Curmudgeon points out, there aren’t many good things to report these days.  Our political system has gone dangerously stupid, completely in thrall to those who judge the merits of any proposal on who proposed it.  The Anglican Communion has come to the realisation that its supposed primus inter pares, Justin Welby, has sold the pass (which I’ve been waiting to happen for a long time.)

With all that, for this post I’m going back to my days at Bethesda (a church very much in the news even now.)  During most of my time there, our rector was Hunsdon Cary, whose relatives got caught in Jon Bruno’s bullying in California.  My father preferred to characterise him as a vacuous Episcopal divine, but he did manage a couple of durable accomplishments during his time: the founding of the Church Mouse (which was really the work of others) and the Boar’s/Bore’s Head celebration, which is just about the highlight of the year at Bethesda.

Our ministers would like to think that their profound theological musings are the most memorable part of their sermons.  In the case of the Anglicans this is especially problematic, but in reality the things that stick are the illustrations, something that you who preach sermons need to keep in mind.  I’m almost positive it’s Dr. Cary’s and it’s remained with me until now.

In an old village they raised a lot of sheep, and they are subject to theft.  One young man tried to make a livelihood out of it, so he was a sheep thief.

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What a sheep thief might have seen in the “old country” while plying his trade, atop Hergest Ridge, 1976.

He eventually got caught, and since they didn’t have the budgets for putting people in prison like they have now, they branded his forehead with “ST”, or “Sheep Thief.”  In a small village that was punishment enough; you were literally “branded for life” and short of taking off for London or America there weren’t many options.

Well, this sheep thief evidently took the comforting words of the Prayer Book to heart and decided to “truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways.”  He spent the rest of his days doing good deeds for people in the village, and gained a good reputation doing so.  When he was very old, while walking about, one young person asked another, “What’s the ‘ST’ on his forehead mean?”

“I don’t know,” was the reply, “I think it means Saint.”

We like to think we live in a “tolerant” time, but the reality is that it’s pretty easy to get your reputation ruined (with the consequences of that following) with one act.  In the sheep thief’s case at least he knew his act was illegal when he did it; these days the rules can change and you can get in trouble for stuff that wasn’t illegal (or considered wrong) when you did it.  And with digital memories it’s hard to shake something.  Human memory may fade but the record doesn’t.

As we start the New Year, the lesson of this illustration–in many ways harder to do now than even when Dr. Cary used it–is that we need to quit flying off at the handle and relying on virtue signalling to show the world that we are “good people.”  One of the serious consequences of the de-Christianisation of society is that we no longer know that only God is good and the rest of us need a Saviour.  That puts our “goodness” on our own efforts, and given the erratic nature of the human condition that’s an impossible order to fill.

It’s probably too much to ask at this stage in history, but at this point we as Christians need to keep the possibility–really, the imperative–of redemption in front of us, even for those whom we dislike and who hate us.  (We don’t need to confuse real reconciliation with just going along to get along, always a temptation in this society.)  Life will be a lot sweeter for us–and for others–if we do.

Steeleye Span: Gaudete

It’s just a tad late in the Advent calendar, but just in time for Christmas: “Gaudete,” sung a capella by the British folk/rock group Steeleye Span.

Getting British rockers (even folk types like Steeleye Span) to sing in Latin was no mean trick, but they did it, and this video furnishes the lyrics.

Guaranteed to freak your church out if you can replicate it.

The Wesleyan Advent Hymn the Wesleyan Pentecostals Don't Sing

It’s the classic hymn for the Second Sunday in Advent: “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,” done in good Anglo-Catholic style here:

The lyrics were written by Charles Wesley in 1758; more than one tune has been affixed to them, this is my favourite.  It’s about the Second Coming, which is really what Advent is all about: Jesus Christ came once, he will come again.  A better known song with the same theme is “Joy to the World” but it’s been lost in the Christmas carols.

It’s a magnificent hymn, so why don’t those who claim the Wesleyan (albeit John) name sing it?  Probably the same reason they adopted Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology: because the Baptists didn’t do it that way!

I am sure, however, that our contemporary ministers of music can adapt this to their style and instrumentation.  Why?  Because the old High Church types and the smoke machine people have one thing in common: they both like it loud.

Does Anyone Really Believe This Current System is Permanent?

