Christ the King Sunday

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In Bible School I had a teacher who was so concerned with people watering down or outright denying the truth of Christ’s literal reign as king on the earth after His Second Coming that he considered it wrong to refer to Christ as king in this present age, biblical examples and numerous popular hymns and praise songs notwithstanding. 

But I believe he had it wrong, and that of course we may acclaim Christ as King even today, and for this reason I love the Feast of Christ the King which is celebrated on the last Sunday of the church year, the Sunday next before Advent, which this year is November 20.

Christ the King is originally a relatively recent Catholic feast, introduced 1925 by Pope Pius XI. It moved to its current place in the calendar in the course of the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms in the Catholic Church and found its way into the calendars of several Protestant churches in the English-speaking world through the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), an ecumenical, three-year lectionary which is an expanded adaptation of the Catholic Ordo Lectionum Missae lectionary for Sundays and feast days.

In the German-speaking world where I live the RCL is virtually unknown, with Protestant churches either following their own lectionaries (Lutherans, Reformed) or rejecting the idea of a lectionary altogether; for this reason Protestants in Austria, Germany and Switzerland don’t observe Christ the King Sunday — which is a shame, in my view. Instead, this Sunday is known as Eternity Sunday and focuses on commemorating the dead.

However, if and when we do acclaim and celebrate Christ as King we ought to call to mind what this actually means. Here is an excerpt from Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quas Primas in which he promulgated this feast:

If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God. [1]

All these are truths which all too often we don’t want to hear, both with regard to our personal lives and in the context of our churches of all traditions; it is all the more important therefore to call them to mind and to acclaim Christ as King on this last Sunday of the church year.

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  1. Quas Primas, as quoted by my namesake Ian Paul in his blog post for Christ the King Sunday. The full text of the encyclical can be found here, the quoted excerpt is from paragraph 33[]
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Nothing is hidden that will not come to light

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In the UK victims of child sexual abuse within churches and other religious organizations are asking that the law be changed to explicitly require churches etc to report all child abuse allegations to the relevant authorities rather than dealing with them “pastorally” in-house.

I fully support such a requirement. In my view there can be no legitimate reason for churches to oppose such mandatory reporting laws. Some people will say that such a requirement is incompatible with the Seal of the Confessional; however (a) most often church leadership hears about such allegations through channels other than the confessional, and (b) the Seal is intended to protect the repentant; a person who confesses to child abuse but is not willing to submit to the relevant authorities is not truly repentant.

Opposition to mandatory reporting laws because of the Seal are about as plausible and legitimate as the Southern Baptist Convention leadership’s refusal to act on credible allegations of sexual abuse in their churches because of “congregational autonomy.”

Anyway, most of the scandals involving the covering up of child abuse by religious authorities are not about protecting the Seal but are rather about protecting the reputation of the organization or of a beloved leader, and escaping liability for negligence. In the long run this does not work, for of course Jesus had it right when He said, “Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light,” and reputations are worth nothing in view of Jesus’ words, “Woe to the one through whom offenses come; it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

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Harvest Thanksgiving

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This is the season of harvest and thanksgiving festivals, from late September and early October (Germany, Austria), mid-October (Canada), and late November (US), or any time between.

Today our food and everything else seems to come from the grocery store or even by mail; it is good to be reminded thay ultimately everything we have comes to us from God’s hand, not only to enjoy but also to generously share with those who don’t have all they need.

While much of this sharing today happens via government programs (with our tax money, to be sure) this does not relieve us of the responsibility to personally help and share where we see a need. And simply closing our eyes won’t count.

Here are the lyrics for the hymn in the video:

1. We plough the fields, and scatter
the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered
by God’s almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter,
the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
and soft refreshing rain.

Chorus:
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord,
O thank the Lord
For all His love.

2. He only is the maker
of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower,
He lights the evening star;
The winds and waves obey Him,
by Him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, His children,
He gives our daily bread.

