Militant Muslims, Masculinity & Mission

An article came out that was a rather obvious, though explosive, comment on the demographic on those who join ISIS. Surprise, surprise, most who joined their ranks were not extraordinarily devout strugglers for Islam. They were not mystic Sufis with a bent for violence. These types, realistically, are very rare. Instead, they were disaffected, educated, alienated, and angry young people. They were caught on a wave of the West’s proliferation of a listless materialism. So instead of being like one of our own American youths, and other Westernized people, be content with mindless, ‘no-strings-attached’, sex, recreational drug use, sports addiction, fitness cults, and corporate ladder climbing, they chose a different way.

Violence and bloodlust have always been powerful pathways for people trying to forge meaning. “Life is in the Blood”, so the Lord spoke, and it is true. Shedding blood gives an exhilaration which paradoxically makes us feel more alive, and yet kills our humanity. This blood-shed doesn’t even have to happen in our own hands for us to revel. All to often it is vicarious bloodlust, and we, though sanitized, continue to live out this truth in the West.

The line between sport and blood-sport has always been a precarious one, and should make us, the Church, tremble when we consider it. Not in fearful fleeing, but in concerned reflection. As a recent lecturer pointed out, the differences between gladiatorial combat, medieval chivalric jousting, and the heavily commercialized UFC are nearly void. Yes, in gladiatorial combat people might die, due to the whim of the host and the cheer of the crowd. But there were rules. There were referees. It wasn’t mere bloodshed, but it had an art about it.

Violence has a deep and abiding allure to it. We become powerful in being able to execute life and death decisions. We are exalted as the enemy is defeated. In some sense, the ability to kill is a practice of idolatry. We, or whoever we lift up, become gods able to take away life. In the hands of a State, it is combined with the ability to proffer life. We brought you into this world, we molded you, we send you to bring death to our enemies, and we will see you out. So they say.

ISIS is just another manifestation of Nationalism, though it is not nationalism as the word is usually defined. It is perhaps similar to our American context, which relies less on blood or land, but on a philosophy of life and the god we worship. As I’ve drummed on before, America is a cult of the empty shrine. We can worship whoever or whatever we want as long as it is within our cultural orthodoxy. As long as we don’t call into question ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, then we are safe. It is just like Rome, who allowed any gods who did not interfere with the Imperium of the Capitol.

Perhaps that is why vitriol for ISIS is so harsh, fitting as it does in the Islam/West culture-clash paradigm that has spread deep roots since the fall of the Soviet Union. ISIS, like the Soviet Union, is a competitor for the hearts of the world, blending sex, violence, pride, and purpose into a single way of life. No American governing official would ever admit such, but that does not negate the truth. The idolatrous ‘Freedom’ is the god that holds us all together. Right or Left, it’s the same vision, but different details. The Left might advocate free sex or free definition of one’s person; The Right might advocate free use of weapons (the prevalence of militia culture) or free markets. At the end of the day, it’s working within the same legacy, but pulling in nuanced directions. Even these lines are blurred as some on the Left have a global market ideal, and those on the Right are quite comfortable with fetishizing scantily clad females.

Yet, unlike ISIS who has vitality, the West has lost much in a malaise. Perhaps it’s battle fatigue, going from an ideological war against the Communists to the Islamists. Anyway, there is little draw to banging the patriotic drum, sexing up the American flag, and finding purpose in the nationalism of decades past. Not that there aren’t efforts. But they are becoming more and more forced and plastic. 9/11 certainly resuscitated the power, but the god of Americana is hungry.

ISIS, on the other hand, is able to bring in young men and women. To the former, there is a mission, a sense of destiny and power, and a structured and purposed life. They are to fight against the encroachments of the West, bringing unity and national identity. There is adventure and emotional high in fighting for a new way. One needs only look at the revolutions of Europe in the 19th century, the French Revolution, hell, even the American revolution.

For women, there is a sense of adding one’s femininity to the conflict. Western girls went overseas to join ISIS. They wanted a sense of deep and communal belonging. They wanted to be married both to convicted, purpose-driven, husbands and a cause. There was something attractive about a man with a mission. Sadly, they found only lust and ‘hungry’ men. And worst still, they felt justified in what they did. Still, the attraction doesn’t stop even if the dream fails the reality. Of course, all idolatries are the same. Pray for these girls.

However, empires come and go, God’s Kingdom remains. But there is still a deep problem in all of this. God created us men and women, and there is something distinct in the fact that we have sexed bodies. There has been a trend that many have bought into the Western presuppositions, rather gnostic, that our ‘gender’ is merely a cultural construct. Despite the lusts of the heart, and the round-about way the Liberal West has sated them, the general message is we need to grow up and get over it.

Strangely, we are commercially sold a dual message of boyish/girlish anesthetized sexuality, and then told it’s all a construction. I guess it makes sense: if we’re all idiot children, then what’s the harm in a game of make-pretend. Men are given a vent in releasing a little machismo, women dress up, smoothed over with perfect skin, perfect breasts, perfect hair etc etc. Yet men are told to not be manly. It’s ok to have muscles, but no chest hairs. Girls are told not to be girl. Girls are to be brash, demanding and commanding, yet wearing revealing clothing.

I don’t really understand all the currents that flow and move in our society, or which ones self-identify themselves as having any universal value. I’m not sure if anyone really knows why they do what they do. Our hearts, and the societies that boom around us, give us a million mixed signals. I suppose, at the end of the day, everyone is racing here and there looking for life. We desire to be Human, though have no idea what that means. We look for Eternity, but have no eyes to see it.

However, the Christ does provide a vision, being the First Born from the Dead. This refers not only to His bodily Resurrection, but to the Resurrection of the Creation. The Bible refers to this as the Age to Come, the Kingdom of Heaven, yea, even the Reign of Christ.

Jesus talks of us ceasing to be given in marriage, that we’re to be like the angels, but despite much pondering, how much do we really know about the angels? According to one tradition, they can reproduce (and did with mortals, and were punished accordingly). Regardless if this is true, the Eschaton will not bring about sexlessness. We will still be male and female, as we were made. Of course, this might invite questions of intersexed peoples, but those merely highlight the falleness of our persons, and each example requires thought.

Well, I can only speak to my own particular case of being a man, which is desperately needed in our society of feeble conceptions of masculinity. The examples are that either men are a bother, a plague, or a strange vestige, or, a hyper-assumption of their identity, in either cartoonish displays or in actual, violent, displays.

I could write on and on about the many concrete examples of both. Let’s say the former manifest in the many comedy portrayals of dads as useless, posturing, fools. This bleeds over even into standard portrayals in common commercials. Men become full of shame for being foolish and useless as the media tells them. The other side is in men joining the military or a gang to find purpose, to be men, and meet their hearts desires. This also comes in ‘bro’ culture, full of binge drinking, sports obsessions, and faithless sex.

In the midst of that, Jesus stands as the ideal man, who lays down His life for His friends, His people, even His enemies (none of these categories are exclusive). The Messiah sheds His blood for the whole world, accomplishing the forgiveness of sins and the regeneration of the cosmos, a new creation. This self-sacrifice is boiled down for Paul in his admonition to husbands to be as Christ is for His People(the Church), but this self-sacrifice can be thought out more generally.

