Ideas for Celebrating Advent

For those of you who don’t know, Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas, which focus on the coming of the Lord – both as a baby in a manger, and as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. There are several traditions which have emerged for the celebration of Advent, the two most popular being the Advent Calendar and Advent Candles.

Advent Calendars have a “door” for each day which opens up and contains a surprise. With enough preparation you can make your own in a variety of ways. If you have children, you may consider buying each of them their own Advent calendar – some have little chocolate candies behind each door (Cracker Barrel restaurants usually carry these). There are also Lego Advent Calendars!

Advent Candles are 4 candles, 3 purple (or blue), one pink. During the first week, one candle is lit every day (maybe during dinner?). On the second week, two candles. And so on. This builds anticipation and counts down to Christmas day.

Some other ideas:

Do the daily readings for Advent. Here are the Anglican Lectionary readings for each day.

Celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day as part of the festivities (Dec. 6). Give a small gift on this day, as a kind of appetizer for the Christmas to come.

If you have a nativity set at home, don’t put the Christ Child in the manger until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. And don’t put Mary and Joseph in the scene either. Have them moving around through the house on their journey to Bethlehem. Put them in the scene a few days before Christmas, then on Christmas bring out the Christ Child. Don’t put the wise men in until the 12th day of Christmas – Epiphany – which is a celebration of the wise men worshiping Christ.

Finally – not really an advent thing, rather a Christmas thing – but consider planning ahead and giving a small gift each day of the 12 days of Christmas. You can wrap each of them individually, put them in a basket together, give them on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but only the one marked “1” gets opened then. The others get opened on each day of the 12 day season. They can be themed, connected, or completely unrelated.

Whatever you do, enter into Advent and Christmas intentionally! Don’t let the shopping become the central focus, but create your own family traditions and make Jesus the center of it all.

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Published in: on November 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm  Comments (3)  

“What Kind of Christian Am I?” he asked.

A recent discussion I had with a young Baptist pastor and a forum discussion converge on the subject of credal allegiance. I thought this might be interesting or insightful to some other folk.

ScreaminIke:

not trying to hijack this very personal thread, but i think i’m a christian, too, even though i don’t believe in God as a being, don’t believe in the historical or moral authority of most of the bible, and don’t believe in the afterlife. ethically, i’m a humanist, and i believe jesus was too. is this just wrong? if i just act like jesus (walk two miles, turn the other cheek, feed my enemies) and believe in the moral imperatives he expressed prior to the crucifiction (i doubt the resurrection), am i just going to go to hell?

Me:

I’m not saying you’re going to hell – that’s between you and the non-being God you don’t believe in. But, calling oneself a Christian means something. It isn’t just arbitrary. In our culture where words have lost their meanings (nominalism?), we have come to the place of saying, “someone can call himself a Christian, no matter what he believes.” Classically speaking, a Christian is someone who embraces the doctrines of the Nicene Creed.

Now, you may be a good person, a spiritual person, a religious person, a moral person – but I don’t think you can call yourself a Christian, unless that word simply loses any concrete definition. And if that’s the case, I can just as well call myself a Muslim. I don’t believe the Koran, don’t believe Mohammed was the final prophet of Allah, don’t believe the abstinence from alcohol, but hey – I’m a Muslim because I do believe that some of the things Mohammed said were pretty cool.

ScreaminIke:

know what? i think you’re right. nicene creed is a pretty good measure of a doctrinal christian. and i am not. but i still dig christians. i think if they tried to be like jesus all the time, the world would be a better place.

Me:

Well, you’re right about that! Kind of what Gandhi said – he loved Christianity, it was just the Christians who bothered him so much.

MarlovianDiscosophia:

So then I’m just curious here. What would you consider Quakers? Or any others that reject creedal systems like the Church of the Brethren? And (I may be mistaken here) the Mennonites?
I can understand your point about the creeds being a foundational text and that self-identification is not enough. I’ve made variations on this point before, but I’m in the process of evaluation and reevaluation right now.