Chorus

3. We thank Thee, then, O Father,
for all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest,
our life, our health, and food;
No gifts have we to offer,
for all Thy love imparts,
But that which Thou desirest,
our humble, thankful hearts.

Chorus

Lyrics: Matthias Claudius, trans. Jane Montgomery Campbell
Music: Johann Abraham Peter Schulz

 

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American Evangelicals: Heretics or just confused?

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The recent “State of Theology” survey conducted by Lifeway Research on behalf of Ligonier Ministries has yielded some strange results about the beliefs of a large percentage of American Evangelicals.

Of course the definition of “Evangelical” has become so broad in the US as to be almost meaningless, as far as theology or religious belief is concerned, so the survey tried to narrow its focus on those who agree to these four statements:[1]

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

The good news is that of the people who are considered Evangelical by these criteria more than 90 percent agree that

  • God is perfect;
  • God exists in three persons;
  • Jesus’ bodily resurrection is real;
  • People are made righteous not through works but through faith in Jesus.

However, of the Evangelicals thus defined, 

  • 26% agree that “the Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true”;
  • 56% agree that “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam”;
  • 73 % agree that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God”;
  • 43% agree that “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God” and
  • 60% agree that “The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being.”

Apart from the fact that some of these beliefs are remniscent of some classic heresies which the church has rejected throughout church history[2] these results indicate quite a bit of confusion and lack of logical thinking on the part of these Evangelical respondents:

  • How can one reconcile the belief that the Bible is merely a collection of helpful accounts of ancient myths with the belief that the Bible is the highest authority for what to believe?[3]
  • How can one believe that God exists in three persons while simultaneously believing that Jesus is a created being[4], a great teacher but not God[5] , and that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force rather than a person? Who then are the three persons in whom God exists? Mary, Joseph, and Jesus?[6] Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu?[7]
  • How can one say on the one hand that God accepts the worship of all religions, and on the other that only those who believe in Jesus are saved, being made righteous through faith in Jesus? Does it make sense to say that God accepts the worship of, say, Muslims, but nevertheless sends them to hell? If not, in what sense does God accept the worship of all religions?

Add to this the apparent fact that even Evangelicals trained in theology and whose beliefs are more orthodox and logically consistent than all of this [8] seem to prioritize a person’s political stance as expressed by who they vote for over that person’s faith and beliefs, and that generally, in the United States, the term “Evangelical” has come to denote a political affiliation (and an increasingly whacky one) rather than adherence to specific religious or theological beliefs.

As a European who, having converted from nominal Catholicism, was largely taught and socialialized as an Evangelical  by American Evangelical missionaries, I find this distressing. Knowing how extensive American Evangelicals’ influence is in Europe as well as other parts of the world, I wonder what the state of theological belief is in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, or South America, and whether American Evangelical missionaries are importing American partisan politics into the churches they plant and the ministries they establish and assist.

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  1. These are somewhat similar to British Historian David Bebbington’s helpful summary of Evangelical distinctives, known as the “Bebbington Quadrilateral”, which identifies four primary characteristics of Evangelicalism:

    • Conversionism — the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus;
    • Biblicism — a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority;
    • Activism — the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts;
    • Crucicentrism — a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity.

    []

  2. i.e. Arianism and Pelagianism[]
  3. The survey report points out that seeing the Bible as merely a collection of myths (albeit helpful ones) makes it easy for individuals to accept biblical teaching that they resonate with while simultaneously rejecting any biblical teaching that is out of step with their own personal views or broader cultural values. A few years ago someone coined the term “Cafeteria Catholicism”; here we have a severe case of “Eclectic Evangelicalism” or “Cafeteria Christianity.”[]
  4. I think partly this is due to not understanding the difference between “begotten” and “made” or “created.” After all, we talk about “making babies”.[]
  5. Of this belief, that Jesus was a great moral teacher but not God, C. S. Lewis famously said in Mere Christianity, “That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher … You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool … or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”[]
  6. As some very uneducated Catholics supposedly believe[]
  7. The “trinity” in William P. Young’s novel “The Shack”[]
  8. i.e. the president of the oldest and largest Southern Baptist Seminary[]
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Change And Decay In All Around I See

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Chad Bird’s thoughts on the second verse of the hymn Abide With Me so resonated with me that I asked his permission to repost them here:


Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see:
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Change and decay in all around I see.” We sing this, we live it, and often we bleed and weep it.