This is not to say that women are not to sacrifice themselves as well, we all, collectively and individually, live as living sacrifices, offering our lives to God. But there are distinctly male and female ways to do this. The age old polarity of male-female, perhaps reflected in external-internal acting, is brought to a close in the Messiah. Both are joined together. Christ built a new Kingdom (external), and birthed a new world (internal). There is no male or female in Christ Jesus. Yet, those we are of ontological equality, and the polarity is shattered, we still live as men and women.

For men, this self-sacrifice is brought about in ways that are distinctly male. Instead of our violent passions killing our fellow men, in word and in deed, our violence is brought down upon our flesh. Instead of being the subject of lust, our passion is for being one with Christ, forging a unity with our friends that we call our community, our church. Our quest for mission is brought to a head with the knowledge of God’s Spirit sending us to live as a people, in exile, on our way out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, making disciples of all nations.

None of these are exclusively male, nor comprehensively male, but mere examples. Our sex is not determinative of our person, but one of the many features of our being. First and foremost, if we call upon Jesus, we are His disciples, we are Christian. However, the Church is in need of understanding our maleness and femaleness in true and good ways. It is too easy to go with the current of society, embracing the definitions (or the sexless lack thereof) provided, instead of turning to the Messiah.

We must look to Jesus, as the Bronze Serpent in the desert, and live.

Veterans Day

Veterans day was a holiday founded for all those who fought in the First World War. It was called Armistice Day and was a celebration of the peace that was wrought between Germany (who was the Central Powers) and the Allies, namely France, the US, and Britain. The guns ceased on the 11th hour of the 11th month in 1918. The Great War, a world consuming conflagration of Europe’s empires, was supposed to be the war to end all wars. It was the conflict of the ages. For Germany, it was marking her dominance as Europe’s chief Empire, the leader in culture, art, politics, and religion. For Britain, it was maintaining a diplomatic balance, and securing His Majesty’s global reach. For America, it was formally overcoming the self-constraint of being a humble republic.

Yet the Great War to End All Wars is a title fit for a dark comedy or a sick joke. The postulations of arm-chair generals, deluded philosophers, and the nationalistic poets fueled this blind and twisted fantasy. Europe’s so-called Christian imperative erupted in a prolonged suicide. Strangely, America and Russia, ambitious outsiders, became the new heirs. America had longed to return to the European theater of affairs, but was considered backwards and remote. Russia always longed to be seen as a European power, but was relegated to being an ‘Asian’ mongrel.

America, as the sole heir of Western hegemony, has transformed this holiday for continued relevance. It is not just for the soldiers of that past exploit, which most of Europe is estranged from. It is a day for all soldiers. While it took World War 2 for the general populace to accept America as a chief Empire, World War 1 was the initial catalyst. Of course, I’d argue the two world wars are the same war with an intermission for 2 decades. It was a no-Peloponessian War.

These wars are remembered in American history as great triumphs for the ‘good guys’. The Germans, whether Imperialists in the first or Nazis in the second, were crushed. The Americans, and her partners, saved the world from tyranny. This isn’t the case. Anglo-American brutality is exhibited in the Dresden campaign and the Tokyo fire bombings. The Germans locked up their Jews, the Americans locked up their Japs. Both had racial fury burning in their veins, only the Nazis were more radical in unpacking their plans. FDR wasn’t a fascist, by no means. But America was filled with ambitious corporatists. While the Nazi leadership may have worshiped a personified nation, America was worshiping the dollar sign and the machine.

Of course I speak in generalities. Many people, whether American or German, had many visions for the world and progress. However, the point I want to make is that churches in America have bought into that dream and vision of Americana and celebrate, to the utmost, Veterans day. Flag colored apparel appears all over the place. Songs sung unto the Nation, with a thin veil of ‘god’, resound from coast to coast. The so-called Christian people glory in the Nation.

For me, this is nothing more than idolatry. If Jesus is Lord, what business is mine to celebrate a city of men and a kingdom of this world. There is a world of difference between honoring and praying for the leader of the city you dwell in, and something else to vaunt, promote, fight, and maintain him. It is not your Christian duty to vote, to be an activist, but to pray for whoever God lets sit upon Caesar’s throne. He too, with the whole infrastructure, will pass away into the dust.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the Church to celebrate her martyrs, real soldiers who gave their lives for the Truth? I’m not advocating the creation of a calendar, but it’s pathetic that people bearing the name ‘Christian’ will be more likely to die for the Nation instead of the Christ. But that’s because America is a functional god for many. Not the only god mind you, for Pagans worship a multiplicity of gods.

Why would you give your life for Caesar, instead of for Christ? If the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob does not desire a war by the sword, then why would we kill for Caesar?

Come quickly Lord Jesus.

The Walking Dead

I am a big fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead, and pretty excited for the next season to start tomorrow. So I thought I’d have some reflections on why the show, and zombies in particular, are amazing lenses into our lives and our world.

The best zombie movies are never about zombies, but the humans who try and survive and thrive in the wake of such an apocalypse. And I don’t use that world ‘apocalypse’ lightly. The spread of a zombie virus (being rather scientific than the practice of voodoo or witchcraft) is an ‘unveiling’ of the Human condition. When we see people lock others out to survive the horde, we see how brutal we ourselves can be. We in some ways are no better than the zombies in our ferocity to survive. They may moan and groan, limp with decaying limbs, and eat living flesh. But that is only a more primitive example of ways we are and act.

We moan and groan after our deified bellies. Though it is less likely to be food or drink, sex becomes a beastifying act instead of dignifying. We limp in our small, pathetic, attempts at our little ambitions. Step by step we climb company ladders, crawling over others to the empty reward of nothing at the top. We devour the living with the cravings of our sordid souls. Whether its the tabloids, or it’s in gossip, we love to feast on the living. We smash our fellow creatures into the dust in economic and social exploitation. It might be in a systemic abuse, or as small as preying upon the generosity of a friend.

What is stunning in The Walking Dead is the revelation that it is not simply an ‘us-vs-them’ polarity. The truth is that a zombie bite is what brings about infection. That might be allegorical for being apart of the system, and thinking our self-cleansing acts will keep us free. This might be in a Fundamentalist refusing to drink or dance. It might be in a hipster not eating processed foods or refusing to use a car. But the reality is none of this gives us a place to stand and cast self-righteous indignation on the ‘unclean’. The solution, as liberalism might put it, is not that we’re all ok. The problem is much deeper.

As Rick, the show’s main protagonist, would reveal: we’re all infected. The zombie virus is already in everyone’s blood. One doesn’t need to be bit to become infected, merely dying will begin the transformation from corpse to reanimated zombie. We’re all infected with the germination for the worst. The Walking Dead doesn’t allow for some optimism, as some fantasies do. There is no rallying around the Human race. There is no putting aside differences to overcome the seemingly insurmountable. As the show reveals in many episodes, discrimination and insecurity, whether by race or class or sex, still remains a main drive.

This would be an apt time for a well-worn platitude about Jesus being our purity over and against the impurity in the fallen Human race. It’s not that this is untrue. But it’s deployment in many ‘cultural engagements’ falsifies the message due to its refusal to dig deep. The Incarnation, in its most radical and biblical articulations, refuses to merely allow a salvation-myth like those of Dionysus or Mithras or any other Pagan cult. The Messiah was fully and completely Human. God really tabernacled among us. He was born in the flesh, He was born under the Law, which meant He was born in the curse. Many rightly rejected the ‘Heavenly-Flesh’ heresy because it denied Christ’s full assumption of the Human condition.