One of side “benefits” of being in the Anglican/Episcopal blogosphere is to get to know “Anglicans Unscripted,” the video interview series hosted by Kevin Kallsen, with frequent contribution by fellow Palm Beacher George Conger.  In a recent episode with Kallsen and the Queen’s former chaplain Gavin Ashenden, they discussed a float in Justin Welby’s parade of inept gaffes, namely his statement during a meeting with the Patriarch in Moscow that he lacked freedom to speak out on issues back in the UK.  In the course of discussing this Kallsen makes this observation:

What Kallsen is saying is that, in Russia, the church understands that kings and governments come and go and the church remains.  In the West, however, the church feels that it has to get with the program so that “society” and “culture” will allow the church the right to exist.  I also suspect that, even with the much shorter history of Christianity in China, the Chinese take the same attitude, which explains why Christian churches in China experience the growth they do even in the face of government and party hostility.

For an American to come to this realisation, let alone verbalise it, is amazing, although I’ve found the debate level in the Anglican/Episcopal world to be at a higher level than many other places in Christianity.  Americans take a notoriously short view of history, which more than anything else makes them inherently provincial.  The really sad truth is that, with more than fifty years of “liberation,” world travel and the fire hose of news that the internet affords, they still have the idea that this system of things will not basically change, which only reinforces the baneful provinciality.

That attitude is the one thing that actually unites both sides of our political scene in this country.   In spite of noises such as the abolition of the Electoral College or the institution of a parliamentary system on one side or amendments against abortion or same-sex civil marriage on the other, both sides see their destiny fulfilled in the current system with the current structure.  That’s a major reason both sides carry on as vociferously as they do; they look on success in politics as an existential necessity.

But countries come and countries go, and the way they’re governed goes with it.  Americans are out of touch with reality when they reflexively oppose any kind of secession (including Catalonia, Scotland, and the best one, Calexit.)  Christians in particular should understand that regimes and systems change (just compare those we have now to those in the Scriptures should make that clear) and that the church needs to fulfil the mission Our Lord put it on the earth to accomplish.  One reason why American Christians are having a hard time understanding (let alone supporting) Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” is that the original Benedict Option was made necessary by the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, an event which is entirely outside the experience of Americans.  (It’s hard to get Americans to understand what the collapse of the other superpower was really like, which is why we have so much foolish prattle about the Russians.)

It’s time for our ministers to earn their keep and set forth the idea that the church needs to really “be the church” (and not just in the way it worships either) and not constantly beholden to a system which is USD20 trillion in debt.  The results of that realisation may not be easy to carry out in this life, but doing so beats the blowback to what we’re doing now on the other side.

Not Much on Taking Advice: Pentecostals and Anglicanism

Growing up–especially when we lived on Lookout Mountain, something of a fantasy land in itself–I always enjoyed the Disney movies and records I could take in or had.  One of those that’s stuck with me is the song “Very Good Advice” from Alice in Wonderland. The clip from the movie is below:

Today is the Feast of Christ the King where, in addition to celebrating Our Lord’s coming return, we put a wrap on one liturgical year and prepare for the beginning of another with the First Sunday in Advent.  Considering the liturgical year brings me to a topic that, I think, needs to be discussed: the growing interest that some Pentecostals have in Anglicanism and other liturgical/apostolic churches, and specifically my adventure (or lack of it) in this process.

This website has been around for over two decades and I’ve been on social media (first Facebook, then Twitter) for almost half that time.  Much of what’s driven that has been my participation in the “Anglican Revolt,” so much of what’s here is aimed in that direction.  It’s almost innate for me to discuss Anglican/Episcopalian and Roman Catholic things because I was raised in one and spent much of my early adult life in another; my intellectual formation (and first entry into the Charismatic/Pentecostal world) came largely from my years as a Roman Catholic.  And I’ve gotten into some interesting dialogues with my Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox visitors, some positive, some not as much.

Engaging my Pentecostal friends in a dialogue has been another matter altogether.  With a few exceptions, the general response from that direction has been silence.  In the meanwhile I see them posting things such as nice Anglican churches, interest in liturgy and even evidence that they sneak into an Episcopal Church from time to time.  After my father’s experience in trying to get through the shoals of the Bahamas without a native guide, I thought that they might like one as well, with perhaps some “good advice.”  But by and large they have not, preferring to risk hitting the reef and going to the bottom.

There are a couple of things that need to be said at this point.

The first is that I’d be the first one to admit that there are many problems with Pentecostal/Charismatic churches these days.   Coming from a tradition of spontaneity and Spirit-led worship,  worship in many of these churches is a well-programmed floor show.  There’s too much emphasis on income generation and system maintenance, which (unBiblical though it is)  is a lot easier to carry out in the demographic of, say, the Episcopal Church than it is with most Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.  And, of course, there’s always the political element, although in this country both sides of the debate have too many of their eggs in the political basket.

