Lessons about Women’s Ordination from Palm Beach’s Social System

Some readers of the blog are doubtless buffaloed at my blasé attitude regarding what Anglicans call WO (women’s ordination.)  I explain some of my rationale here but some of that comes from being a product of the Palm Beach social system.  That system–exclusivistic and highly non-industrial–moulds everyone who lives there in ways that aren’t obvious until they get away from it.  So here are some reflections on the effect of that system and why it’s relevant in the church today.

First, a core feature of the system is the simple fact that women have been powerful and played a central role in the system long before the move to “liberate” them got going.  An easy-to-understand example of this was Marjorie Merriweather Post, who owned Mar-a-Lago for so many years.  Mar-a-Lago was (and is if you ignore the fact that it’s a private club now) the largest private residence on the island, and she was prominent (including the square dances she held.)  But she was only one.  Palm Beach was a place where work was a four-letter word in the past for many people (or in their ancestors’ past.)  With this a person’s position based on the job they did (and for many years it was the men who did most of the paid jobs) didn’t really bear on where you stood in the scheme of things.

This tended to put women in the driver’s seat in many ways–overseeing households (where they routinely told men what to do,) controlling fortunes (based on the terms and conditions of those fortunes) and organising events.  There’s power in all of that.  It’s hard to swallow industrial-era based complementarianism when you’ve been exposed to that.  (A cursory reading of Proverbs 31 should also put paid to such thinking, but I digress…)

The second is that power is not always exercised in the open.  We are routinely regaled with things such as “the first woman to…” and so forth.  And these accomplishments should not be gainsaid.  However, one thing one learns in a place like Palm Beach (and should be learned elsewhere but frequently isn’t) is that real power often resides in the hands of those who aren’t in the limelight, or who don’t have the formal position.  That, just about as much as anything, drives me crazy about American political dialogue.  The whole rise of the Religious Right in politics was based on the idea that, if we could win enough elections, we could take American back for God again.  We now know that this was not true in the 1980’s and certainly isn’t now, although elections are important.

An interesting example of how this played out relevant to the topic of women took place when the Vestry of Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, led by shirt magnate William Cluett, booted the ladies’ rummage sale from the parish hall on “scriptural” grounds.  In those days vestries were an all-male affair, and in a complementarian world the ladies would be compelled to sit down and shut up.  They didn’t; led by prominent socialite Helene Tuchbreiter, they moved their operation elsewhere and started the Church Mouse resale shop, which is today a part of the scene in Palm Beach.

So why is Palm Beach’s social system educational for the rest of us?  Well, “moving up” is a big deal for Americans in church and elsewhere.  You simply cannot promote industrial-era complementarianism one the one hand and the desire of upward social mobility on the other without running in the simple fact that, when you reach the peak of the latter the former isn’t operative.  For all of its unBiblical aspects, Palm Beach’s social system in many ways reflects a time before what job someone had defined their status in life, and that’s something that everyone needs to remember.  If we could get past that, we could liberate ourselves from many things.

P.S. One thing I didn’t touch on was the exclusivist nature of Palm Beach’s social system.  We hear many opponents of Christianity decry churches as “country clubs” but if you’re a product of a system where being in a club was a big deal that isn’t much of an insult.  And if we’re going to implement things such as the “Benedict Option” that aspect will be a key to our survival.  But again that’s another post…

Paige Patterson’s Baptistic End

The board of Southwestern Baptistic Theological Seminary’s volte face is stunning:

After midnight in Germany, while Patterson was sleeping, the chairman of the board of trustees, Kevin Ueckert, ordered Scott Colter to wake Patterson for a phone call. On the call, Ueckert told Patterson he was fired effective immediately, with no salary, no health insurance and no home. He then relayed that Patterson would receive instructions for vacating Pecan Manor upon returning to Fort Worth.

Before the phone call, both Pattersons’ and Colter’s email accounts, including personal contacts and calendar, were shut down without notice and while the three were traveling in Germany on behalf of Southwestern, leaving them without access to itineraries, train tickets, local contact information, hotel confirmation and flight boarding passes.