If we want to talk about Christ and zombies, then we need to recognize the utter pessimism elaborated by this reality. We need to gravely reflect upon the fact that zombie shows are holding a mirror up to the Human visage. We need this common-grace reflection to devastate our positive-thinking, smiley culture and all its priests and adherents.

It’s not that Jesus needs zombie movies. Rather, it’s the latter that stands as God’s judgment. The Apostle tells us that the Torah is holy and beautiful, it is a secondary cause that it shows us up to be the hollow and dead people we really are. Zombies reflect that we are all already dead. And no, sin is not merely guilt or shame. These external problems should be testimonies that sin is an ontological shattering.

It is in this light we might begin to talk about Jesus and the Resurrection. The Man and His Mission must go together seamlessly. And resurrection is not merely the body coming back to life. If that were so, zombies would be a form of resurrection. Instead, the whole human person is brought back to life. This includes the body, but also the soul, the will, the memory, the intellect, the emotions. The Heart which was stone becomes flesh, imprinted with God’s Law.

The Resurrection is for the whole person, a regeneration which will bring about a renewal of the whole cosmos. If it does not, we will still be the walking dead.

Citizenship is in the Heart

I’ve written many negative pieces on what I don’t believe in regards to the Christian’s placement and regard for the world we live in. I thought I’d write a more positive piece, describing some of what I think the biblical witness accounts for. But, as a quick preliminary, allow me to indulge the negative once more in setting some thoughts.

The proclamation that Jesus is Lord is the most condense creed, in which lay all the teachings of Scripture. This confession has a strong political component obviously apparent. The same word was applied to Augustus Caesar, and thus the early Christians, especially Gentiles, broke from the new bonding of common Romanness. Despite what some may argue, this implication had radical political implications.

Of course, the way I use the word ‘politics’ has to do with one’s relation to the communities, governing or not, around you. The Christian claim certainly impacts this, though not in the same way others in the past may have argued. It does not give the warrant for the creation of a civilization, which is really just acculturating the Gospel and attempting to nullify the Word of God. This is the legacy of Constantine, plus many others, who’ve tried to make Christianity the one and the same with Empire.

Now onto some positive construction:

When Christ stood before Pilate, He stood accused of being the Messiah. To Pilate’s pagan ears, this meant nothing. So the accusers had to translate it for him. Jesus stood condemned as claiming to be the King of the Jews. Yet this claim was instantly backed with Jesus’ description of what this Kingdom is:

My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?”

Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

Pilate was completely bewildered, blind as he was, to what Jesus was even trying to say. I’m sure at that point he thought this Jesus was a lunatic that the priesthood was serving up as some scapegoat. But Jesus is saying something utterly profound. He is the King of a Kingdom outside the bounds of Human ways. This Kingdom is not founded on earthly hierarchies and systems of power. It is not predicated on force and violence. Rather the power of this Kingdom is Truth.

The cause that Jesus spoke of was the destruction of sin. This was first promised to Eve in the Garden, bore about in her name, that she would be the mother of the One who would crush the Snake. The Devil, who held mankind in bondage, would be upended, and Creation would be renewed and redemption purchased for the race of men.

The cause that Jesus spoke of was God ruling His People. Israel was a living parable of the Messiah, the Head who would bless creation. A humanity now in loyal covenant with their Maker. While this mission, this promise to be a light unto the Gentiles, had been constantly enforced, many looked to their blood. As some would say to Jesus: we are sons of Abraham. Yet Jesus is the true Israel, to be the People of God, outside of which none would stand.

Christians originally were known as adherents to the Way. This phrasing brings to mind the herald, John the Forerunner(Baptist), as he self-identified with Isaiah’s prophecy:

Then they said to [John], “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”

23 He said: “I am

‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Make straight the way of the Lord

The Lord Himself was coming, and John, as the last prophet for the Israel of shadows, would clear the way for the Fulfillment. This would be the opening for all peoples to find true hope, true redemption, true life. Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of sins.

Now this might sound merely like ‘religious’ doctrine, what does this has to do with politics? Everything. I could repeat like a parrot, as many do, that the Enlightenment was the cause for this. But the roots go deeper. The victory of the Enlightenment’s naive rationalism was the child-like adoration for the Classical voices of philosophy and culture. The Deism of the 18th century is just a rehash of Epicurus. In fact, the Enlightenment inspired revolutions were just as religious as any regime prior. It just recast this in different molds, peeking out in strange displays like the Temple to Reason in Paris.

Instead it had to do with the Kingdom of God being lost, and subverted to Mammon. Without getting into specifics, this occurred into multiple facets. It manifested in two swords, in a spiritualized kingdom of God paired with the temporal kingdom of men, both of which ruled over the Believer in differing ways. It manifested in sphere sovereignty.

These strategies were the attempt at saving the Gospel from the abuse of sacralized dominionism. This would occur where in the Eastern Roman Empire, the Emperor was considered as an Icon of Christ, and was adored respectively. This occurred in some of the Imperial forays of the Pope, exerting monarchical pressures over Frankish and Latin princes. This would later occur in Social Gospel attempts to forge Christianity into a brand of Socialism.

The former misunderstood the Kingdom, and ended up creating a cloud of Paganism. The latter feigned kisses to Jesus and remade him in the image of their father, Judas.

What I propose is, rather, is that citizenship, truly and forthrightly, is founded in the heart, which is the central node and nexus of man. If such is the case, then one’s identity and loyalty flow forth from the heart’s conviction. And in this, as Augustine would speak, one belongs either to the City of God or the cities of Men. One will either have an internal engine of love for God (and neighbor) or lust for self, the position of man’s incurvatus in se. This is the war between the flesh and the Spirit. Not one of materiality or corporeality (against intangibility), but motive and drive.

Now, of course, the motivations of the heart are impossible to tell, but that is why the Church is a society of Pilgrims, a city in exile, forming and being formed by God’s Word. For we are not yet in our City, it is in the Heavenlies still. There is a longing of awaiting the King’s return, and the City’s descent, that kiss of Heaven and Earth and the re-formation of both. This is the promise in Revelation, we see the story unfold before our eyes in multi-dimensional color and scale.

Given this, we still live in the world. Since our motivations differ, this will inevitably effect our activities. We become aliens in our own former countries, but treat everywhere else as a home. If citizenship is in the heart, then we are estranged from what bound us to our former countrymen, being defined as we were in the flesh. Documentation may say we are Americans or wherever else you come from. But our hearts testify elsewise. We are belonging to a City whose founder and builder is God. We are not dual citizens, that is a confusing of categories. We are singularly one citizen, namely the Heavenly Jerusalem’s.

Yet, this is not a call of conquest or transformation. There is only One King, namely Jesus, there is only One Priest, namely Jesus, there is only One Builder, namely Jesus. We are not responsible to build His City, God has built it. Instead, we live in light of such reality. We settle into neighborhoods across the world, and yes, we observe the laws that the cities of men pass. But they are not our laws, and we should not endeavor to build them. We may build up or communities and improve their livelihood, but not because they are our cities. But because we respect the creation. The whole world is God’s, therefore we need not become a ghetto, which proclaims a certain kind of henotheistic pluralism. There is only One God, and all others are masquerades.

Like the Jews in Babylon, we promote equity and the lives of our neighbors, but with an eye towards the real home. Whether we obey or disobey the laws of the nations, it is out of obedience to Christ. Thus, we pay taxes, and put up with the restrictions of governments, avoiding worthless entanglement with the violence of the state. But, within such a context, we proclaim a different King, in whom there is a New World coming.