Me:

This is probably going to sound stupid, but I don’t think the picture is painted with bold strokes of black and white, but with varying shades of gray. The creeds are the gold standard, and are what define classic, “true”, or what C.S. Lewis would call “mere” Christianity. But these are drifted away from in degrees. So, one group may be more credal than another group.
I grew up in the south in the 60’s and 70’s (born in ’59). And I grew up in the Pentecostal denomination called “Assemblies of God”, which is basically Baptist with the addition of a typical Pentecostal doctrine/experience of “Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial physical evidence of speaking in tongues.” We were (as were our Baptist neighbors) fiercely anti-Catholic. We pretty much thought they were all idol-worshipers and going to hell (things have changed tremendously in the past 40 years). Anyway – us Pentecostals and Baptists prided ourselves in being “non-credal”, and we looked down our nose and despised those who were. Which makes this next short story interesting.

I was talking to a young Baptist minister last week. He is enrolled in seminary in Fort Worth at a Southwestern Baptist. In his church history class the professor came in and said, “How many of you understand that Baptists are non-credal?” They all raised their hands. Then he read the Apostles Creed to them and said, “Are you crazy? Which part of that do you not believe?” He went on and said, “Read the creeds. Memorize them. Pray them. Teach them. Preach them. The creeds define what it means to be Christian!”

So, although Baptists say they’re not credal, they believe the creeds. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons (wonderful and devout people as they may be) don’t. Roman Catholics and Orthodox do. Muslims and Buddhists don’t.

All that to say this – back to the varying shades of gray…a Quaker is more of a Christian than a Muslim.
But there must be some objective standard or else “being Christian” becomes meaningless (as it is in much of the Episcopal Church today – John Shelby Spong, for example). Perhaps a different standard could be chosen, but the creeds were birthed in the first centuries (pre-canon of Scripture) for precisely this purpose, and recognized for centuries (actually millennia) as such. By what authority could I possibly lay them aside and redefine things?

Published in: on November 19, 2011 at 9:08 am  Comments (2)  

Praying to Saints

A priest I am delighted to serve wrote me an email asking for help with explaining “praying to saints” to some of his Protestant friends. For what it’s worth, here my response, which may be helpful to other readers (or irksome, as the case may be).

Well, my friend, you always have good questions!

When my Evangelical friends question the involvement of saints in my prayers, there are two important things I point out.

First, the standard Anglican practice is not to pray TO the saints as much as to pray FOR them. Now when I say that, the question becomes, “Why should they need your prayers? They’re already in heaven!” Indeed! But there is nothing in the Bible that says folk stop growing in Christ when they die. In fact, the evidence (particularly in Paul) is that heaven is a continuation of our spiritual growth – we never “become God” (obviously), but we are on an eternal quest to become closer to him.

Why should we expect that a person suddenly becomes “perfect” immediately upon dying? Is it their physical body that was sinful, or their soul? Take me, for example: my personal shortcomings, my sins – are they seated in my cells, my bones, my blood, my muscles, my physical existence? Or, are they seated in my soul, my heart, my mind? Aha! They are indeed seated in my soul. And so, what “stops” the moment I die? My soul? Nope. My body? Yep. My soul continues, and it continues it’s growth in Christ. Forever. Another example – take my grandfather: a good ol’ Texas/Oklahoma farmer who loved Jesus and also had a racist streak in him. Now, was that racist streak located in his physical body? Of course not – it was in his heart, his mind, his soul. Why would I think that the moment he died he suddenly was completely free from whatever caused that racist streak? Nothing in the Bible suggests it. Everyone, when they think about it, recognizes that heaven includes a “proces” – a becoming more like Christ. Paul talks about rewards in heaven (1 Co. 3), but no one believes that you are “stuck” at whatever level of reward you get when you first arrive. No one thinks that for eternity, I’ll be at the lower rung of the heavenlies, while John Wesley is at the top rung. I continue to grow, to improve, to become more Christlike.

Which reminds me of a story from John Wesley. He was a staunch Arminian, and his preaching buddy, George Whitefield, was a staunch Calvinist. They were companions in preaching the Gospel, but antagonists in theology. So, when Whitefield died, Wesley attended his funeral, and a woman approached him and said, “Reverend Wesley, do you believe you shall see George Whitefield in heaven?” He replied, “Certainly not!” She said, “Hmmmpphhh…I thought not,” and walked away. Wesley stopped her and said, “My dear madam, you misunderstand me. George Whitefield will be standing so near the glory of God, and I so far away, that my eyes will not be able to gaze upon his brightness!” (This is paraphrased, but you get the idea).

