Friday, September 20, 2013

AN OUTLAW FOR JESUS

I've been reading a biography of William Tyndale, (Book of Fire by Brian Moynahan) that I picked up cheap at the Half Price Bookstore.  Though I was already familiar with his story and his place in the history of England and the English Church, I took the opportunity of getting a fresh look.  Tyndale was a man used by God to bring many to Himself and to change history.

Tyndale was a 16th century scholar and one of the first to translate the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments into the English language.  He had an advantage over his predecessors such as John Wycliffe, in that there was a new technology available -- the printing press.

But William Tyndale was an outlaw -- a wanted man who would eventually pay with his life for his "crimes."  He was a smuggler.  His English Bibles were outlawed in his native country.  He had to have them printed in continental Europe and taken by whatever means available into England where they were received as contraband, almost as illegal drugs would be received today.

Some background:  The Roman Catholic Church in England, as in most of Europe, had held absolute control over everyone for 1,000 years.  It was in league with the government and did not allow for dissent.  The Bible of the Church was the Latin Vulgate -- a translation a thousand years old -- and unreadable not only by the illiterate masses, but even by many in the priesthood.  And apparently the Church hierarchy liked it that way.  The Church of the middle ages had developed into a complex hierarchy, a priestly system that controlled the people and kept them in ignorance of the simplicity of the gospel of Christ and bound to a complex religious scheme.  Very few knew or understood what the New Testament actually taught.

However, a few in England, as well as in other parts of Europe, had begun to dissent from standard Church teaching and practice and recognized there was something better.  Before Tyndale's day, John Wycliffe and others had opened up minds to the Scripture.  In Bohemia, John Huss had followed Wycliffe and brought the Bible to the people of his nation.  And, of course, by the time Tyndale appeared on the scene, Germany had split over the teachings of Martin Luther.

These revolutionary events occurred because people -- common people -- were reading the Bible for themselves.  And the disagreements were not over minor points.  What people were discovering was that salvation was not through a church system but through simple faith in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.

But Tyndale's Bible not only showed the people of England the simplicity of salvation, it posed a threat to the powers-that-be.  Even the words that he used were revolutionary.  For instance:

He translated the Greek EKKLESIA as "congregation" rather than "church," in a sense transferring authority from the hierarchy to the people.

PRESBUTEROS became "elder" or "senior," instead of "priest," again striking at the hierarchy.

METANOEĊŒ became simply "repent," rather than "do penance" threatening what Moynahan refers to as the "huge vested interest in the lucrative penitential industry of pardons and indulgences" (page 72).

I believe that the great threat that the reading of the Bible had toward the church of Tyndale's day was not only or even necessarily doctrinal -- a disagreement over how one could be saved -- but a threat to the very power structures of the church.  If the Church did not hold sway over the people by being dispensers of salvation, it lost its base of power.  The personal powers and wealth of priests, bishops, even the pope, were threatened.  So Church and state united to suppress the English Bible.

But the gospel spread in Roman Catholic England, as it had in the pagan Roman Empire in the first centuries, as it has in Atheist China in the last 75 years, as it often does when the authorities attempt to stifle it.

Within a few decades, the power of the Roman Catholic Church in England was broken.  However, the "Church" was still in power, united with the state; only now it was the Church of England.  Later English history records the back and forth movements of the church, depending on the religious background or preference of whoever was in power.  Catholics, Anglicans, Puritans, all took their turns at power, with wars and slaughters following.  And, of course, all of this spilled over into the New World.

Though I can rejoice over the "triumph" of Tyndale's gospel in England, is this what it's all about?  There are those in America today who claim to be followers of Christ who seem to think so.  They bemoan America's "slide into Sodom"'; they fear the "secularization" of America.  They want to see America "return to its Christian values."  They attach themselves to political dreams and would outlaw, or at least restrict (their ideas of) improper behavior.  But history has demonstrated over and over that the closer the church's well being is tied to political power -- secular or religious -- the weaker its spiritual power.

I am not concerned that the American church of today will ever attempt to bring back the tactics of the English church of Tyndale's day.  We've come a bit far since then.  And I have little fear that my faith and practice will become against the law.  I do fear, however, that there are those in the church who would exchange the gospel and its practice for power and control.