As the Kingdom of God, we neither support the status quo or promote rebellion. Wicked men will lust after thrones continually. Instead we proclaim a message of repentance, to get off one’s throne and turn to the King of kings, and the God of gods. Even Death has been slain by the Messiah.

This hopefully gives insight in how I construct the political theology of Christ’s Kingdom in the World. It is neither Lutheran two-kingdoms, nor is it Roman transformation. It is an attempt to be faithful to Christ’s command that we are in the world, though not of it. The message of Salvation effects the entirety of reality, every square inch, and it is proclaimed by the Prince of Peace whose Kingdom is not of this world.

May we set our eyes on Jesus, the matchless King, immortal, eternal, forever blessed, Amen.

The Evils of Gnosticism

In the early Church, some the of strongest criticism and almost all the polemics were directed against what was retroactively grouped as ‘Gnosticism’. This conflict would range through the writings of Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, even all the way to Augustine in his war against the Manichaeans. There is even signs that the Apostle John had these kinds of people in mind when writing his gospel and epistles. It wasn’t for no reason that John spoke of those who denied Jesus coming in the flesh as ‘anti-christs’ who had no gospel at all.

This is a sort of shocking pronouncement. Typically I wouldn’t have thought this was a life or death issue in regards to Truth. Yes, I believed that Jesus was flesh and blood, truly incarnate, and that the resurrection involved a bodily reality. Jesus really was in the flesh, which, according to the primitive and radical christology of the Apostles, meant that YHWH was actually in the flesh. What is at stake if the Gnostics win out? What sort of vision are they promoting?

Well there is no single, unified ‘Gnosticism’, it’s not a movement or an ideology. Rather, the whole thing is more akin to a ‘mood’. It’s a coloring of how one views the world, but it has a range of opinions and manifestations. There is no creed or written documentation or affirmation. Some gnostics were Jews, some were Gentiles. Some were in the Church, some created rivaled churches, some were within Judaism or were straight up Pagans, or were a confluence of many streams. What was it that held them together?

First and foremost, the Gnostics promoted a vision that the evils of this world were definitive of it. This was not necessarily created good, and then fallen. The world was evil. Matter, material reality, was evil. If this World had fallen, it had fallen in terms of it becoming a world made of material, and not spirit. Otherwise it must have been created by a rival, evil god, contrary to the god of Spirit that Jesus promoted. Or perhaps Jesus was on the evil god’s side, and John the Baptist was the real hero. Or maybe Jesus got it right, but Paul distorted his message, or Paul was the messenger, but James and other “Judaizers” mutilated his message. Or if the rival was not another god, he was a semi or demi god who was an idiot. He was the creator, where the true god made all the spirits, including this demiurge.

All of these were real metaphysical speculations by a variety of gnostics or gnostic groups. The Creation was evil and there was no redemption. Of course, this runs contrary to the very high praise that the Scripture places upon the Earth. That it was created for men, that the material creation was called ‘good’, that marriage/sex was to be praised, that food,clothing, and things were not only able to be recognized as goods but as fitting analogies for the Divine King. But the other corollary is that these things are created and pass away. They have a place, but not a determining place. There is a tension in valuing creation, following to praise of the Creator.

The ethics of the Gnostics, built out of this presupposition, were thus determined by their hatred/apathy/disgust for the created order. Some demanded total rejection of the creational ordinance, except for what was needed to maintain bodily life. In this vein, some had a hierarchy between the ‘elect’ who were seriously committed to the truth, and then their supporters who were not quite ready to leave their lives, but knew that matter was bankrupt.

Others believed the body had no connection to one’s soul, so while the body would stir with urges, it was ok to indulge them in whatever way. They do not effect your god-like, immortal soul and thus you can do whatever. Lying with your tongue is different than lying with your soul, the first is meaningless, the latter an eternal offense. Sexual ethics were whatever was your fancy. It didn’t matter what you did with your body because it’s a sack you’re carrying around with you. You can thank the god when you lose your appetites, but in the mean time, it’s there.

Gnosticism, strangely, had room for the strictest ascetics and the vilest libertines. It had a place for the strongest free-will libertarians, that your soul could determine its fate, and a place for the strongest determinists, you will only do what is according to the stars, fate, your nature. It was a mood that looked at the created goods and saw only malice. The body was not fearfully and wonderfully made, it was a sack of water, shit, and goo, that was always on the verge, if not already, malfunctioning.

Most histories talk about Gnosticism as having this great appeal during the height and collapse of the Roman Empire, from 1st century BC till the 5th century AD. Then, in the future, it would outbreak in other and different groups. The Cathari in the south of France resembled the Manichaeans in many ways. But this is all furthest from the truth. The reality is Gnosticism is a mood and a movement, which has fluxes in popularity and open success, that is always at work. Especially today.

We could discuss different ways the Gnostics were manifest in the creation of this or that party, or in this or that group, but let’s rather focus on the attitudes today. Like the Gnostics of old, some of them have an official platform but others are people living in a cultural milieu.

Our modern day Gnostics are less given to asceticism than olden times, though this attitude is prevalent in some churchly groups. The prohibitions of ‘do not touch’ that Paul warned about exist within Fundamentalist groups who believe in strict dress-codes and prohibitions against certain substances. We can think of the Denim jumpers some have been told is the only godly clothing. No drinking of alcohol, or smoking of tobacco. I’m not saying that these ‘ought’ to be done, rather it’s in the justifications for why they’re strictly denounced.

The theological underpinnings in fundamentalism and some evangelicalism here are posited on an immortal soul, and the devaluation of fleshy reality. Now, some of the early Church rejected the use of some physical realities, but it was in a different spirit. It was because they actually took the body seriously. The acronym “Believer’s Instruction Before Leaving Earth” is symptomatic of this whole conception that life in the body is nothing more than a bizarre training ground, a kind of mistake.

However, as I said above, most gnosticism rejects the false will-worship within asceticism, and instead promotes will-worship in luxury and indulgence. The Oprah cult, which is beyond the person of Oprah, is a grouping where self-transformation is the highest good. The body seems to be taken seriously (in things like Self magazine), but if you notice the tone and ethos, it’s because the body is not ‘you’. It’s not a part of who you are, but putty around you that you sculpt.

The whole sexual ethic that is supposedly so free, is really a rehashed gnostic dictum: it’s my body, I’ll do what I want with it. The body is not a part of who we are. Therefore if I smash it to pieces in carousing, then who cares. It doesn’t matter what words come out of my mouth. It doesn’t affect me. While it seems to be a cry for liberation, and a movement towards ‘progress’ (similar gnostic conception of the soul’s ascension), it’s enslaving.

This is the air we breathe, and it is something that I recently realized I was afflicted with. I have gnostic sympathies, divorcing my body from my soul, the latter being really me and the former being just a carrying case. Gone are the biblical expressions of ‘sleep’ for death. Instead I hear Christians use the euphemism of ‘passing away’, coined by the gnostic Ellen White. Of course, part of that is the fear of death and the fear of losing control. We are the immortals trapped in fleshy bags, we are the arbiters of destiny and masters of fate. So we say. We’re jabbering idiots, rationalizing our inabilities into our control.