So, just like you can pray for me to become more Christlike while I have my skin on, you can also pray for your grandmother who has gone on before you to also continue to become more Christlike.

Now, about praying TO saints…

First, the word “pray”: We tend to intepret it as “beseeching God”, and so to pray to anyone but God is to do something wrong. But the word, in English, simply means to ask. Elizabethan (and KJV) English understood this: “Pray, tell me, what is the time?” The word, originally, simply meant to ask.

We must understood that we are not “praying TO the saints”, asking them to do something for us like perform a miracle. We are “asking” the saints to intercede for us. Asking granny to pray for me. Asking St. Patrick to pray that I become a better pastor. Rallying the troops to do spiritual warfare.

Everyone believes you can ask “saints with skin” to pray for you. “Hey, Susie, will you pray for me that I find a better job? Hey Billy, will you pray for my aunt who is having surgery tomorrow?” What is it exactly about these “saints with skin” that allows us to ask their intercession? Is it the fact that they have skin? Or is it the fact that they are in the same “place” as us? That we can contact them physically? No, it is the fact that they are in the same “place” with us spiritually – and that place is “in Christ.”

But…BUT!!! Saint Paul said to be absent from the body (without our skin!) is to be “present with Christ.” So, I’m in Christ, but so is my grandmother. And so is the Blessed Virgin Mary. And so is St. Columba. And so is…well, everybody who has ever died in Christ. So just like I can ask my friend across the street to pray for me, I can also ask my friend across the “great divide” to pray for me.

Finally, this: I have lots of Protestant friends who, in moments of tenderness, will say, “Mama, if you can hear me, pray for me.” My dad, who is 74, still visits the graves of his mom and dad in South Louisiana, and when he’s there he “talks to them.” Tells them about life. Tells them he wishes they could see his ministry in Mexico. Tells them he wishes they could see his grandchildren. Johnny Cash had a great song back in the 70’s called, “Look at them Beans”. It tells the story of his father trying all his life to grow good crops, and always getting thwarted by weather or boll weevils or something. His dad dies, and finally a bumper crop comes in. “Hey, look at them beans! And look at that corn! And I bet them watermelons must be three feet long! Hey look at them tomatoes, and look at them peas. And I know if Papa was here right now, he’d sure be pleased. And Papa, if you can hear me, look at them beans!”

The difference between these sentimental Protestant folk and us is the matter of surety. They say “if you can hear me,” and we believe they can hear us. How? I don’t have a clue. Heavenly email? Who knows! But the witness of the Church for 2000 years is that we are all one in Christ. There are not two churches (one in heaven and one on earth), there is ONE Church, and we are all members of it. So, however the mystery occurs, the faith of the Church is that we are all in this together, and those who have gone before us can intercede for us.

And so, we invite those around the throne – that “great cloud of witnesses” Hebrews calls them, to add their prayers to ours as we continue our battle on earth, the Church Triumphant praying for the Church Militant.

I hope that helps a litte!

God bless you,

Bishop Ken

Published in: on November 16, 2011 at 5:06 pm  Comments (2)  

Death Be Not Proud

I just got word today that my cousin Sissy, 40 years old, died unexpectedly. Our large family is pretty shaken and startled by this news, and another cousin wrote and asked me to “splain” it. I thought it might we worthwhile to share her questions and my response:

Her question:

Ok Bishop, splain Sissy’s death that makes sense. Splain any death that will help my hurting heart for these almost 4 years since my husband died. Not the “oh he was sick” or “God needed them more than we do” or He needed another beautiful rose” these are foolish things we say and to the grieving–they mean nothing! If I used the word crap ever, I could surely use it here!!!! Can you help your cuz with this? like ASAP

My response:

Dear [Cousin]:

I’m so saddened to hear about Sissy. If there’s any way I can, I’m going to drive down for the funeral. I have a conference I have to leave for on Thursday or Friday, so if it’s before that I’ll go to Louisiana first.