  • Families crumble, marriages decay, hopes of a bright future are eclipsed by disaster.
  • People we thought we could trust stab us in the back.
  • Bills rise while paychecks fall, stress skyrockets, and sleep evades us.
  • Churches close, pastors weep in the dark, and our gasping faith struggles to survive.

In our world, metastasized with evil and injustice and malice, there is no end to the list of change and decay all around us—and within us.

So we cry, “O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” And he does. As close as the wetness of our tears. As near as the blood in our hearts. God with us, in us, above us, below us, as our brother, Jesus. He will hold us till the trembling stops. Heal us till the pain subsides. Love us till the tears dry.

He is the God who will never walk away. How could he? We are more precious to him than his own life. The cross trumpets forth this unchanging truth: that Jesus would rather die than lose us as his own.

Originally posted on Facebook, September 21, 2022. Copyright C 2022 by Chad Bird. Used by permission.

The verse at the top is from the hymn Abide With Me by Henry Francis Lyte.

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Red Mittens for the Queen

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A tribute to Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her death, by Ian Kleinsasser, Crystal Spring
September 9, 2022
 
The following narrative offers a0 plausible explanation of how Queen Elizabeth II of England visited a Manitoba Hutterite community as part of her 1970 Manitoba Centennial Celebration tour. 
 
(See below for a brief introduction to Hutterites.)
 
This story begins in January or February of 1969, approximately one year before Queen Elizabeth II visits Manitoba. On a snowy winter day, a middle-aged Hutterite woman known as Hans-Rebecca[1] from the Rainbow Hutterite community[2] was busy knitting two pairs of red mittens. When people inquired who would receive these mittens, Hans-Rebecca replied: „These are not normal mittens. I am knitting these for Queen Elizabeth II.“
 
True to her word, when Hans-Rebecca finished the mittens, she packaged them up and, just like that, sent them off across the Atlantic Ocean to Buckingham Palace. A month later, an official-looking envelope landed on Hans-Rebecca‘s table. The letter was from one of the Queen‘s ladies-in-waiting and read: 
„Queen Elizabeth normally does not accept personal gifts from people, but this will be an exception.“ 
 
The letter further stated that Queen Elizabeth II would like to visit a Hutterite Community in Manitoba when she travelled to Canada in 1970. The lady-in-waiting thanked Hans-Rebecca for the two pairs of mittens and said that the Queen wanted her to know that she would make great use of them for her children. 
 
So, when Queen Elizabeth II visited Manitoba in 1970, one of the places she requested to see was a Hutterite community in Manitoba. Unfortunately, though Hans-Rebecca may have instigated the Queen‘s visit with her thoughtful gift, she never met Queen Elizabeth. Only young people, Diene (girls) and Buem (boys), went to see the Queen in Milltown.[3]
Hans-Rebecca‘s story offers a plausible account of why Queen Elizabeth II requested a tour of a Hutterite community in Manitoba. The story doesn‘t tell how the visit came about from a political or organizational perspective, i.e., who pulled the political strings to make it happen? A Winnipeg Free Press article, „Brush With History“,  by Kevin Rollason, adds some added clarity. According to Rollason, then Manitoba Premier Edward Schreyer played an essential role in facilitating the visit to the Milltown Hutterite community. At the time, Mr Schreyer was well acquainted with the Hutterites and played a crucial role in ending the Gentleman‘s Agreemen[4]  in Manitoba, which had placed unfair restrictions on Hutterite communities. In the Free Press article, Schreyer shared his perspective:
 