What we do with our bodies actually impacts our souls. It’s why early Christians were sometimes confused for ascetics when compared to some of their pagan counterparts. Yet it was out of praising the Creator and honoring the creation that they would face death heroically. It was out their love for God that they would turn down marriage and the Roman family economy. It was out of their devotion to the Christ that the rich would cast aside their wealth. It was contrary to ‘nature’ as Pagans saw it, but these Christians would see the true movement. Christ was enthroned. While we do not see all things submitted to His rule, we do see Him. The Resurrection is the eternal ‘Not So’ to Adam’s cursed realm.

Yet we think we can do anything we want. It’s amazing how the little things we absorb contour our ability to think and contemplate. I use to casually watch mindlessly violent shows with gratuitous amounts of sex, and it sculpted my thinking about the world. The droning of the Americana propaganda makes the world around us into a plastic that needs only happy, feel-good, will-to-power. Nietzsche has met Barney indeed.

The early Church was right to condemn the Gnostics in their own midst. May we see how we have stained our hands with the same miasma, and repent of such thinking. Christ came in the flesh as a creation in order to redeem the creation. As Gregory Nazianzus said, ‘what was not assumed was not healed’. May we turn to the Lord Jesus, who still stands, in His glorified and resurrection body, at the Right of Majesty. And that same Jesus, that same King, will return again. Come quickly Lord!

Thoughts on Detroit, Americana & the American Wasteland

Due to the prompting of my friend over at The Pilgrim Underground, I watched a well-done, and small, documentary on Detroit as the first ‘ghost’ of America’s globalization and industrialization. The city is now the haunt of abandoned buildings, drug cartels, and gangs. But on top of this, the city has a vibrant center filled with corporate buildings that generate wealth for themselves, and leave the surrounding areas to rot. The people in these buildings live far outside the city limits. In fact, to the 800,000 in Detroit proper, the suburbs contains a total for 4 million. Clearly the city is not a place for the well-to-do to live in.

The city scape, cracked with cold northern skies, is filled with the homeless who suffer, and try and get by, in the wake of the economic collapse and abandonment of the city. Heroin addiction is huge, and I can sympathize. While, in Christ, there is life, this cursed Earth may seem to only hold hope in drug use and abuse. The only difference between the poor and the rich is that the latter maintains a subtlety and sophistication, a level of falsely called self-sufficiency, that is ‘ok’. We call a poor man’s addiction criminal and wicked, we call a rich man’s a foible or a faux pas.

There’s a very telling scene where there is a painted banner proclaming “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”. However the camera pulls back, and above this rough brick building is an immaculate billboard advertisement for McDonald’s. The implication is telling. The preaching of the Gospel has been swallowed up, placed beneath, the Americana that is very well encapsulated in the golden arches. How truly is McDonald’s America: a sterile cleaned interior, flashy colors, and substanceless food. Now don’t get me wrong. I’ll eat at McDonald’s because I’m relatively poor, and it’s a place to sit and share a meal. Maybe I shouldn’t. But truly, Americana hollows out the world and makes us shells.

Am I saying I hate America? By no means. I think the country’s landscape is magnificent. There is fascinating history in the many cities, towns, and landscapes across the country. But, firstly, this is not my home or my citizenship. And, secondly, my appreciation for the ground-level does not mean I condone the crimes the Empire has committed. One could have had a deep love for Antioch or Alexandria, but been no lover of the Roman Imperium.

For all of the foolishness in the American church, what is being done in Detroit? Where is the Gospel in Detroit? The Decree of the Prince of Peace is moving, but Christ’s ambassadors are not usually going to be in the limelight. The Rick Warren’s of the World will have their fun in the sun, and then, if they are saved, realize how much useless foolishness they have engaged in. ‘Sanctified’ weight-loss programs? The Daniel Diet? Are we that stupid? Of course, because we’re too busy being busy, and too worried about being worried, that we can’t even take a breath and live life.

My deep and beloved brother D once pointed out, “Look at the sky, no one looks up, everyone is looking down”. The point is, we don’t even take the time to look around us. We zoom here and there and never pause to realize all the money and politiking will burn up. Our ambitions are to no effect. God has graced me with frustrated wordly ambitions, He has not let me run off with the flood. I have moaned and groaned, but in freedom, I have begun to see Light.

If all the supposed Christians of America actually took the Gospel, the proclamation that the Son of God has washed our sins, redeemed us from Darkness, and poured love into our Hearts through the Spirit, at the Decree of the Father of Heavenly Lights, seriously, then maybe we would be less insane. Maybe Detroit would be poor, but pulsating with a strange people of joy. But no, America is not a nation filled with Christians, but christianized pagans who hang upon cultural relics, selfish ambitions, and an ignorant, patronizing view of the world. Detroits will grow as Americans eat themselves in insatiable lust.

The infrastructure of America is already rusting. Billions of dollars are spent to increase the wealth of Defense contractors and international corporations in foreign wars and neo-imperialism. The people in America are filled with propaganda about the necessity of the Federal government’s insanity and reign. I am not saying the Federal government needs to be overturned, or even reformed. Empires are such, and such is the spirit of the Devil’s domain over the cities of men. I am not saying that there is even such a thing as a “christian nation”. Such is a fusion of a culture with the gospel.

What I am saying is that much of the Americana-church has done that already. Some are apostate, others are compromised. But they have sold out to the powerful and the elite. They are the ones giving theology and justification to the creation of ghost-cities.

I wonder what America would look like, not if Christians were constructive, but stopped being a part of the problem. What if we could just take deep breaths and be content, living simple lives of giving, holding out dirty hands to the Justifier. What if we stopped saying ‘Yes’ to the cultural, Babel project that is the Americana Imperium. What if we set our minds on the Heavenly City, living in light of that instead of pissing ourselves about the self-created problem of ISIS. Ahh, but that would require us to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

The church of Americana is Arian, it does not believe God is fully and completely in Jesus Christ. It is just one more cult trying to conquer the world in the name of Death. But her patron is already dead. Amen.

Friendship

I am going to make a bold claim right away and say that the heart of our purpose is friendship. That is: we were created to be friends and to be befriended. This could sound a lot like an empty platitude from Barney. This is by no means that. Instead, I am basing this sentiment in the proclamation that Jesus gives:

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. 17 These things I command you, that you love one another.

I bolded the most shocking part, but I give more than that for the context that undergirds it. Jesus calls His disciples His friends, not servants, because they know what Jesus is up to and doing in the world. He proceeds to elaborate how He must suffer and be rejected by the Powers that Be because of the works that He does.

This sort of friendship, this opening up of one’s plans, is the heart of all the relationships we are called to. Friendship is not one option among many, it is elevating our fellowman to our councils. It is welcoming others in to our world, being united as one with each other. God has decreed that is what is to be done in His Son, and our calling as His followers, yea, even His friends, is to do likewise.

Yet this friendship does not look identical everywhere and in every relationship.

Consider an analogy: when one is making bread, the components are very nearly the same. One bakes with flour, yeast, water, and, at least a pinch, salt. Yet what one does next can alter, quite drastically, the end product. Adding eggs to a dough will make it thicker. Pouring sugar into the batter will make it taste very different. Sprinkling or adding other spices or liquids into the dough can change the color, texture, and taste of the bread to be. Yet some of these breads are so different, they’re not called by the same name. We have bagels, cakes, doughnuts etc. But at their root, they’re all still a ‘kind’ of bread.

