On Lent and Pascha or, Lent As an Icon

IMG_0482The Western Church has already entered the Lenten season and the Eastern Church has just begun its journey, yet in many ways the congregants have been on a Lenten journey their entire lives. If we boil it down, Lent is an icon for our present life. Lent requires us to sacrifice certain aspects of our dietary preferences to instill a type of self-discipline. At the same time, Lent works to focus our attention on our sin and guilt before God, all in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection (Easter or Pascha).

The ancient Israelites held to a strict diet to reflect that God chose them. Contrary to popular belief, this diet doesn’t really have many health benefits (it does compared to modern dietary habits, but that’s mostly due to everything being real food as opposed to chemically enhanced and genetically modified food). The dietary restrictions existed as a type of self-discipline, as something small to be faithful in so that they could be faithful in bigger things. The Mosaic dietary law, or the pre-Christ fast, lasted up until Christ. One Christ fulfilled the Law there was no need for the dietary restrictions; Christ had come into our world and redeemed everything. We were set apart and chosen as God’s adopted children through the sign of the cross and by partaking in His blood and body. We could celebrate by eating all that God put before us.

Of course, if Christ ended the Hebraic fast then why do we continue with a Lenten fast? Because just like the Hebraic fast, the Lenten fast is not solely for self-discipline. Rather, both bring to mind the idea that while we are on this earth, we suffer. In other words, this present life is a type of Lent, one in which we must work to obtain self-discipline, but one that also begets suffering. Thought Christ is risen from the dead, we are not, at least not yet. We fast as a reminder that we are still enduring a Lent. That’s the beauty of Christianity, it is steeped in paradox; we ended the Hebraic fast because Christ came, we fast in self-discipline now because Christ is here, and we fast as a reminder of suffering because Christ will come.

In the course of life, we are birthed from two wombs. One womb is that of our mother. We grow in her and eventually come into this world. The second womb is the earth; we all die and eventually find our way back to the earth (whether through burial or the spreading of ashes). At the resurrection we escape the womb of this earth into the eternal life to come. Lent, therefore, serves as an icon for these wombs and preparation for them.

In the first womb, a fetus will kick his legs, move his arms, and even move his mouth. None of this is vastly beneficial within that womb. However, it prepares the fetus for birth, it prepares him for skills he will need once he is in this world. Within this world, as he grows, he learns certain ethical standards. Many of these standards help him to get along in this life, but others don’t bring vast benefits within this life. These commands, however, prepare him for the life to come. While he is in the womb of the present, he learns the self-discipline necessary that will benefit him in the life to come. Lent serves as an icon for this struggle in that it teaches us to obtain self-discipline by abstaining from certain foods; the foods aren’t evil, but the practice benefits us.

It is what comes after Lent, the celebration of Pascha, that also prepares us for the life to come. The feast that we engage in isn’t just for the now, isn’t just so we can enjoy meat and wine after not tasting it for a few weeks. It’s to prepare us for the ultimate feast, where we will no longer suffer under the Lenten season that is life, but instead shall bask in an eternal celebration of Pascha. Lent is an icon of our present life, while Pascha is an icon of the life to come.

In our current Lent, we are forced to abstain from life. We suffer from disease, deformities, and a whole host of ailments. Our sin forces us into this fast from true life. We war with each other and even against our own nature. We must take on a somber attitude in many places because of how fallen our world is.

We await the Paschal feast, the one that shall never end. We await the day when Lent is no longer necessary because we have been birthed into the new life. We await the day when the disabled must no longer partake in the fast of this life, the fast that prevents them from wholeness, but instead shall run to the eternal Paschal feast. We look forward to the time when the hungry will feast, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the poor shall be rich, the oppressed shall be liberated, the fatherless shall have a family, the rejected shall find acceptance, and the sinner will be made a saint. Just as we look forward to the Pascha feast throughout our Lenten season, let us be reminded that though we are in the Lent of life, we should also look forward to the eternal Pascha that is to come.