Jesus told his disciples, "The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those in authority are called benefactors.  But it's not so with you ..." (Luke 22:25, 26a).  When will we understand this?  When will we get back to the radical Christianity of Tyndale?  Or of Jesus?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

KICKER DANCIN' WITH JESUS

When Uni and I lived in Texas, we used to occasionally go out Country and Western dancing (or Kicker Dancin', as it is sometimes known).  We'd put on our boots and jeans and head out to some well-known (or not so well-known) night spot.  We'd do two-steps, waltzes, swing and even an occasional polka.  We were not very good at it but had a lot of fun.  We worked pretty well as a team, but there was one occasional area of conflict.

Uni:  "WHAT are you doing??"

Me:  "I'm LEADING!"

Now a crowded Texas dance floor can be a pretty "dangerous" place.  People often kick up their heels without concern as to who around them they may be kicking, and many of them have had a bit too much to drink.  Navigating a pathway through this mass requires a certain bit of skill, and that task appears to be the responsibility of the male dance partner - in this case, me.

But the female partner -- Uni -- is often at a loss as to what is going on; she has to move backwards blindly through this danger zone.  She has to trust her partner!

A common metaphor used in the New Testament is the church -- believers -- as the bride of Christ.  To extend the analogy, we take the female role with Christ as our Bridegroom.  Many have also compared the Christian life to a dance.  If I may combine the two analogies, then I as a believer take the female role with Jesus as my male dance partner, and He is the one who leads, through His Word and His Spirit.

And life is like that crowded Texas dance floor.  It can be at times difficult to navigate.  We move through as smoothly as we can, following the music, led by our Bridegroom who can see what we can't.  Sometimes we're forced to make quick turns or even change direction.  Sometimes we have to stop and simply dance in place.  We have to trust His lead.

And we too, often question His leading.  We often ask Him what on earth He's doing.  But hopefully we're learning that He knows where He's leading us.

As I said, we're not very good at it, and I have sometimes led Uni in the wrong direction; sometimes we get out of step with each other.  There've been bumps, stumbles and even the occasional fall.

But we can trust Jesus; He never fails to lead us in the right direction.  All we have to do is follow!

Monday, September 16, 2013

ON MY BUS?

My friend Ken Mullins posed this question on Facebook:  "Did God ever put a Rosa Parks on your bus?"

After questioning Ken as to what was meant and discussing it with Uni, the wheels in my head got turning.  (Please forgive me for over-thinking.)

My first thoughts were of the time in the summer of 1955, when I and some of my fellow (white) Marine Reservists from Michigan boarded a bus in South Carolina to go to town and sat in the far back.  We noticed the bus driver was upset with us, especially when a black lady got on, but we were not, to our thinking, doing anything unusual.  We were simply doing what we'd always done in Michigan.  In fact, we thought the whole incident rather humorous.  (It wasn't.)

When I read Ken's question aloud, Uni almost immediately responded "Keith."  Keith was a young man with AIDS, I'd met back in 1989, and brought to the church I was pastoring (See:  MY FRIEND.), without considering the possible negative consequences.  And there were some.

A bit of background for those who may be unfamiliar with the story behind the question:

Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955 was deeply segregated.  Most African-Americans "knew their place" and went along with the Jim Crow laws which regarded them as second-class citizens.  However, on this day, Mrs. Rosa Parks, a quiet, middle-aged black lady did a radical thing:  she refused to give up her seat on the bus when a white man boarded - as the law required her to do.  Three others had given up theirs, as African-Americans were not even allowed to sit parallel with whites.

When J. F. Blake, the bus driver said, "Look woman, I told you I wanted the seat.  Are you going to stand up?"  Mrs. Parks simply and calmly replied, "No."  After further threats and refusal, Blake got off the bus and phoned the police, who came and arrested Mrs. Parks.  During the interval before their arrival, passengers began leaving the bus.  Blake pressed charges. 

Thus began the Montgomery bus boycott, which triggered the Civil Rights' Movement and brought to the forefront a young African American preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr.  (See:  David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross.) 