Friendship is like bread, but the contexts it is formed in will alter how it manifests itself. Friendship with coworkers is different than friendship on a team. There is friendship wrought by common interests and friendship wrought by common experience. Even marriage, by Paul’s admonition to imbue it with the love of Christ for His Church, is to be a different, but still bread-like. It is perhaps the cake of the friend-bread-verse.There are friendships built in a communal setting, of being for one another in the group. There are also friendships built individually, loving an other, soul to soul, wrongly called ‘Platonic’.

Like bread, there are many kinds. But we need bread to live, without which we will perish. This doesn’t mean one must eat all kinds of bread, consistently, to live and to flourish. Yet we need it and it consists in living humanly. Of course, it must be primarily stated, and forcefully pronounced, that man does not live by bread alone, but every word from the mouth of God. The Lord gave manna in the wilderness, and while we still are in exile in a spiritual wilderness, Christ is our food. He is the Bread from Heaven. We must dwell in Him first and foremost. He is the Ultimate and True Friend. He is the King in whom we must turn. He opens our eyes so that we might live.

Truly, if the Lord Jesus did not key us in, tell us what His business is, there’d not be much reason to continue to live. The world is rather bleak if we have no vision of the future. The world is utterly void without Heaven’s intervention. This is what the book of Ecclesiastes is all about. But He has called us, who believe on His name, friends! Life isn’t about scraping together little comforts from eating, drinking, and finding a lover. There is a cosmic destiny, God who enters into the depravity and brings redemption.

In fact, the Good Friend, Jesus Christ, is the One who makes our friendships true and enriched. Without Him we can do nothing. One of the ‘proofs’ the Apostles would offer for the Resurrection was that the Church existed. Jews and Gentiles living integrated lives, poor and rich, free and slave, man and woman, all together, was testimony that something had shifted. There was a whole new world minted in the image of Jesus Christ, our Lord. The Resurrection established the Church, and not vice versa.

And what is the Church but a Society of Friends? There’s a reason the Quakers took such a name. Abraham, who is pointed to so very often, was defined, by the Lord, to be God’s Friend! What were his children to be, but friends as well? This is the great purpose that we might live in. In Christ, Abraham’s Seed, we have made peace with God, we who are His disciples are also His friends.

Sadly, many churches have drunk the cultural well of our industrialized society. Instead of being a testimony to Resurrection, we’re a testimony to the Interchangeable Part. Instead of bearing witness to Jesus Christ, we’re bear witness to Henry Ford. It’s not for no reason that Alduous Huxley made Fordism the religion of his dystopian Brave New World. Crosses were replaced with the Model T. So too have alienation, from ourselves, eachother, and primarily our God, become the means and ways of Americana. Of course, for some, they are not churches of Jesus, but painted crypts of the American Dream. But for others, they have turned their face away from being a center of friends.

Again, friendship looks different in different contexts. No one could possibly know everyone within their Church community at the same level and depth. But it’s a collective communing with one another, on account of the bond of God’s blood. This is what is needed for life, and out of such rejuvenation, we might begin to make more breads. After eating our Heavenly Manna, we might pour the ingredients of our souls for our marriages, our co-workers, teammates, people here, people there, people everywhere. The gathering of a Church-community is for the purposes of creating the space to appreciate the true Bread that feeds the world.

I hope to continue to write on this, but these are some preliminary thoughts. May we know that Friendship looks like a bloody man on a cross, dying for His friends, to bring their dead bodies, dead minds, and dead souls to life. Greater loves know nothing more than that.

Noble Sins & Low-Comedy

Augustine would dedicate a lot of ink, in his City of God, towards the point of taking his Pagan Roman criticism seriously. The Gothic invasion of Rome, led by Alaric in 410, would devastate the foundations of an already crumbling Empire. Rome remained a mecca of sorts for all the old Pagan ways. The temples were still thriving and sacrifices were being offered daily for the health and wealth of the Empire. However, these Pagans were horrified with the Christians and the new Imperial mandate taken in their name. Constantine, and especially his progeny Theodore, would systematically shut down Pagan shrines and bar them from actively participating in the life of the Empire in the ways their hierarchy used to. The Gothic invasion was a sign that the gods were displeased.

Now Constantine and his imperializing of the Church was a worse crime that any non-believer could ever wreak upon God’s people. But the point was that the Pagans pointed the finger at the Christians as being the cause of the gods turn away from their city, Rome. This is the context Augustine would be writing in as he began to enter into their complaints. We’ll focus on one in particular: the morals of the Romans.

Augustine allowed their complaints about decadence and proceeded to examine Roman history for moral exemplars and virtue. What he found is equally applicable for today. The Romans, he would argue, were wicked today, and their ancestors were better, but it was not in virtue to vice but in the degree of vice. The new Romans were drunkards, corrupt, sexually immoral, greedy, given to violent temper and wild passion, but the old guard, the forefathers of old, they were consumed by a different kind of sin.

Augustine would shame the new Pagans, the Romans of his day, not for the lack of their virtue, but the quality of their vice. The old Roman patriots were completely self-absorbed and arrogant, violent and cruel. However, these manifested in actions that look virtuous. In olden days, the Roman’s all consuming desire for fame and glory would lead him into a life of chastity, temperance, yes, even sacrifice. He would die for his countrymen in a bid to attain immortality through his deeds. He would remain sexually continent out of fear for the shame his fellow patricians would heap upon him. The Roman’s arrogance would lead him to act justly and fairly so he could hold himself over the “barbarians” throughout Italy, Spain and Gaul. The Roman’s pride would maintain a sense of thrift and austerity in contrast to the East, consisting of Greeks and Syrians.

Augustine almost mocks his modern critics. They were all sinners, proudly waging a war against the Christ to build their own tower of Babel. But at least the old Romans appeared respectable, and their evils actually drove them towards noble deeds and self-sacrifice. The modern Pagans were so craven and vile in their deeds that they could hardly conceive such a communal life. The old Romans were driven by a proud lust for fame and glory, one that looked much more honorable than the individual’s quest for salvation, a desire that was a hallmark of late antiquity.

This all ought to sound very similar to the recent history of the United States. The communalism, drive for family of the Founding Fathers was replaced by westward ambitions and the individualism to seize destiny and forge it in one’s image. But this narrative of a fall from golden virtue to corrupt vice is told, through talk-radio, in an even more recent lighting. The Greatest Generation who fought in World War 2 understood the principles of loyalty, faith, family, and sacrifice. Then their children grew up, rejected their parents’ ways, and embraced secularism, sexual immorality, self-survival, and cut-throat behavior.

Perhaps we can agree with the talk-radio shock-jocks, as idiotic as they are. Like the Romans, the older generation did embrace a different, more noble, set of virtues. They are touted as some sort of fusion of Jefferson’s Vergil-esque idyllic farmer and Rand’s independent, incorruptible businessman. Their similarity was a proud individualism, a fierce loyalty to their immediate family and friends, and their unassailable freedom. There is nobility in this. But the illusion is that these people, even within the vaguery that is American christendom, the church of the Enlightenment and Nationalism, were driven by the same motivations. They prized their family, their faith, their freedom, all in an attempt to maintain their value and salvation. It was selfish survival of the fittest, the promotion of one’s kin, the victory of one’s own image and will. Rand’s Free Man is only separated from Nietzsche’s Super-Man in degrees.