In response to your request that I help “splain” Sissy’s death, first let me say that you are TOTALLY correct in calling those silly platitudes “crap”. I HATE it when I hear preachers say that kind of thing at funeral or to grieving families. “God needed another angel” – use a stronger word than crap if you dare! God doesn’t “need” anything! And if he wants another angel he can speak one into existence out of nothing – and for that matter, humans don’t become angels when they die. That kind of syrupy silliness is ridiculous, and doesn’t offer any comfort anyway.

The first thing that needs to be understood about death is this: it is our ENEMY. It is GOD’S enemy! Death (and sickness, and all the other bad stuff in the world) comes as a result of the fall of man – St. Paul says that death entered the world through a single man (Adam), and so through a single man (Jesus) death is abolished (Romans 5.12-19).

So we say, “Yippee! Death is abolished in Christ!” But we still die (and we still suffer, and we still deal with the consequences of the fall). So, God has placed “all things” under redeemed man’s feet, “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” (Hebrews 2.8). “BUT WE SEE JESUS…” So far, there has been one man, Jesus (fully God of his Father, and fully man of his mother) who has conquered everything, including the “final enemy” – death (1 Corinthians 15.26).

Where does this leave us today? It leaves us all in an “already/not yet” state. Death has ALREADY been conquered (in the person of Jesus), but not yet (for each of us). Sin has already been crushed (by Jesus), but not yet (by us). We have to realize that our story isn’t finished – we haven’t been “completed” – we, as born again believers, still live in a fallen world and still suffer the consequences of Adam’s choice. Again, “But we see Jesus” – what has happened to him WILL happen to us on the last day (1 Corinthians 15 – the whole chapter). And so, the “blessed hope” (which, by the way, is NOT “the rapture”) is what we all look forward to: the RESURRECTION from the dead. The promise of God’s word is that WE TOO shall put on immortality just as Christ did. We too shall burst forth out of the grave. When Christ returns and makes all things new, we, IN OUR BODIES shall see our Redeemer.

Which brings me to this: as a pastor, comforting those who grieve, I cannot say, “Oh this is just God’s plan.” Death is NOT God’s plan. And although the death of the saints is precious in his eyes (Psalm 116.15; precious in his eyes not because death is good, but because death is conquered in Christ and is not the “end” for those who have faith in him), death is still an enemy which we continue to fight, to hate, to struggle against, and from which we are promised complete victory on the Last Day.

How do I comfort the grieving? First I tell them death is bad and isn’t God’s idea. Second I tell them that the story isn’t over – we turn our eyes toward the promise of the future, a promise secured for us in the Resurrection of Jesus (when a dead man got up and walked out of the grave, not to die again like Lazarus or Jarius’ daughter, but when a dead man CONQUERED death as the first among many who will do the same at his return).

To use the words of the ancient liturgy, “And even at the grave our song shall always be, ‘Alleluia, Alleluia”! The last thing that happens at a liturgical funeral is the pastor says, at the graveside, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” and the people respond, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”. Even at the funeral, we don’t give death the final word; we proclaim the victory of Christ.

To sum the whole thing up: death is God’s enemy (and any enemy of God is an enemy of ours). We still fight against all the enemies of God (sin, suffering, sickness, evil, death). Death is the FINAL enemy to be destroyed (which implies all his other enemies will be destroyed BEFORE death is destroyed – so we are engaged in a great spiritual battle for the whole of our lives). But we are promised victory in the end. We are promised the resurrection of our BODIES, and we are promised a re-making (literally, a “refurbishing) of the heavens and the earth, and we shall dwell eternally in resurrected bodies in this new creation (which has already begun in Jesus).

If we do not have this hope, Paul says, “we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15.19). But we DO have this hope, guaranteed in our “older brother”, the Son of God.

Here, and now, we grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We DO HAVE HOPE! We look for the coming of the Lord and the “restoration of ALL THINGS” (Acts 3.19ff).

So I grieve for Sissy, and you grieve for the loss of your husband. No sweet platitudes about “God needed them more than we do”. No, death is a bad thing and it is grievous. But this is only one chapter in our story, and the story is not finished yet. And when the story IS finished, we will find that it is not the end of the tale, but only the end of the first chapter – in the resurrection from the death our story really just gets started.