„It [the request to tour a Hutterite community] was unorthodox, but I picked up the phone and called the Milltown Hutterite Colony to see if the Queen could visit a Hutterite colony. The next day [the Hutterite leaders] said yes. The bottom line is she enjoyed it greatly, and on at least two occasions, she said she enjoyed it as a very remarkable visit. And two or three days after the visit, when the Queen and Philip were leaving at the airport, a small group from the colony came to see her off.“
 
Edward Schreyer gives a good description of how the visit came about. At the same time, it captures, in a unique way, the “unorthodox” nature of Queen Elizabeth’s request. Could it be that it was the gift of a pair of red mittens from a year before that now caused Manitoba officials some “unorthodox” angst?”
 
Schreyer’s account does not shed any light on why the Milltown Hutterite community was chosen as the site for the visit. However, a likely factor was its proximity to the railway tracks and station at Elie, Manitoba. When the Queen arrived in Milltown, she was met by crowds of curious young Hutterite women, men, children and members of Milltown and neighbouring Hutterite communities. After touring the Milltown Kleineschul (daycare), church building, and communal dining hall, Queen Elizabeth returned to her vehicle. As the Queen prepared to leave, the young girls from the James Valley Hutterite community near Elie reportedly sang: Should We Meet No More by Daniel O Teasley. Others reported that the congregation sang, God Be with You Till We Meet Again. When two Hutterite men, Josh Hofer and his son Nathanial Hofer, joined the James Valley girls in singing a German song, Prince Philip stepped up beside them and sang along. 
 
When Queen Elizabeth‘s party finally left the Milltown Hutterite community and returned to the Elie train station, many Hutterites followed behind to watch the royal train leave. Queen Elizabeth II stood as the train pulled away from the Elie station and waved a final farewell to the cheering crowd gathered on the Canadian National Railway platform.
 
We may never know whether two pairs of homemade red mittens brought Queen Elizabeth to request a visit to a Manitoba Hutterite community in 1970. What is known about the Queen‘s visit is that she came! Since then, many within the Hutterite community in Canada have cherished her visit. Today, along with thousands of people worldwide, we mourn the passing of a remarkable person, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. God Be with You till We Meet Again!
 
Copyright © 2022 by Ian Kleinsasser. Posted here with his permission.
Photo Credit: Mennonite Heritage Archives.

A note from the blog owner:

The Hutterites are an Anabaptist group which originated in the South Tyrol in Austria (now part of Italy) in the early 16th century. Due to religious persecution the group migrated several times, first to Moravia (in today’s Czech Republic) and Upper Hungary (today Slovakia), then to Transsylvania (Romania). There the Hutterites encountered Carinthian Crypto-Protestants who had also fled persecution in Habsburg Carintha and to a large extent adopted their German dialect. From there the Hutterites moved to Walachia (southern Romania) and finally to Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire). Due to the threat of military conscription most Hutterites migrated to the US between 1874 and 1879. Between the two World Wars the Hutterites left the US due to discrimination because of their pacifist beliefs, and moved to Canada where most of the Hutterites live today.
 
The Hutterites practice community of goods, living together in settlements called colonies. There are three main groups, the Schmiedeleut, the Dariusleut and the Lehrerleut (named after leaders), with several smaller related groups.
 
For a more extensive description the Wikipedia article is a good resource.
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  1. Hans-Rebecca – Rebecca Maendel’s father was called John (Hans in German). In the olden days, it was common practice for people to add their father’s first name to theirs as a way to distinguish them from another person in the same community with the same name.[]
  2. Rainbow Hutterite community was located in Île des Chênes, Manitoba[]
  3. At the time of the Queen’s visit, Hans-Rebecca was 48 years old. Though still unmarried, Hans-Rebecca would not have been considered part of the Hutterite youth group and would, therefore not have travelled with them to see the Queen.[]
  4. The Gentleman’s Agreement was made in 1957 between the Union of Manitoba Municipalities and the Hutterites, in reaction to the latter’s growth. It limited both the size and number of Hutterite colonies. It was discriminatory to begin with and eventually became unworkable. In 1970, in the wake of a larger land purchase than was permitted under the Agreement and the ensueing legal wrangling the Manitoba Human Rights Commission declared the Gentleman’s Agreement to be discriminatory and thus invalid.[]
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How Serious Are We About Truth?