Also at some point before the phone call, the locks were changed without notice to the room on Southwestern’s campus housing Patterson’s private and personal archives containing ministry materials and documents from Criswell College and the Conservative Resurgence. No notice was given, and the Pattersons had no knowledge that this was being done and had not given permission for such. Despite accusations that the archives were mishandled, the attached correspondence from 2004 from Patterson to Southeastern’s librarian and president indicate he believes all was handled properly.

The whole article–written by the wife of Patterson’s chief of staff–needs to be read in its entirety.  But the way the Board reversed its previous decision and unceremoniously dumped him is unfortunately typical of the way Southern Baptists handle situations like this.  In their system you’re either highly favoured or cast into outer darkness, there’s no middle ground.

In the early 1980’s a county Baptist association’s director’s son came out of the closet and subsequently died of AIDS.  Their response was to dump the association director.  Needless to say he became an apologist for the LGBT agenda.

I think much of that has to do with their defective combination of Arminian election and Calvinistic perseverance.  Once you’ve made your decision for Christ and then mess up, the only explanation left is that you weren’t saved to start with.  So how can anything subsequent to that be trusted?  Out with you.  It’s a highly binary (dare I say digital) way of looking at Christian life, but it is, as the Russians would say, their idea.

In other places, it’s different.  In my own Pentecostal denomination, a friend A got fired by a prominent denominational leader B from his position.  Another leader C made the shrewd observation that everyone who doesn’t like B is suddenly A’s friend, and sure enough he got hired to another position.  I can’t see that happening very often in the SBC.

It’s this kind of thing that makes me wonder how the Southern Baptist Convention is going to prosper in the coming years.  Today it’s big enough to get away with it, but what about tomorrow?

HT for the article Robert A.J. Gagnon.

Bill Gothard’s Poison Pill for Southern Baptists

This is Memorial Day weekend, when we as Americans remember those who gave their lives for our country.  For me that turns back to my uncle, Don Gaston Shofner, and his sacrifice even before he could get to enemy skies.  But that brings up another point: Gaston (as he was called in good Southern tradition) and his family were (and those who are left mostly are) Southern Baptists.  Now the Baptists tend to get the “left hand of fellowship” on this site, starting with Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology (another Arkansas Baptist) and going downhill from there.

These days they’re getting it from many sources, especially in the wake of the mess surrounding Paige Patterson.  Patterson, with others, was a leader in one of the most successful ecclesiastical coups of the last fifty years: the ascendancy of conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention and the prevention of the leftward drift that has plagued just about every Main Line denomination.  (I wouldn’t describe the SBC as Main Line for a long list of reasons, but that’s another post…)  I was actually in the SBC during the central part of that drama, and it was interesting.  The “moderates” in power appealed for people to “get with the program” of the denomination, while the conservatives appealed to the authority and inerrancy of God’s Word.  For someone like me who had spent much of his growing up years struggling against the tide to place God’s Word above the program, the choice wasn’t difficult.  Evidently most of the Convention felt the same way.

In a sense both were appealing to authority, the moderates to the established authority of the convention and the conservatives to God himself.  At this point, however, something strange happened that got lost in the victory: the conservatives, having justified themselves on God’s authority, proceeded to make getting human authority a big deal.  Although many wouldn’t admit it then (and certainly not now) a good deal of their inspiration came from Bill Gothard.

Gothard, in my humble opinion, had more influence on Boomer Evangelicals than any other single Christian teacher during the 1970’s.  He taught that God’s way was a top-down authority structure, one that started with God himself and permeated through the state, church and ultimately the family itself.  For a generation mired in rebellion, Gothard offered an authority-driven order as not only a way out of the chaos of the 1960’s and 1970’s but as a way of papering over past rebelliousness.

The problem with this as applied to Baptists in general and Southern Baptists in particular is that the Baptists had pretty much torn up the whole top-down authority structure in the church in favour of a bottom-up, congregational model.  Baptist churches are locally autonomous; they call their own ministers, regulate their own finances and ordain their own ministers, to be recognised by other local churches.  The SBC was founded with the idea that some functions, such as home and foreign missions, were best handled “cooperatively” by organisations such as the Foreign Mission Board.  The wonderfulness of that idea wasn’t shared by all Baptists: the Landmark movement, which Gaston’s parents were very much a part of when he went off to war, was started in part as a disagreement over the FMB.