The second is that, relative to those of us who are products of liturgical/apostolic churches, people who are raised in a Pentecostal church are products of an alternative universe.  That means that they often don’t “get” what they’re looking at, or how might be used to improve their own situation.  For example, I have yet to see a cogent explanation from any Pentecostal about what a “sacrament” is, or what it’s supposed to do, or why they’re important, or how sacramental theology differs substantially from what we’ve been regaled with up until now.  And potential cognitive dissonance extends to other topics.  For example, with Advent coming up, how do you plan to turn the Christmas season into an Advent one after years of Dickensenian conditioning?   How do we do Lent when many of our congregations have already run off and done the Daniel Diet in January?  Will we ever ditch Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology?  Or how do we incorporate the move of the Spirit into liturgical worship?  (Having experienced this myself, I really thought that people would be interested in it, but silly me…)  Instead of tackling these questions head-on, what I see these days is Pentecostal thinkers papering over the problems with post-modern fudge (which, sad to say, is too much like Anglican fudge, with potentially the same result.)

Unlike some people, I don’t have any problem investigating “how the other half lives.”  In some respects that’s what I’ve done here for a long time.  What bothers me is that others that do aren’t interested in the experience and observations of those who have trod the path, even if they had started from another place and took the path in a different direction.

And that leads me to something that bothers me even more: that these investigations, for some at least, are a part of moving up.  Pentecostal churches have two things that most of American Christianity only dreams of: the preferential option of the poor and ethnic diversity.  Nevertheless, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary, it seems that some who trod the Anglican/Episcopal road want to end up in a place which, really, has neither, because their own life situation no longer matches the state of their church.  And that, of course, will draw them into the struggles which have convulsed the Anglican/Episcopal world for the last half century.  Which side will they choose?  I am fearful, if for no other reason than that they will project their own problems with their own past into the conflict.

But, as I said at the start, many eschew the native guide.  Like Alice, they peer into the Gothic cathedrals and churches “through the looking glass” not realising what they’re really peering into is a palantir.  Those of us who have slogged through the battles with the likes of KJS and now Justin Welby know what’s coming but theological Siegfrieds know no fear at their peril.  They and their churches will end up pointless and they will, like Alice in the video at the start of this post, will end up crying in the dark, wishing they had taken some good advice.

Evangelicals Took Over the Church of England? So What?

An eye-opener, indeed:

Fifty years later there’s good reason for evangelicals to believe Stott’s argument ultimately won the day. For instance, unlike his more liberal predecessor, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is a charismatic evangelical (and a member of Holy Trinity Brompton before he was ordained), and his counterpart in York, John Sentamu, comes from an evangelical background too. As Rev Dr Ian Paul, who sits on the Archbishops’ Council notes, while previous generations of evangelicals ignored senior establishment posts, today’s evangelicals are taking them on, so when it comes to its senior leadership, “the Church of England is more evangelical than it’s ever been”. According to Dr Paul, the growth of the Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) and New Wine networks is further evidence that evangelicals are having a strong impact on the Church. And the trend looks set to continue. Evangelicals now account for 70 per cent of ordinands entering training. A generation ago, the figure was just 30 per cent.

On the other hand…based on the last Welby-directed Primates’ meeting, it should be obvious that what’s being “evangelised” isn’t the Gospel.

There’s no question that the language and methodology of evangelicalism has affected just about all of Christianity, including the Episcopalians (who used to think such things were in bad taste) and #straightouttairondale Roman Catholicism.  But what’s the good news?  That we can live in like fashion to those whose first purpose is to get laid, high or drunk?

One thing that would simplify things or everyone is to make a clean separation of civil marriage from marriage in the church.  That has its problems but it would take some of the pressure from churches to make their idea of marriage conform with that of the state’s.

Stripped of a real Biblical ethic, “evangelicalism” is simply another b-school method of filling pews and offering plates.  God’s church deserves better, but getting that isn’t easy these days.

Healy Willan's Missa de Sancta Maria Magdelena

It was the “standard” rendition of the Holy Communion when I grew up at Bethesda-by-the-Sea, and the paid youth choir did a proper job of it.  This rendition comes from St. John’s Cathedral in Detroit.

It remains one of the most moving “masses” (that term didn’t sit well with many Episcopalians) I have ever heard, and remains a favourite.

Note that the priest is ad orientem, which can get people into trouble in some places.