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Is being concerned about truth part of “international,  cynical deconstruction of hope ”?

As Christians, are we about truth, or about touching stories, even when they are untrue or inaccurate?

Can we really give people hope with “fake news”?

Is a concern for truth and accuracy in Christians’ communications evidence of an “international, cynical deconstruction of hope”?

In the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death a Facebook user[1] posted this meme:[2] 

This struck me as strange, not because of the pious sentiment it expressed (for the Queen has always been a pious Christian who was not shy about expressing her faith), but because the diction (the tone, the choice of words) was not that of an upper-class Englishwoman of the second half of the 20th century who was a member of the Church of England. It just didn’t sound like Queen Elizabeth II.

So I googled the key phrase, “I should so love to lay my crown at His feetand was not very surprised to find that, with the exception of the first few results, all of which had been posted in the few days since the Queen died, practically all others attributed the quote to Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother. One of the results, a facsimile reproduction of the April 1919 issue of “The King’s Business[3], even identified the person with whom Queen Victoria had this conversation: it was Dr. Frederic Farrar, Dean of Canterbury Cathedral and a gifted preacher:

I was evidently not the only one who realized that this quote was wrongly attributed to Queen Elizabeth, because several commenters on this post pointed out that this moving story talks about Queen Victoria, not Queen Elizabeth; most of the hundreds of other commenters chose to ignore this inconvenient fact and gushed about how this quote demonstrates Queen Elizabeth’s Christian faith.

And dozens of people, no doubt well-meaning Christians all and including respected friends of mine, have since shared this post, evidently all without fact-checking it. 

Pointing this out on some friends’ timeline, who had shared the post, elicited comments like, “So what? It’s still a lovely quote!”, or “I make no apology for posting this!”, or “I don’t find it egregious!”

One person justified sharing the post with the fact that it might give people hope in this time of international mourning; he then suggested that my concern for accuracy is part of “international cynicism” and the “cynical deconstruction of hope.”

This lack of concern for truth (and actual dissing of such a concern as cynical) discredits the faith it is supposed to demonstrate; it lends credibility to comments like this one:

and then,

Simply put, as told in this context, even without naming Queen Elizabeth but with her picture attached to it, the story just isn’ t true; and attributed to someone living during the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st it does indeed “reek of souvenir teacups and bobblehead sentiment.”

As Christians we are supposed to be about truth. Yet so often “does it feel good” seems to be more important than “is it true“, not just here on social media but also in too many pastors’ sermon illustrations and even personal testimonies of conversion and healing.[4]

As I said, Queen Elizabeth was not shy about her Christian faith, and there is plenty of evidence of that in her speeches, as Terry Mattingly documents in his article entitled “Elizabeth the Great: Why do many journalists choose to edit faith out of her Christmas talks?”. To his question  I would like to add the equally pertinent question, “Why do many Christians believe that it’s o.k. to embellish the truth as long as that makes a nice story?

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  1. I have chosen not to identify the Facebook users I mention because I want this to be about the issue of truthfulness, not about the shaming of individuals[]
  2. Since then someone else has created a slightly different version of the meme but still with a picture of Queen Elizabeth as implied attribution[]
  3. The King’s Business” was a monthly publication, from 1910 to 1970, from the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, now Biola University[]
  4. Sometimes Christians look at impressive testimonies like St. Paul’s or Nicky Cruz‘s and give in to the temptation to make their own story more interesting by embellishing it.[]
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Glory to Ukraine and victory to her defenders!

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Слава Україні та перемога її захисникам!