So how did the Southern Baptists hold things in the road with their anarchic system?  Traditionally they did it through an emphasis on rigid conformity and peer pressure.  This appealed to their core ethnic group, the Scots-Irish, because it allowed them to have an organised religion without someone obviously telling them what to do, which they hated more than death itself.  This system can have serious problems but introducing a top-down system like Gothard’s, which seeped into even a self-contained system such as the SBC, was the introduction of an alien idea, one which has turned into a “poison pill.”

Perhaps that alien idea was forwarded by the most distasteful aspect of Gothard himself: his sexual advances on women in his organisation.  The whole fight over WO in the SBC, and the serious complementarianism that is used to oppose it, is based on women not having “authority” over a man.  In a system where authority is a dicey proposition to start with, it’s difficult to see how a hard line can be taken.

The church isn’t the only place where authority is a question.  Gothard and his Baptist allies apply it to the home, but that’s where Patterson got into trouble: he advised a woman to stick it out under “authority.”  Personally I don’t see that the New Testament justifies the use of violence against another human being, and certainly any of Gothard’s advances should be lumped with fornication and adultery, neither of which has Scriptural sanction.  But once you make human authority a central part of church life, you open up the possibility of people exercising their “authority” for unBiblical purposes of all kinds.

Our society has changed, and mostly not for the better.  Much of what the Southern Baptists and other Christians do was once lauded and now cursed because of changes in society, not changes in God’s standard for his people.  But most systems fall when their own weaknesses overtake their own strengths, and that’s a lot of what we’re seeing with the SBC.  In addition to some of the things discussed here, we have the Baptists’ metastable idea of election and perseverance  and their lack of success in breaking out of their own ethnic ghetto.

I don’t see how the Baptists plan to get out of the mess they’re in.  Some things would be helped if they reverted to a more autonomous, bottom-up view of church life they used to have.  Others would benefit from throttling back the regional obsession with status and “moving up,” but one could apply that to American Christianity in general.  But structures survive storms and earthquakes not as much from sheer strength and rigidity but because they can deflect and return to their original state during times such as this.  The whole Baptist system strikes me as too rigid to do that.  This is sad, because many people’s eternity has been changed through the tireless outreach of Southern Baptists, and that–followed by discipleship–is ultimately what the church is all about.

Why I’m in a Pentecostal Church and Not an Episcopal One

All of the blather we’ve been hearing about Presiding Bishop (not Archbishop) Michael Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding last weekend obviously focuses attention not only on Curry and the duplicitous Justin Welby but on the Episcopal Church in general.  I don’t doubt that same church, faced with years of declining membership and self-inflicted litigation costs, would like a shot in the arm with a few more visitors and members.

Those who have criticised Curry on doctrinal issues have, IMHO, missed a point.  Episcopal ministers have been doling out vacuous, unchallenging fudge for as long as I’ve been on the earth and then some.  The serious question is “Has their departure from the Gospel paid off for them (the leadership) and their parishioners?”  The simple answer is no, and there are many ways this failure has happened, but I’ll concentrate on one: the social justice aspect.  Curry told us that love will transform the world; they’ve had at least fifty years to pull that off with their obsession with social justice, has it taken place?

One thing that hasn’t taken place is a demographic shift.  The Episcopal Church is still a largely white denomination with an elite demographic, even after all these years of trying to be the advocate of the poor.  You’d think that some of the recipients of this support would show up just out of gratitude, but few have.  For me, that runs into two serious problems from two separate sources.

Karl Marx told us that people like the Episcopalians were exploiters of other peoples’ surplus value; thus, they would always be the problem, to be overthrown in the revolution (and subsequently liquidated according to the usual Leninist and Maoist pattern.)

Jesus Christ gives the rich an entirely different challenge:

And a man came up to Jesus, and said: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to obtain Immortal life?” “Why ask me about goodness?” answered Jesus. “There is but One who is good. If you want to enter the Life, keep the commandments.” “What commandments?” asked the man. “These,” answered Jesus:–“‘Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not say what is false about others. Honor thy father and thy mother.’ And ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thou dost thyself.” “I have observed all these,” said the young man. “What is still wanting in me?” “If you wish to be perfect,” answered Jesus, “go and sell your property, and give to the poor, and you shall have wealth in Heaven; then come and follow me.” On hearing these words, the young man went away distressed, for he had great possessions.  (Matthew 19:16-22 TCNT)

When these disparate authorities tell you that you’re wrong from two standpoints, you have a problem.   But TEC hasn’t addressed either of these; in fact, it’s embraced the pansexual agenda to paper over the inequality/social justice problem, just as the secular elites have.  Moreover Bishop Curry, as a black man, is an outlier in a denomination that is even more unsuccessful in breaking out of its Caucasian trap than the Southern Baptists.