The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI or: Why the World Will Never Understand

ChristtraCardinal Ratzinger surprised the world when he elected Pope back in 2005, seen as an unpopular pick by the world. He once again surprised the world yesterday, this time as Benedict XVI, when he announced that he would resign from the papacy on February 28. What is so shocking about this announced resignation is that it is the first resignation of a Pope since 1415 (Gregory XII) and the first voluntary resignation since 1294 (Celestine V). To put this all in perspective, we must realize that  in 1294 gunpowder had just been introduced to Europe via the Mongol invasions (though few European nations used it), Russia was fighting off the Mongol invasion, and the Crusades in the Middle East were wrapping up. In other words, what we’re experiencing is truly a one-in-a-lifetime event.

Of course, with the announcement of the Pope’s resignation many are turning to speculation on who could be the next pope. Similar to when Pope John Paul II passed away, many are hoping for a more “progressive” and “modern” pope who doesn’t hold to “12th century ideals.” Such a view, however, betrays the nature of not only the Catholic view of Truth, but the Christian view of Truth.

For one, all orthodox (little “o”) Christians should be insulted whenever someone says they hold to “Dark Age” ideals or “12th century ideals.” Not insulted because we have been taken out of the 20th and 21st centuries of our culture, but insulted because we have not been placed into the 1st and 2nd centuries of Christianity. The modern world views “truth” as a flavor of the moment. Truth is not eternal, but is internal, it is not objective, but is subjective. Thus, “truth” must progress if society is to survive. After all, we no longer believe that the earth revolves around the sun, nor do we believe in much of Newtonian physics. Just as those were “truth” for their time and place, but have since passed, so it must be with all truths.

However, not all truths do change with time. In fact, Christianity has always taught that there is a Necessary Truth (eternal), necessary within a context truths, and contingent truths. The problem with the modern world is its failure to distinguish between the type of truth statements. For instance:

“£100.00 is more than $1.00” is a contingent truth that is subject to change depending on many different variables. The British Pound must be valued more than the American dollar, both nations must exist, and so on for this statement to be true. This “truth” can change. The statement, “It is raining” or “it is sunny outside” or “it is 5pm” are all contingent truths; the statements are true, but they can change. Notice that such statements also don’t carry much importance or weight to them, nor can they really be debated. In other words, the more contingent a truth statement is, the less likely it is to matter or really cause a debate.

“The earth rotates around the sun” is a necessary truth within a context. It is not true that the earth has to rotate around the sun as neither necessarily has to exist. However, since both exist within a certain proximity to each other, each follows natural laws. “The earth rotates around the sun” is not true in a world where the sun and/or the earth do not exist. Thus, even these truths can change, but it is unlikely that they will as they relate more and more to the physical world. Likewise, typically the truth doesn’t change, but our understanding of the truth does change. That is, we once believed the sun rotated around the earth. Such a statement was never true, at no point did the sun rotate around the earth. But our understanding and discovery of this truth did change; the truth did not change, our view of it did.

These necessary truths within a context exist within morality. Rape, for instance, is always wrong when persons are involved. Now, this is still a type of contingent truth in that it relies on the existence of multiple persons capable of rape, but once those persons exist then the act of rape becomes a moral wrong. Some may want to take issue with this and argue that truths about morality are relative, but until they can provide a reason why we should take the physical laws as absolute, but not the moral ones, I fail to see why they should be taken seriously. We’ve experienced nearly a century of moral relativism and it has led to nothing more than the decay of society; just as humans cannot last if they ignore the physical laws, so too can they continue their existence if they ignore the moral laws.

Finally, there is one Necessary Truth. This is where the world and Christianity differ greatly. Our view is that there is an Objective, Eternal, Immutable Truth, but this Truth is not an abstract idea or a Platonic form, but is found in a Person, is found within God and is God. He is the eternal Truth that is unchanging. The decrees He sets forth that invite us to partake in His Divine energies and unite to Him, therefore, are not arbitrary rules established for holy living; they are not contingent ways of life that apply only to this world. They come from His essence (which is unknowable) and are therefore eternal. The good things of God do not change. Thus, the way to be holy, a holy lifestyle, the statutes and central theological points of Christianity simply are not subject to change because they derive from the Eternal One.