I don’t know if this helps, or if it answers any questions, but I hope it at least gives food for thought, and helps put the whole thing in perspective.

Much love in this time of pain,

Ken

Published in: on August 27, 2010 at 7:44 pm  Comments (8)  

The First Thing You Know

Here’s something just for fun. In my last post I shared an online conversation I had with a man in our church. Well, here is an online conversation I had with the wife of my cousin, and his consequent input. Nothing profound here, just fun…

Melissa:
had a really great question to ask, but I forgot what it was! 🙂

Kenneth Myers at 10:39pm April 23
There are lots of really big questions: Who is God? What is the meaning of life? But Melissa, here’s one for you: What’s the first thing you know? Think about it and give me an answer. And there is a right answer.

Melissa at 10:46pm April 23
Why do I feel like I am going to have to think really hard abou this? 🙂

Kenneth Myers at 10:47pm April 23
Yep. Think carefully, deeply. You only get one answer, so it has to count.

At this point Melissa’s husband, Bobby, comes online and asks me for the answer:

10:49pm Bob
So what is the answer I have too many financial numbers banging around my head

10:49pm Kenneth
MAN, I can’t tell you! You’ll tell Melissa.

10:49pm Bob
Promise not to, I keep secrets well
plus she will be up all night thinking about it

10:49pm Kenneth
Well, the first thing you know, ol’ Jed’s a millionaire.

Then, after several seconds delay:

10:50pm Bob
I just spewed Dr. Pepper on the screen

10:50pm Kenneth
I’m laughing out loud at that!!!

10:51pm Bob
I will let her stew for a couple of days, she is probably being metaphysical

10:51pm Kenneth
So funny!!!

10:51pm Bob
I have not laughed that hard in a long time, thanks I owe you

******

My point in all this? Sometimes the most profound questions have really simple answers!

Published in: on April 27, 2009 at 8:23 pm  Comments (1)  

52 Card Pickup

Here’s a snippet of a Facebook conversation I had with my friend Jason, who comes from a Charismatic/Evangelical background and has been discovering the historic faith for about the last 6 months or so…

Jason
I love those little tid bits of beautifully layered truth

10:34pmKenneth
MAN, isn’t it LAYERED and never ending?

10:34pmJason
I guess all truth is multilayered applicable, for those w/ the eyes to see, ears to hear it, and a heart to receive it

10:35pmKenneth
Yea, but once you hit the jackpot, it’s multilayered all the way down!

10:35pmJason
how do you mean?

10:36pmKenneth
I mean, once you see the system, and all the pieces fall into place, and everything dovetails, it just gets prettier and prettier and more amazing all the time. I’ve been in the “catholic” way for about 20 years now, and there are no hiccups, just more and more beauty

10:37pmJason
I totally know what you mean. It’s like watching a game of 52 card pickup in reverse. Truth starts to stack up inexplicably out of what was the chaos of my mind.

Published in: on April 4, 2009 at 8:44 pm  Comments (2)  

A Testy Conversation Regarding Legalism

Lately I’ve been participating in an online forum discussing a hyper-Pentecostal church in our town that is essentially a cult. One of the chains of conversation was about all the things (some of them ridiculous) that we of a Pentecostal ilk were forbidden to do when we were younger (for example: no makeup or jewelry for women, no movies, television, sporting events, skating, bowling, dancing…you get the idea). Posted below is some banter between an anonymous poster and myself. I got a little testy. But the points are hugely important…

Some anonymous person wrote:

I find it sad that many on this site, including Kenneth and Jason, feel the need to “bash” people that still believe in a holiness standard and are fully committed to trying to please God instead of pleasing our fleshly desires. If you don’t feel it is necessary and appropriate, then do what you will. But please don’t use this forum to tear down others that have convictions that I personally feel God smiles on because that sacrifice is made strictly and personally to HIM. Just because your “way” is liberal and without boundaries does not mean it is the “right” way. It is definately the “broader” and “easier” way, but please don’t cast stones on those of us that still believe that a holiness standard is necessary and very pleasing unto God. Just feel like the respect should be across the board and for all. Making fun of others convictions is not uplifting or edifying to participants of this forum.