Personally I found the elite nature of the Episcopal Church not only unBiblical but stifling.  That started to change when I swam the Tiber.  Now I got to go to church where people, as my brother observed, actually looked like they worked with their hands.  That expanded during my years at Texas A&M.

Today I go to a Pentecostal church.  The demographic is the mirror image of the Episcopal Church.  Real people have real problems that they cannot solve by throwing money at them, which was the usual approach in the bubble I was raised in, but must turn to God.  The ethnic diversity of the church is amazing, not only on a national/international level but now on a local level.  And the Gospel goes forth, to use the BCP’s phrase not only with our lips but in our lives.

It’s not perfect.  It still suffers from the American obsession with moving up, although with some of our people to see God bring them out of where they started is wonderful.  It’s too deferential to their “betters,” who usually turn out to be those in the church with the higher AGI.  (To be fair, that problem even turned up in a church like Bethesda.And the Scots-Irish are always there to complicate things.

Sometimes in my superannuated state, when I’m tired of one more maudlin paean to “the old time religion,” or I’m forced to worship to yet another new chorus “from the throne room,” I have moments like this.  But I think that I would have to leave behind the people I go to church with, those who are, at the end of the service, happy, and whose lives have been meaningfully transformed by Jesus Christ.  That gives me pause.  A church isn’t made by its ministers but by its laity.

Curry can talk all he wants about love, but I’ve seen more of it in the church I’m in than the one I started in, namely his.  And more social justice acted out, too, in the church which is the preferential option of the poor rather than just for it.  If Curry and Welby want to show they’re serious, their respective institutions will have a “shoes of the fisherman” moment, rather then blowing smoke in the face of credulous elites.  But I’m not holding my breath.

What We Really Need to Do is to Unhitch @AndyStanley

Atlanta’s Christian management guru is at it again, this time with the Old Testament:

North Point Community Church Senior Pastor Andy Stanley has stated that Christians need to “unhitch” the Old Testament from their faith.

In the final part of a recent sermon series, Stanley explained that while he believes that the Old Testament is “divinely inspired,” it should not be “the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church.”

In making this pronouncement, Andy Stanley does two things that drive me batty about Evangelical Christianity.

The first is that he accepts the literalistic hermeneutic that dominates Evangelical Christianity as normative.  Once you do that, then his idea to “unhitch” is just about the only thing left to do.  It never occurs to him that Christians–and Jews like Philo–have tackled this problem a long time ago and dealt with it, without denigrating the Old Testament the way Stanley does.  But taking lessons from the Patristic witness is something that Stanley, like most evangelicals, is allergic to.

The second–and in some ways worse than the first–is this:

For Stanley, the difficulty lay with the Old Testament and his concern that many Christians are turning away from the faith because of certain passages in the Hebrew Bible.

For evangelicals, and especially those like Stanley, church is an endless popularity contest.  Fortunately Our Lord thought otherwise:

“In truth I tell you,” answered Jesus, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have not Life within you. He who takes my flesh for his food, and drinks my blood, has Immortal Life; and I will raise him up at the Last Day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood true drink. He who takes my flesh for his food, and drinks my blood, remains united to me, and I to him. As the Living Father sent me as his Messenger, and as I live because the Father lives, so he who takes me for his food shall live because I live. That is the Bread which has come down from Heaven–not such as your ancestors ate, and yet died; he who takes this Bread for his food shall live for ever.” All this Jesus said in a Synagogue, when he was teaching in Capernaum. On hearing it, many of his disciples said: “This is harsh doctrine! Who can bear to listen to it?” But Jesus, aware that his disciples were murmuring about it, said to them: “Is this a hindrance to you? What, then, if you should see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? It is the Spirit that gives Life; mere flesh is of no avail. In the teaching that I have been giving you there is Spirit and there is Life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe in me.” For Jesus knew from the first who they were that did not believe in him, and who it was that would betray him; And he added: “This is why I told you that no one can come to me, unless enabled by the Father.” After this many of his disciples drew back, and did not go about with him any longer. So Jesus said to the Twelve: “Do you also wish to leave me?” But Simon Peter answered: “Master, to whom shall we go? Immortal Life is in your teaching; And we have learned to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:53-69 TCNT)