When everyone hopes for a progressive pope or a pope who isn’t stuck in “12th century thinking,” they are hoping for a pope that has abandoned the central claim of Christianity, namely that we follow “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” While some aspects of Christian ecclesiology can change (and in the case of Roman Catholics, should change, namely with forcing the priests to be celibate and allowing the Pope to declare theology ex cathedra), the central claims and teachings of Christianity cannot change because they are derived from an Immutable source. The Roman Catholics, though I believed are flawed in some things, still uphold the central Christian teachings and as such can never elect a Pope who wants to “progress” these teachings. There is no “progression” with immutable Truth.

Christianity, true Christianity, will never bow before the modern false god of progressivism. We reject the idea that all truth must constantly be moving forward; while we’re for progress, we mean that in a quantifiable sense. We believe that any progress made must be true progress that reflects and lives up to the ancient ideals of the faith. Some say that as long as Christians hold onto their ancient beliefs, they will continue to shrink in numbers. But I point to the fact that true, historic, Tradition-based Christianity has survived for 2,000 years. We’ve survived a multitude of empires, kingdoms, nations, invasions. We’ve survived natural disasters, the plague, and persecution. Many, especially within the past two hundred years, have called out and said that they would beget the end of Christianity. Yet Christianity survives and her detractors are long since dead. Our numbers may shrink or we may be completely eradicated from one area due to our own inaction. But so long as we hold to the Eternal Truth we will outlast any philosophy, any argument, and any change around us. Christianity only fails when it abandons Eternal Truth in an effort to appease the cult of progressivism; instead, we must remain fast in our democracy of the dead, in following the ancient faith handed down to us from ancient times from the Eternal Source.

The Protestant Tradition: Calvinism, Catholicism, and the Undoing of Protestantism

Growing up Protestant it was drilled into my head that the problem with Roman Catholicism was its adherence to tradition. By following tradition, instead of Scripture, the Roman Catholics had fallen upon some false doctrine. Us Protestants, specifically evangelicals, were “people of the Book” who looked to Scripture instead of tradition to develop our doctrine. As I’ve grown older and questioned what I’ve been taught, I’ve come to one conclusion concerning this matter: hogwash.

This isn’t to say that we should all go out and join the Roman Catholic Church (I certainly won’t as I don’t believe they actually align themselves properly with Tradition or Scripture, but that’s a debate for another day). It is to point out, however, that Protestants elevate their own traditions to a level almost beyond what any good Catholic would do. I’m not referring to the alter call, the style of music, or having a routine of opening chorus, greet the guest, four more songs, soloist, sermon, alter call, offering, and last announcements. While these are traditions within the Protestant faith, they’re not sacred to the majority of Protestants, especially the “new” evangelicals. Within Protestant theology there are certain elements of tradition that cannot even be questioned or doubted, because if they are your salvation is immediately brought into question.

Take, for instance, the big debate occurring in the Southern Baptist Convention. The debate over Calvinism is being framed as new Baptists (Calvinists) against ‘traditional Baptists’ (non-Calvinists). In other words, some in the SBC want to make it clear that non-Calvinism is a traditional belief within the SBC, and that modern Calvinists are taking it in a new direction. Calvinists, on the other hand, argue that Baptists were traditionally Calvinist. It’s so vitally important that one side prove that they’re more true to the foundation of the Baptist faith than the other. But if only Scripture matters and tradition doesn’t matter, then who cares about the foundational doctrine?

Now, I have no dog in this fight. I am not a Calvinist, but I know my history well enough to know that some of the first Baptists were all Calvinists. I find this to be irrelevant, however. What should matter, if one truly believes in sola scriptura is whether or not the tenets of Calvinism are true. Even if every single founding member of the SBC was dogmatically opposed to Calvinism, would this really matter? What if they were wrong? After all, how many Southern Baptists want to uphold every tradition of the SBC, such as supporting owning slaves or being against desegregation? It would seem that the debate over tradition within the SBC, as well as all other Protestant faiths, is quite superfluous.