To which I replied:

WOW! I’d love to sit down face to face with you and talk about this. There is SO much to be said about the subject, I don’t know where to begin, and I don’t have room on this forum to address it all.

First – I meant no personal offense to you.

Second – the use of humor toward things with which we disagree is actually something done in the Bible itself. Paul mocked the legalists of his day, who were insisting that Christian men had to be circumcised, by saying (and this in IN THE BIBLE, for heaven’s sake), that he wishes they’d just finish the job and castrate themselves.

Third – I am not “bashing” anyone. I am, however STRONGLY disagreeing with a theology that suggests God smiles on an artificial standard of holiness created NOT from the Word of God, nor from the historic faith of the Church, but rather from early 20th century mores and values which have endured in the Pentecostal and Fundamentalist subcultures of the United States.

Fourth – It isn’t a mater of simply you follow God your way and I’ll follow God my way. This is sloppy theology which, if applied to its logical extent, makes room for all kinds of silliness, heresy and indeed danger. Either there are absolutes and clear Biblical standards or there are not. In the book of Judges when Israel was at its lowest point, the condemnation of Scripture was that “every man did what was right in his own eyes”. When we jettison the standards that are mandated by God himself, we end up replacing them with standards of our own making (or more significantly, of our own culture’s making), and these things become things of bondage.

Fifth – It isn’t accurate to say that God smiles on any sacrifice made “strictly and personally to him”. There are some sacrifices that he abhors, no matter how good the intention. The sons of Korah were killed just for such a sacrifice.

Sixth – To suggest that my “way” is “broader” and “liberal” and “without boundaries” is to use non-biblical guidelines to determine what is broad and what is liberal. And its just silly to boot. You have no idea of my “way”, nor of the obedience of my life. I am a sinner, indeed. But I embrace the disciplines of the faith with sincerity and seriousness, not creating some list of rules made up two generations ago, but holding to a covenental list of rules given by God to his people, both in the Old Covenant and the New. The fact that I do not keep the particular manmade list of rules that you think reflect holiness has nothing to do with God’s own definition of what marks holiness of life.

Seventh and finally: you end by saying “please don’t cast stones on those of us that still believe that a holiness standard is necessary and very pleasing unto God”. Well, it seems we DO agree on two things, at least: (a) that there is such a thing as a “holiness standard” and (b) that such a standard is pleasing to God. Where we significantly disagree is in regard to what defines this standard. I suggest the Bible itself defines it, and it can be summarized in a few brief words: “He has shown thee, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of thee – but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” The standard is not about drinking alcohol (Jesus did, and so did the disciples), not about dancing (typical Jewish culture – the Bible is replete with references to dancing, and not just in the context of some Pentecostal service), not about cards or movies or tobacco or anything else like that. It IS about loving “the Lord thy God with all they heart, with all thy strength, and with all thy mind”, and about “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

Legalism is an insidious disease that destroys true faith and corrupts the hearts of God’s children. I’m against it.

I would happily buy you lunch to talk about it more, if you’re interested. And I’m not condemning your personal values (I have LOTS of friends who don’t drink, smoke, chew or go with those who do) – what I am here condemning and making fun of is the notion that those prohibitions somehow make a person’s standing before God more secure.

Bishop Ken

To which she (for some reason I assume it’s a she) replied:

Two words come to mind here after reading your reply…”pearl” and “swine”. I will leave it at that. Good luck.

To which I replied:

Suits me. Would love to have had a serious and reasoned conversation with you, but it’s OK if you’d rather not. Thanks for the well-wishing. I wish you well too.

Published in: on December 13, 2008 at 12:29 am  Comments (2)  

Karl Popper, Scientific Inquiry, and How We “Do Church”

Sir Karl Popper is my favorite philosopher, and one of the most influential thinkers in my life. I’m reading some of his ideas on scientific inquiry right now, and find them fascinating in their implications.