When I grew up it was in a family strongly opposed to war (reading books like E. M  Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”, set during WWI) but at the same time immensely grateful to the WWII Allies for defeating Hitler and his goons, liberating Austria from Nazi Germany, and then (at least the Americans) financing reconstruction.[1]

After I became a committed Christian I tended towards Just War theory but always with the niggling feeling that deciding if a particular war was just would be fraught with many thorny questions.

In recent years, turned off by the disastrous turns of the ostensibly just wars of the US and her allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, which could with some justification be considered just wars,[2] and through reading books from authors in the Anabaptist tradition, I was moving in the direction of an absolute pacifism.

However, after Vladimir Putin’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine[3] this absolute pacifism has become untenable for me. It is self-evident to me that a nation in Ukraine’s situation has every right, both before God and man, to defend herself, including with military means. I believe this is covered by Romans 13:4: The government “does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.” — in this case Vladimir Putin and his army. I pray for Ukraine’s victory over the cruel invader and the removal, by whichever means God chooses, of Putin and his cronies, including the shameful Patriarch Kiril[4] of the Russian Orthodox Church, and I hope that our Western governments in the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and others, will continue to support Ukraine as long as necessary and not give in to Putin’s threats. Putin must not be allowed to keep any of his ill-gotten gains.

And so I read with satisfaction (tempered by pain over the loss of lives) about the recent victories of the Ukrainian forces and the partial routing of the Russian forces. I am convinced that Russian soldiers taken prisoner by the Ukrainians will by and large fare better than Ukrainian soldiers captured by the Russians.

Glory to Ukraine, and victory to her defenders!

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  1. The house I grew up in was financed by an ERP mortgage (ERP: European Recovery Program, also known as Marshall-Plan) []
  2. unless one had an anti-American or anti-Western pre-disposition[]
  3. The notion advanced by some, that Putin’s attack was justified because he felt thst Ukraine’s attempts to join the EU and NATO threatened Russia, is nonsense. No rational person can assume that the USA, let alone her Eurupean partners in NATO, would start a war in Europe. This idea is plausible only to someone who considers such an attack an appropriate way of realizing his “Imperial Russia” pipe dreams.[]
  4. Like all Orthodox bishops Kiril is a monk; yet his personal wealth is estimated to be around $4-8 billion, which even apart from his support for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine casts an unfavourable light on him.[]
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National Conservatism?

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In Against National Conservatism First Things has Peter Leithart writing about the Edmund Burke Foundation’s National Conservatism Statement of Principles.

He lists a number of laudable aspects of these Principles, including their opposition to universalist ideologies and corrosive globalization, and then zeroes in on two major — and fatal —flaws or weaknesses of the Statement:

  • its lack of recognition of the Church’s own, biblically-rooted universalism or globalism, and
  • its failure to recognize the Bible as the Word of God rather than merely a wellspring of national values, a source of shared culture or a ground of national tradition.

These are well-founded and valuable criticisms, and I am in full agreement with them.

Let me add a couple of observations of my own, light-weight though they may be compared to Peter Leithart’s.

Firstly, as a European, and more specifically Austrian, of the first post-WW II generation I am deeply suspicious of any ideology or philosophy that is prefixed with National. I was born ten years after the end of the war, and I grew up with post-war reconstruction well underway; but the tragic results of National Socialism were still evident in many areas of life. And recently we have seen the rise of leaders like Donald Trump, Lech and Jaroslav Kaczynski, Victor Orban, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, all of whom view themselves, as do their followers, as National Conservatives and true patriots, a label which they deny their political opponents. It would not have been fair to mention him in the same sentence as the others, but Vladimir Putin is of the same ilk, only more so. Hitler’s nazis sang, “Deutschland über alles”, Trump proclaimed “America First” and “Make America Great Again”, and Putin phantasizes about an ever-expanding Russkiy Mir, the Russian World, and is prepared to use military force to realize that dream. It sounds just all too familiar to me. And while the signatories of the statement would definitely disown Putin, especially after his illegal invasion of and war against Ukraine, Victor Orban’s Hungary is hailed by some conservatives in the US as a bulwark of Christendom surrounded by rampant secularism.