Yet, the list goes well beyond Calvinism; Protestants cannot doubt or question the reasoning behind any of Luther’s solas without catching the ire of other Protestants. Even in academic circles, to question a foundational belief is often met with, “Well you could say that, but that’s not a Protestant view.” What if I don’t care? What if I’m only concerned with if it’s true or not? It would seem that doesn’t matter.

In all of this, I’m making the point that Protestants haven’t rejected Tradition, they’re simply choosing what they will call Tradition. The classic retort is to point out that Protestants don’t really have a problem with Tradition so long as that Tradition can be validated by Scripture, but this begs the question; such a belief is actually a part of tradition, as nothing in Scripture says that every tradition must be validated by Scripture (though this was taught in the Early Church).

Thus, if we truly reject Tradition, then we must reject traditional interpretations of Scripture. We are left to question the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the Incarnation, salvation through Christ alone, and so on. In other words, liberal Protestants are just consistent Protestants; they’ve questioned everything in Tradition, not just the things the Reformers threw out.

Ultimately, Christians must recognize the importance of Tradition. They must look to the traditional interpretation of passages concerning the realities of God and see if the modern interpretations match up with the ancient ones. Obviously this does not apply to the scientific interpretations of Scripture (such as the earth being planted and the sun rotating around the earth) since these do not deal with the realities of God. But things such as how we ought to live, what happened on the cross, who Jesus was, and so on do matter.

Thus, for the SBC the question shouldn’t be, “What did Southern Baptists believe 150 years ago,” but instead should be, “What did Christians believe 2,000 years ago?” The goal for any Protestant denomination shouldn’t be to adhere to their distinctives, but to adhere to Truth, and to do so requires them to look back to Tradition, to how those in the past viewed Scriptural passages, and see if our views line up.

A Reformed Roman Orthodox Catholic?

There is little doubt to both insiders and outsiders of the Christian faith that the Christian faith is undergoing a significant event. That is, after almost one thousand years of a sharp divide between Christians (leading to war in some cases), the divide is no longer between “Presbyterian” and “Methodist,” but between theologically orthodox and theologically heterodox. This divide has arisen over the last twenty years, with Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants aligning themselves more closely together on issues of politics and theology. Such unification has occurred for both theological conservatives and theological liberals, with each respective group seeking out like-minded believers in other denominations.

But what is truly interesting is the direction many young evangelicals are heading and that is where we see a distinct change occurring. It seems that many evangelicals are making drastic changes in their belief systems and heading in one of five directions: they’re becoming Reformed, they’re becoming Roman Catholic, they’re becoming Eastern Orthodox, they’re becoming “spiritual,” or they’re leaving the faith.

The last two are almost one in the same for very little differs between one who says there is no God and one who has no idea about God (or creates a god of the mind and subsequently worships him/her/it). Evangelicals are becoming discouraged with the action – or lack of action – found within their churches in caring for the poor, showing love for nonbelievers, or building a Christ-centered community and therefore apply their disenchantment to the Church itself. Others, unfortunately, cannot accept God as He revealed by the prophets and reject the God of the Bible and opt for a version of God mixed with pagan ideas of God. Either way, some evangelicals move towards a more pluralistic outlook on the world where all religions are essentially equal and God saves everyone regardless of their beliefs. In other words, the only criteria for salvation is simply to exist. This is a very postmodern faith that doesn’t have any absolutes other than to deny all absolutes and conservatives. Some do leave the faith, but many opt for a more “open spirituality,” where their relationship with God is on their terms and in fact, the attributes of God are the attributes they love. Rather than conform to God, they conform God to them, who is then no God at all. For many, they lack the moral fortitude to be orthodox, but also lack the intestinal fortitude to be atheists.