Popper is commonly seen as being somewhat philosophically responsible for the exponential curve that has happened in the world of science, discovery and invention in our lifetime. And, without getting into it to deeply, his significant contribution to how we understand the world of science is the idea of “falsifiability”. In short, he shows that the role of science is NOT to prove a theory, but to disprove one. In fact, ultimately, in purely logical terms, no scientific theory can EVER be proven, it can only be given a value of reliability from past observances.

One simplified way of putting it is this: If I have a theory that all crows are black, I cannot prove this theory by the observation of 10,000, 100,000 or 1,000,000 black crows. If EVERY crow I EVER observe is black, it does not logically prove my theory. But if I observe a SINGLE white crow, I have falsified my theory.

The idea of falsifiability led to the standard attitude in the scientific world of what we now call “peer review” where an idea is thrown out there with the INTENTION of it being challenged – because the scientist understands that challenging it will (a) cause it to be discarded as wrong or (b) show it to be on the right track “AS FAR AS WE KNOW”, or maybe even (c) tweak it and make it stronger with some modifications.

So, scientific discovery moves ahead piecemeal (a very important concept in Popper’s thinking, both social and scientific) – one person taking another’s idea and improving it a bit, showing that whereas it GENERALLY proves true, it SPECIFICALLY may not, and therefore is “wrong” and must be refined.

Here is an important piece: THE MORE GENERAL the information the LESS FALSIFIABLE. THE MORE SPECIFIC the information THE MORE FALSIFIABLE.

If I say “all dogs have hair” that is very general, and very difficult to TEST (and hence to falsify) (note: even if every dog I have ever observed has hair, it still doesn’t “prove” my thesis). If I say something like “all dogs have brown hair” this is easier to falsify and so more scientifically valuable. If I further narrow it down to “all dogs in my house have brown hair” the specificity of the statement is even more testable and falsifiable.

And so scientific progress is made by the gradual movement of INCREASED SPECIFICITY in a particular idea. Ideas are made better. THINGS are made better. Through testing and tweaking.

*******

Having said that, Popper points out that, practically speaking, a WRONG SPECIFIC STATEMENT is often much more valuable than a CORRECT GENERAL STATEMENT.

If you ask me what time it is, and I tell you, “It is EXACTLY 5.22 a.m.” (it IS, by the way – I couldn’t sleep this morning), and if I am WRONG by two minutes, that information – though inaccurate – is more valuable than the more general statement, “It is Sunday morning”. In the real world, if I say the plane leaves at 1.30 this afternoon, and I am wrong by ten minutes, it is still much more valuable than saying the plane leaves between noon and six.

********

Which brings me to the Church and theology.

Taking Popper’s ideas and applying them to the life of the Church, there are a couple of things that are worthy of further contemplation.

FIRST, the idea of falsifiability – I suppose people from the academic world are used to the notion of peer review, but perhaps that should permeate much more of our life together than it does. Some leaders are afraid of being questioned, of being tested, of submitting their ideas, theologies or “revelations” to peer review. One should not be “ashamed” of putting something out there and having it shot down – if it can be shot down it should be shot down. One should not be ashamed of wrong turns and dead end streets – they falsify ideas and therefore help the rest move toward something more true. For example, that much disparaged idea of Government by Consensus in the CEC. Some of it worked. Some of it didn’t. Some of it was terribly abused and misapplied. Tweak it. Improve it. Correct it. OR, maybe even throw it out completely and start from scratch, or go back to another model that “works” better. My point is, whatever is done, work toward improvement, in a spirit of OPENNESS.

If we could have an environment of falsifying without condemning, it could go a lot further toward a truer establishing of God’s people.

Apply this to any number of topics of discussion: a theology of the beginning, a theology of the end, a methodology of church government, a theology of you-name-it.

But SECONDLY – and this is really what I wanted to get at – I would like to further contemplate the Popperian idea of the “wrong specific” being more valuable than the “correct general”. Take the canon of Scripture, for example. MIGHT it not be the case that a particular church is better off naming a specific canon and being wrong, rather than maintaining a more general view of “we won’t specifically define the canon, we’ll just state the broader parameters of the thing”? (This is NOT, by the way, a dig at Anglicanism, whose position on the O.T. canon has been greatly misunderstood).