I consider this in light of the arrest of prominent propagandist, Dinesh D’Souza. He tries to create a christianized Conservative vision of what America is, and what she has lost. But he is such a two-dimensional shadow of the vices of the Founding Fathers. Jefferson’s pride and scheming ambitions were at least hidden through multiple channels of contacts. He wouldn’t be caught so cravenly violating the law of his country, that he claimed to love so much. As much as D’Souza claims that he is being persecuted, the man is a joke. His vices could not even propel him into a functioning marriage. Instead, he divorces and remarries a 20-something accompanying him.

Our vices are not even glorious anymore. Gone are the days of sucking it in, and enduring a hated spouse out of a misguided vision to rule the house and maintain one’s legacy. Gone are the days where a Roman would rather burn off his hand than give up his country. Gone are the days of a life of austerity for earthly glory and fame, of out bidding each other in charities to prove oneself the better.

And yet, this is the way things go, and the shadowy existence of our crimes as low-comedy is God’s judgment. The Lord is a comedian of sorts. He gives us our desires, the crawling evils of our hearts become realities. Americans, and Romans, one day woke up and realized that it was foolish to abandon everything, happiness, hearth etc., and to deny their real quest. When the world became larger than their forefathers could ever imagine, and the axis seemed ever so wobbly, their faith melted. The sexual wickedness that used to only live in dark alleyways, in cities and hearts, now came alive in the explosion of the sexual revolution. The violence in men’s hearts, that all loved, became glorified. Our modern gladiatorial exhibitions take the form of Schwarzenegger mowing down thousands of no-name, no-face, nobodies.

I am not guiltless, and the justice in what we watch is subject to debate. But we ought to question what it is that we do. Even Nietzsche could understand that when we peer into the void, the void looks back. What we watch can shape us, something Augustine well understood through the meditations of his close friend Evodius on his lust for watching the gamesi n the Coliseum. It is worth our thoughts and considerations.

This is not a post glorifying the olden days where crimes were tempered and resulted in a honorable order of things. I’d rather be able to see the darkness more visibly, then contend with masks and dancing shadows on the wall. I’d rather hear sincerity, in it’s vulgar and grotesque form, than the noble lies of the past. And God is Truth, He will reveal all things.

The difference in we, who seek after the King of Glory, Jesus Christ, is in posture. May we walk lives of repentance, always turning to the Son of God. May we grow in love and burn with a desire for His peace. Let us not believe the noble lies, nor revel in the crimes of today. May we receive our Liberator as He embraces us in compassion, and wraps us in His honor.

Without Him, we can do nothing.

A Patriotic god

Fox & Friends was on this morning, which is less news and more of a circus. But a curious bit was they covered a photo of the sun-set. The cloud and light placement made it look like there was a big American flag in the sky. One commentator said something about that being a patriotic sky. This was followed immediately, by another, ‘that’s a patriotic god’. I was blown away that that slipped out so seamlessly. Of course, none of these anchors impress me as having any honest intellect, though they pretend to it as they discuss “the issues”. It’s all about point-scoring and partisan/factional thinking.

Anyway, that statement was unadulterated idolatry and utter blasphemy. I almost can’t believe that I heard that exact phrase come out of someone’s mouth. Maybe subtleties being removed, in this example at least, is God’s judgment. Many of America’s architects were inspired by Rome, and this most certainly included Rome’s religion.

Now Christianity was prized by not a few, but look at the context of their praise. Deistic reinterpretations of Christianity were popular in quite a few intellectual societies. Christianity was the most cultured and civilized religion, it was the closest to Nature. Weirdness of supernatural events may be discarded, or reinterpreted, in the quest for a pure religion. Christianity was disassembled and repackaged, by some more vigorously than others (I’m thinking Jefferson), so that it might fit in the New Age. Some, who were less politique, like Thomas Paine, were apt to see Christianity as worthy of the garbage heap. Enlightened peoples needed to move on.

Rome’s religious vision was compatible, though much less refined, with this Enlightenment quest. No, it was not about Nature or some abstract Rights of Man, but it had to do with the divinity of the Republic/Empire. The distinction we make between Republic and Empire is artificial, since the Senate viewed itself as being graced with imperium, a quest to rule the world. This was the gods’ city. Thus, Rome was rather accommodating to all cults and gods, as long as they respected Roma, the chief divinity. It’s the cult of the empty shrine. The gods, whether from Egypt, Greece, Syria, Carthage, or Gaul, were to move their temples and thrones within the halls of Republic.

The level-headed pragmatism of men like Madison was quickly abandoned for the fervor of Jefferson’s vision of an Empire of Liberty, for the flood of patriotic fervor that was infused into the American spirit. It is an encompassing spirit, amenable to dissidents and rewriting their history into the grand narrative. Mormons became less weird separatists, who clashed with the vision of the Union (as evinced in the response by the state governments of Illinois and Missouri). They are now an ‘American’ religion, and one of the fold for America’s hodge-podge “Evangelical” religious milieu.

I put quotes around ‘evangelical’ because it hardly has anything to do with the Christian connotations of the word, but in a way, these people really are evangelical. They proclaim a gospel of the Birth of a Nation. America is Israel, America is the god’s son. Whether it’s in the liberal vein of a Morgenthau or Fukuyama who talk of America’s divine purpose in democracy and capitalism; or it’s in the Christianized language of providence. They worship the same god in the same cult. America is god, he is the one who makes the skies the colors of Old Glory.

Respecting one’s government is good, and appreciating one’s history (culture, ethnicity etc.) is fine. I cheer for the US in the World Cup. But from On High, these things matter as much as favorite music or food. It’s apart of who we are, for better or worse, but it claims no loyalty. Nationalism is a religion from the pits of Hell, and it is in full force in the US. It’s the Babylonian spirit, one that drove everyone from the British to the Nazis.

But this Americana god is weak, ambivalent, and needy. That’s why I will hear a song like Five Fingered Death Punch’s ‘Wrong Side of Heaven’. In this song, god is this pleading and inflexible nancy, while the devil is a misunderstood and brooding figure. The singer identifies himself with the devil, and his faint moralizing conscience as god. The singer speaks for a whole generation of moody, confused, and angry young men who think they belong to purgatory, or as the song puts it “the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell”. This fits with the general self-identity of military men as straddling the wall, doing what needs to be done even if it doesn’t fit within the context of standard morality.

America needs her fighting men to feed her, to die for her, to promote her, to secure her interests, because she can’t do it herself. She eats up her dead, both the enemies of her ways and her faithful martyrs. No one wants to be the sacrifice, until it’s too late, their body is on the altar, and they’re consecrated unto the greater good. The god is weak.

I wonder if this is the same vibe that comes from a movie like “God’s Not Dead”. The movie neglects any argument for Christ and His Gospel. Instead, a general theism is proved, and an entire class is converted to “belief in God”, whatever that means (good review of the problem here). I won’t read alternative motives. But it’s in the vein that God needs defenders and advocates, instead of being the Defender and Advocate. Calvin considered all his polemics and apologetics as a dog who barks when his Master is threatened. Hardly a noble self-conception!

Yet, look at Psalm 2. The whole world has gathered against God’s Anointed, and He laughs. The world has brought together all its muscle and mind, and God ridicules them: “But I have set my Holy One on my Hill”. For all their plans, they’ve lost.

“God’s not Dead” might not be a set-piece with the general American Pagan pantheon, but it certainly appeals to their doctrine as much as any vague Christian notion. However, we can rejoice with Psalm 2. We may weep to see such willful disregard for the Truth and such shaming and scorning of the Son of Man. But Christ is seated on His Throne. God Reigns, even as the nations still run to their idols. The Lord will judge the living and the dead, and none will hide from the wrath of the Lamb. They will look onto the One who was crucified and risen with a weeping and a gnashing of teeth.