Maybe it’s time we unhitch ourselves from Andy Stanley…

The Only Real Alternative to “Two Kingdoms” Theology is Islam

Some people will complain about anything:

Recently some critics of prominent Trump-supporting Dallas Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress have disapprovingly identified him as a supporter of “Two Kingdoms” theology, an historic Protestant belief about the division of duties between spiritual & earthly rule. Jeffress in public pronouncements has stressed that civil government is called to provide public order, not embody the Sermon on the Mount, on issues like immigration.

Two kingdoms theology’s most expansive expression is Augustine’s City of God, written late in the game for another world power, the Roman Empire (well, the western part.)  In those times those in civil authority who “wore the belt” were not allowed to become priests.  The system was so corrupt at that stage that Christianity could not see its way clear to fix it (although it made improvements such as getting slavery to dissipate.)  Rome collapsed, but the Church, in a different way, laid the foundation for a civilisation that was greater than the one that was there.

I honestly don’t think that the howling social justice warriors who profess and call themselves Christians (and I’ve run into them of late) have really thought through what the New Testament commands us to do vs. what the state should do.  The blunt truth is that, like it or not, Christianity has never really set forth a morality for the state, or that the morality of the state should be at unity with that in the church.  The religion that has done that is Islam; that may explain in part the affinity that people on the left feel with IslamEven a secular historian like Ferdinand Lot grasped that truth.  Since most of the focus on refugees have been those from the Middle East, it pays to look and see how things have worked out under the various forms of Islam before we unwittingly advocate those things for ourselves.

If You’re Not Doing It for Jesus, You Shouldn’t Be Doing It

Rachael Denhollander, one of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse victims at Michigan State University, makes it plain:

Bethany Jenkins, vice president of forums at the Veritas Forum, which helped to organize the event, reported that Denhollander was asked about her view of the church responding to the issue of sexual abuse. When asked “how do you trust the church to point to justice and truth in these situations?” Denhollander responded “You don’t. You don’t trust the church, you trust Jesus.”

Some Christians are queasy at this statement.  But if they are real Evangelicals and not the “corporate” kind, they shouldn’t be.  One of the first lessons I learned in the years I worked for the Church of God is that I was doing this for God, not the church and that I, like Denhollander, needed to trust Jesus and not the church.  That held me in good stead all the way until the church abolished my department and my position in 2010–and beyond.

Too many Christians practice churchianity rather than Christianity; they equate the church with God and, when the church lets them down, they bail on God. Forms like Christianity like Roman Catholicism, with their high view of the church, set themselves up for that kind of reaction.  But those of us who do not have that view of the church have absolutely no business making that equivalence.

Although the #MeToo movement has given Denhollander a larger platform for her message, in many ways she’s swimming against the tide, both in and outside Christianity.  But she’s a strong person; we need more like her.

The Alternative to Easter Sunrise Service…At Sunrise

It’s an old Evangelical tradition: the “Easter Sunrise Service,” when people get out of bed early to go to church (or somewhere) and celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

For some people–especially musicians–rising from the dead is an easier task than getting up in the morning.  Celebrating anything before noon is problematic.  But necessary: as one Iranian friend told me, she had resigned herself to having to get up, make classes, etc….

Necessary until now, in the case of Easter Sunrise Service.  If you live in the Continental United States (and this goes for most of the Western Hemisphere) and you are a night owl, your ship has come in.  Thanks to live internet streaming and the time shift, we can now join the Sunrise Resurrection Service from the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem–a very nice one at that–at a decent hour.  Decent as follows: since the service starts at 0630 Sunday morning in Jerusalem, it translates into starting at 2330 Saturday night Eastern time.

And that’s worth celebrating.  Again the link is here.

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)