This is only one example – there are tons of others and I’m sure you can come up with some of your own. Might not a church be better off stating clearly and specifically its positions, but being open to those positions being tested and improved? If we could ever come to a place of saying “proving me wrong” doesn’t “prove me bad” we would be much better off. We could learn from our own mistakes, the mistakes of others, and move forward toward improving the Church, the world, and ourselves.

That’s all for now. Enough early morning musings.

Popper defines science precisely as that field which can be tested. Some things cannot – some important things – metaphysical things – things particularly in the realm of faith. But having said that, our faith DOES carry with it some elements of the scientific. Aquinis thought theology itself to be the queen of sciences. And St. Paul said, “TEST ALL THINGS. HOLD FAST TO THAT WHICH IS TRUE.”

Published in: on January 15, 2008 at 7:06 pm  Comments (4)  

The Bomber and the Lamb of God

I’m reading a new book by Benedict XVI (B-16, “the Bomber”) entitled Jesus of Nazareth. It’s just a delight to read because it reads SO much like something from Hans Urs Von Balthasar (only more readable!). It is theologically profound, spiritually deep, and pastorally sensitive.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been revisiting one particular section (p. 21ff) that I believe is worth sharing briefly:

“Why is Jesus called the Lamb, and why does this Lamb take away the sins of the world, so thoroughly vanquishing them as to rob them of any substance or reality?…”

First, that line STUNNED me; it’s so, well, Lutheran! What a delightful idea and phrase – that Jesus “thoroughly vanquished” our sins, so much as to “rob them of any substance or reality”!!!

He continues the page with a quote from the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (a Protestant work, by the way – everyone praises this pope for his ecumenical intellectual scope), a book also known among Bible students as “Kittel’s”:

“Jeremias makes the further observation that the Hebrew word talia means both ‘lamb’ and ‘boy’ or ‘servant’ (TDNT, I, p. 339). In the first instance, then, the Baptist may have meant his words as a reference to the Servant of God who bears the sins of the world by his vicarious atonement [cf. Is. 53.7]. But this reference also identifies him as the true Passover lamb who expiates and wipes away the sin of the world: ‘The Savior, dying on the Cross, went to his vicarious death patiently like a sacrificial lamb. By the expiatory power of his innocent death he blotted out…the guilt of all mankind’ (TDNT, I, p. 340). If at the extreme hour of Israel’s oppression in Egypt, the blood of the Paschal lamb had been the key to its liberation, now the Son who became a servant – the shepherd who became a sheep – no longer stands just for Israel, but for the liberation of the world – for mankind as a whole.”

And so, Benedict XVI does two things here that in my mind are astonishing for a Roman Pontiff to do: first, he makes a BOLD statement of the definitive work of GRACE that occurred on the cross: “thoroughly vanquishing” our sins, “robbing them of any substance or reality”; “expiates and wipes away the sin of the world”. Secondly, he recognizes the global/universal dimensions of this sacrifice: “the liberation of the world – for mankind as a whole.”

This summer I’ll finish the book, and write a review of the whole thing. But I just wanted to share now how delightful a read it is, and what a great thinker/theologian/pastor B16 is turning out to be. Ratzinger – lots of folk nicknamed him Rottweiler – is turning out to be, not a mean dog, but a good shepherd. A good German Shepherd.

Published in: on June 20, 2007 at 4:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Q&A: The Need for Mercy

A bishop in another communion has decided to eliminate The Prayer of Humble Access from the liturgy because, in his thinking, having already confessed our sins, we ought not be asking for mercy again so quickly, as we approach the altar to receive the sacraments. A bishop friend of mine commented on the danger of the willy-nilly tweaking of the liturgy just because of personal insights and/or current theological trends. Now, that prayer is not part of our regular liturgy, but it is an option. I wrote,

The need for mercy is perpetual. If I receive the mercy of God in absolution an hour ago, I am no less in need of his mercy this very moment. The problem is that people have confused mercy with forgiveness. Mercy, in the O.T., is clearly understood as “loving-kindness”. Two things are a constant in our lives: we do not DESERVE God’s favor and we NEED his loving-kindness.

Published in: on February 23, 2007 at 4:29 pm  Leave a Comment