The Lord is not a patriot, and He will judge such stubble for what it is. The Christ is not mild; He is the Avenger of the downtrodden, the Liberator for the slaves, and the Savior of a misfit people.

The Need for the Bishop: Leadership in the Church

In the writings of Ignatius, to an almost neurotic extent, he pushes the importance of the “officers” of the Church. I use the term ‘officer’ flexibly, because it can conjure a formalism too great. And I do not like the use of ‘hierarchy’ since that word denotes a rank of priestliness that confuses even more. Office seems to carry some of the importance, but also some of the ‘political’ aspects of the Church. Every gathering is representing the reign of our Lord. Suffice to say, office and officer are terms to be taken with a grain of salt. If anyone has better words, I’ll be appreciative to hear them

Anyway, Ignatius is adamant that the gathering of the Church is contingent upon the presence of the Bishop(Overseer), the Presbyters(Elders), and the Deacons(Servants). He’ll even go as far as to say that there is no Church without them. Funny enough, groups that retain the use of bishop and episcopal government do not abide by Ignatius’ warning. The bishop is a far away presence, wrapped up in larger affairs than the life of the local congregation. Yet that was what Ignatius was calling for.

Many authorities have read back later developments into the early Church. Ignatius didn’t conceive of the metropolitan bishops that would be responsible for an entire city. Nor was he talking about the reformulation of the Church around the Empire’s borderlines, where bishops became the equivalent of provincial governors. If anything Ignatius spoke of bishops as being the modern equivalent of “lead pastor”, though I don’t think that phrase is very adequate. The later designation that he was the bishop of Antioch is somewhat deceiving. Maybe he was the only one, but it wouldn’t be because he had some rule over a multiplicity of congregations both in the city and outside it in its suburbs.

His purposes in his overboard statements was that he did not want the communities he wrote to (in Rome, Troas, Ephesus etc.) fragmenting around conflict and sectarianism. If men were appointed to shepherd others, then running them out, or over, was, for Ignatius, committing schism. One was dividing a congregation by circumventing the leadership of the Church. This was not authoritarianism either. This was not policing every aspect of someone’s life. This had to do with living in community with an organic leadership, ordained by the Lord.

Ignatius only posits the Bishop’s presence for the assembly of the Church. And why this may run roughshod over American notions of individualism and democratic spirit, this doesn’t make it wrong. The question is why would one assemble a fragment of the Church without the leadership? To what end? Ignatius was probably paranoid of the advance of gnosticism. That an elite within the community would form, and scorn those who were not ‘initiated’. He wanted to prevent any restructuring of the Church around such lines. It certainly calls into question some later musings on ecclesiola in eclessia, or little-church in the church. The thought is to consider the ‘real Christians’ from the mass who is present. Instead of a corporate identity, the inner core are the only ones who are Christian.

There are rightful distinctions of ‘invisible’ Church and ‘visible’ Church, but the use gets blurred. The status of one’s relation to the Lord is a matter of the heart. One cannot really know or judge until the last day. Even those who seemed to do endless works for Christ are rejected, for they knew not the Lord. This is anything but a fearful call to look inside, but a call to look to the Righteous One. But the point is that one may be around those who claim Christ, but do not belong to Him. We can only see through the journey of a life, the production of fruit.

Anyway, that is not equivalent to later interpretations of a baptized nation or civilizations where everyone is conceived of as a Christian. This was the latter conception promoted under the Constantinian shift. The disciplines of learning the faith were swept away. Becoming a Christian in the waters of baptism was not the beginning of a journey in Christ towards the City of God. Instead it became a cultural act. This is not directly related to infant/paedo baptism, but it certainly became a tool for culture construction. It wasn’t for nothing that Medieval underground groups rebaptized their children out of Rome. They thought such was not really a baptism in Christ.

I mention the Constantinian shift because this too effected how Ignatius’ commands were read. As the machinery of Rome became synthesized, the Church lost its priestly function for a priestly hierarchy. By this I mean that the Church no longer became a nation of priests, and instead was the constitution of the Empire, populated by newly sacerdotalized officers. The call for all Christians, and most of all their leaders, became a call for a select few, while the rest were passively represented. The Church was not an alternative social existence, using and discarding the surrounding culture as seen fit, but became part and parcel for the empire. The day that Roman and Christian were synonymous terms by an outsider was the day the Church went underground.

I won’t argue whether Ignatius was right in his insistence, in separating bishop(overseers) from the presbyters(elders). However the early Church, as first given in the Apostles from the Lord, rejected both clericalism and egalitarian flatness. The former was rejected in that it built walls between the leaders and the rest. The latter was rejected because it’s not real. Flat environments will naturally take the contours of leadership; better to recognize them than allow a charismatic person to take command.

This might be confused for a ‘natural’ leadership, but consider the metaphor for a garden. In order to cultivate plant life, yes, one cannot use plastic plants or ‘staple’ fruit. However any successful garden requires structure. Lattices are built for vines to grow up, instead of choking the ground level plants. Pruning needs to take place. The evolution of ‘flat-leadership’ into the rule of a charismatic individual is a prime recipe for wolves. Remember, Paul was a terrible speaker, and the Corinthians sought out more ‘natural’ leaders.

There is something distinct between those called to lead in the Church and those who do not have this calling. But it is not because the former are more Christian, or more serious, than the rest. Rather it’s the vocation to shepherd, develop, and empower the people of God. It’s a great responsibility. It requires one to be the first to serve, the first to suffer, and the first to die (whether literally or figuratively). It is example setting. It’s the first to cry: ‘Follow me to the cross! Let us hide beneath the Lamb who was slain but lives forevermore!’

I use to reject any such leadership and would find Ignatius’ statements offensive and abrasive. However, leadership is real in the Church, ordained for the purposes of example. When Ignatius said that the Bishop was an ikon of Christ, the first thing that came to mind was the reverence due him. But perhaps he was thinking more about the servant-leading the Bishop would be doing. That the Bishop would be the first one to go to the fire or the arena before his people. He certainly had his own, impending death on his mind. Ignatius was not the bejeweled princeling of centuries past. He would’ve been horrified at that. The bishop of Antioch considered himself so low, that he could only plead. He did not pretend to be an Apostle.

And all of this leadership probably reflected Paul’s list of qualifications over and against what we see today. Paul referenced character as key, and not cerebral power. One must have examples of love in their life. There were no seminaries. Now teaching was important, but that was why the laying of hands and discipleship were important. One leader would validate another in successions. Of course, this would get out of hand in later centuries. Men would deny the gospel for some mechanical lineage, falsely conceived to boot.

The leadership of the Church was formal but not formalized. It was not clerical, but it was organically structured and real. I don’t know if this means the words ‘bishop’ ‘presbyter/elder’ and ‘deacon’ are overworn and devoid of true significance. They now signify less authoritative realities than authoritarian clericalism.  In Ignatius’ time, they represented a challenge to Roman social convention. Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, would be appalled that leaders of the Church were many times slaves and women (being found as deacons, deaconessess, and presbyters).

All in all, Christ remains Head of His Church. We ought to respect those given leadership in our particular communities. Not slavishly, but in the context of life together. There will even be wolves. The Scriptures discern the differences. Christ is the ultimate authority, and may we honor Him first and foremost.