Secondly, it is all very well for “National Conservatives” in the United States championing the nation state and opposing the transferring of authority to international bodies, when their “nation” is almost the size of the entire continent of Europe or more than twice the size of the European Union[1]. No doubt the European Union, as a trans-national, international body has its flaws, and one can debate whether member states have ceded to much power to the EU institutions, and it is unfortunately also true that the EU has left the Christian values of it’s founders behind (but that is no more than a reflection of developments in the member states), but this is not too different from the discussions in the US about the respective powers of the individual states and the federal government. More importantly, the European Union, or something very much like it, is the only way the nations of Europe can have any hope of competing, economically and politically, with the United States.

Thirdly, when it comes to, «In nations with a Christian majority, Christianity should be at the root of public life and “honored by the state.”», I am very sure that train has already left the station, and it’s not coming back, in any of the Western nations. And when I think of the influence of Trump’s national conservatism on American Evangelicalism, or that of Putin’s national conservatism on the Orthodox Church and others in Russia, both of which are massively more corrosive than anything coming from the international organizations, then it seems to me that our primary concern at the moment should be not with globalization but with toxic, almost idolatrous, Christian nationalism.

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  1. Size in square kilometer: US–9.8 million, EU–4.2 million, European continent–10.2 million[]
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Regulative and Normative Principles

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In a recent discussion on Facebook someone denigrated Anglicanism (even the conservative version of GAFCON, ACNA, etc) as not sufficiently reformed, because, while the English Reformation got rid of the heretical practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, it retained other practices “which should not be part of any church.”

In reply I asked, What things other than “heretical practices and beliefs” shouldn’t be part of any church?

He has, so far, not replied to my questions, but this reminds me of what, in Reformed theology, is called the regulative principle of worship.

Theopedia says, 

The Regulative principle of worship in Christian theology teaches that the public worship of God should include those and only those elements that are instituted, commanded, or appointed by command or example in the Bible. In other words, it is the belief that God institutes in Scripture whatever he requires for worship in the Church, and everything else should be avoided.

The regulative principle is often contrasted with the Normative Principle of Worship, which teaches that whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permitted in worship, so long as it is agreeable to the peace and unity of the Church. In other words, there must be agreement with the general practice of the Church and no prohibition in Scripture for whatever is done in worship.

These two ways of looking at worship can also be applied to church practice in general (i.e. church governance), and and while both in worship and in general church practice I hold with the normative way of looking at things, I respect those who follow the regulative principle and would never belittle that stand.

This is how I understand Scripture:

  1. Any practice that is expressly forbidden in Scripure is heretical and shouldn’t be part of any church.
  2. Any practice that is commanded or commended in Scripture is orthodox and should be part of every church.
  3. Anything that is neither prohibited nor commanded/commended in Scripture is a matter for prudential judgment and freedom which (as long as it is agreeable to the peace and unity of the the church and doesn’t contradict biblical principles) a church can decide to adopt or not while still respecting those who decide differently.

The reformers of the 16th century rightly rejected the authority, jurisdiction, and infallibility of the Roman pope and insisted on Scripture as the only binding standard for both the church and the individual believer. Ever since then there have been people in the church who have claimed for themselves that authority, jurisdiction, and infallibility, and have disparaged and condemned anyone who didn’t agree with them on every point.

It is very sad that there are those in the church who have given up on Sola Scriptura; unlike the Roman Catholic Church they are not guided by Sacred Tradition but by the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. They seek to be relevant in this post-modern age by abandoning “the faith once delivered to the saints” and instead adopting the mores of the new, “progressive” secular public morality.

It is even sadder, however, when those who claim to still be comitted to the authority of Scripture disparage, castigate, and maul each other over what are, after all, adiaphora, peripheral matters. 

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