To combat this massive exodus from the evangelical community, many churches are attempting to become “relevant.” They offer better worship bands, more atmospheric auditoriums (even changing the title of the auditorium from “sanctuary” to “worship center,” as though worship is produced in a factory), and shy away from the absolutism that so may young people seem to be fleeing. While they still believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, they won’t openly admit that and instead water down the Gospel into something that is nice and applicable; instead of offering a life-changing force that turns princes into paupers, they offer a life accessory, something that enhances the life you already lead, but doesn’t really interfere too much with your day-to-day interactions. Is it any wonder why such events are failing? Continue reading

Declaring Our Independence from Secularism

Those who judge the erring are merciless and bitter, while those judging the upright are unfair and hostile. This evil is so firmly rooted in us that we have become more brutish than the beasts: At least they herd together with their own kindred, but we reserve our most savage warfare for the members of our own household. – St. Basil the Great

Disagreement motivated by piety is superior to concord held together by sentiment. – St. Gregory the Theologian

As I sit here on this July 4 reflecting on what the American Founding Fathers accomplished, I think of how through their various backgrounds they were able to challenge and defeat one of the most powerful nations on earth (at the time). They did what no one had done before; challenge Great Britain. Though the Declaration of Independence was signed prior to July 4, July 4 is when the proclamation was made to all that America was truly free.

The signers came from a multitude of beliefs; they were Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans, Deists, and Agnostics. Some were devout, others were nominal, and still others laid claim to no specific religious beliefs. In all of this, however, they unified for a common cause, the cause of freedom. They all had the common belief that America would be better if she could rule herself rather than allowing some kingdom far away rule America. Not all colonists agreed, which sparked division, but those who did agree with the Founders united in that common cause.

234 years later, we Americans find ourselves under a new kind of tyranny and that tyranny is secularism. This tyranny seeks to prevent all religious displays from finding their way into the public eye or public conscious. We have redefined the “freedom of religion” found within the First Amendment into “freedom of worship.” Such a rhetorical shift is shocking. Under the phrase “freedom of religion” we are not only allowed to worship as we desire, but can evoke our religious background in defending our view on public policy. We can bring religion into the public square and put it on display for others to see, whether we are a factory worker, a CEO, or even an elected official. We cannot force others to worship our God or participate in our religion, but we can proudly espouse the virtues of our religion. Under the phrase “freedom of worship,” however, we are limited in our religious activities. We are allowed to worship our God, so long as that worship takes place behind closed walls and is not seen in the public eye. Should you worship your God in a public school or at a government building, you will be quickly told that such activities violates the secular ideals of our government.

As Christians, what are we to do? The tyranny of secularism has begun to erode away the moral foundations of our nation, substituting the absolute and unshakable morality that the Judeo-Christian tradition respects and replacing it with the shifting sands of relativistic ethics (if such activities and beliefs can truly be called “ethics”). A nation founded upon the shifting sands of ever-changing morality is a nation that cannot survive the storms of perilous times.

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Follow up on the cruelty of God

Paarsurrey was kind enough to reply to what I wrote. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, his comments aren’t showing up on my site. I have no idea as to why, but since they aren’t showing up, I’ll provide his comments here:

Hi friend Joel

I ask you a little question; I think you don’t mind. Are you married and have sons and ‎daughter?

I suppose you are married and have a beautiful little baby girl. If she says; papa I am ‎willing, just kill me. Will you kill her? If you kill her; won’t it be a cruel act? I think, it ‎will be a cruel act; so even your own Catholic church will declare it to be cruel.

You will need a very cruel heart to perform this act.

Sorry, it is as simple as that. I think even the Catholics/Protestants/JWs/Mormon viewers ‎of your blog will agree with me on this point.

I love Jesus and Mary


I am an Ahmadi peaceful Muslim

I understand that from human terms and perspectives it can seem cruel. However, God is not to be judged in the same manner humans are to be judged. For instance, if God kills someone we can rest assured that He has done so justly. We understand that the person deserved it, because God is just. If I arbitrarily kill someone, no matter what, there will always be doubt as to why I killed the person. Why? Because I am not just. I can act justly, but being just is not part of my nature as it is with God.

So we come to the cross and we see the Father sacrificing the Son. Is this cruel? Is this evil? To understand, we must first look to why we were created, secondly to our fallen nature, and third to God’s solution.

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