Many possible implications in Ken's question crossed my mind.
·       Have I ever been, as the bus driver, an unwitting agent in a history changing  incident?
·       Have I ever been, as the bus driver, more concerned about the enforcement of an unjust law, than with the fact that I was dealing with real people?  (I recognize that there would have been negative consequences for him, had he not taken the actions he did.)
·       Have I ever been, as that unnamed white man, willing to see another person humiliated, simply for my own comfort?
·       Have I ever done as those other three black persons, complying with an unjust law, simply to avoid conflict or even possible real trouble?
·       Or have I, unlike that bus driver and the other passengers, been willing to take a stand against injustice and side with those like Rosa Parks?

I guess I'd have to say yes, God has done this to me many times.  There probably have been times I've been totally oblivious to what was going on around me.  There've been times when I simply "got off the bus" to avoid personal inconvenience, or when I've "taken my place" to avoid negative consequences.  And there've been a few times when I actually did the right thing.

I wonder what Jesus would have done if He'd been on that bus?  Maybe He was!  I pray that I would do what Jesus would have done.

Anyway, thanx Ken, for stirring up my thinking!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My friend Mike (Canadian Atheist) suggested a while ago that we exchange posts on each other's blog.  You may read mine at:  http://canadian-atheist.blogspot.com/2013/09/some-thoughts-from-believer.html.  Following is Mike's post.  (Thanks, Mike for your gracious remarks.)
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Why Is It Important That Atheists and Religious People Continue To Talk?
Bill has been kind enough to allow me to hijack his blog temporarily so that I can speak about something I think is very important to believers and non-believers alike.
Thank you, Bill, and thank you for allowing me to speak my mind on your blog and its comment section. While it may not seem like it at times, your blog is one of my favorites and I avidly watch for any new posts you might make.
As to the question posed in the title; I think it’s very important that atheists and religious people keep up a dialogue. Here are a few of the biggest reasons.
Reason 1
We all share the same space. Like it or not, atheists and religious people surround us in our day-to-day lives. It’s beneficial to us all if we can talk about our differences in opinion in an open, honest, respectful manner.
Reason 2
We have more in common than we do differences. In my daily life, I very rarely even think about atheism. In most cases, it doesn’t matter. Sure, I find the topic of religion and atheism fascinating, but it’s a very small (although important) part of who I am. In most things, I suspect I am just like you, dear religious person. I worry about my job, stress over my family, put my pants on one leg at a time and eat, sleep and love just like you do.
Reason 3
I work in the social service field and I often have to work with religious people and religious organizations.
You know what?
It doesn’t matter that I’m an atheist, and it doesn’t matter that they believe in God. When we work together to feed, clothe, raise money for the needy, the fact that we hold two different views on God doesn’t matter one iota. We work together and we accomplish our goals. This wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t keep up a dialogue. There are many things the religious an irreligious can work together on.
Reason 4
It’s easy to demonize a person if they’re faceless. It’s easy to call atheists immoral, Satan’s pawns etc. when you don’t know any atheists. By keeping up a dialogue, you can find out that atheists are much like you. In most cases, we want and need the same things. Besides, you might know an atheist but not be aware of it. They could be keeping their non-belief in God a secret. They might not talk about it or they might be questioning their faith.
Reason 5
I believe in the marketplace of ideas. I think that any idea should be discussed, and I think that eventually, the truth will win out. Obviously, I think the Christian God will go the way of Zeus and Odin, but we’ll never find out if we don’t talk about it.
So Christians, please keep in mind that atheists aren’t so different from you after all. I hope this blog post will pop into your head if you ever meet up with an atheist in the flesh. Just remember that we’re all human beings. We’re all flawed, full of prejudices and brimming with good and bad ideas. Let’s discuss these differences, but at the end of the day, I hope both sides remember that we’re more alike than not alike.

And last but not least, if you see me floating about in Bill’s comment section, feel free to ask me questions. I honestly don’t mind and I welcome the dialogue. You can also feel free to visit my blog.
I don’t bite. Honest.
As the bible says in John 15:17:  “This is my command: Love each other.”
Despite our theological differences, I think we can give that an honest shot.