Rebuilding

Today the Prime Minister faces a vote of no confidence from her party, the Conservative Party, over her handling of the Brexit negotiations. I cannot say what the outcome will be or what the long-term solution will be to the Brexit question. The Brexit debate has been so charged in this country because it is about more than money; it is about competing visions for the nation, about the value we place on liberty, and about the state of the world in general. This post is not about economics or about laws, or even about freedom. It is about the spiritual health of our country and why many Christians feel that Brexit is part of that bigger question. Continue reading

The Constitution of the United Kingdom

city view at london

Photo by Dominika Gregušová on Pexels.com

In response to Scoop’s request over at NEO, and in light of the upcoming vote on the proposed agreement with the EU, I thought I would outline the constitution of the United Kingdom. This is a vast, and at times confusing, topic, so a post will not be able to do it much justice, but I hope the reader finds it helpful and that it may clarify anything that is unfamiliar or confusing on the news or in political blogs. In this post, I intend to look at the overarching nature of our constitution, the sources of constitutional law, the three branches of government, and judicial review. Continue reading

A Christmas Satire

Saint Nicholas was sitting in his study in Lapland, having returned from his annual trip to his old diocese in Asia Minor. On his way back, he decided to visit other countries to learn how they had changed over the years. As he sat smoking his rosewood pipe, one eye glancing at a snifter of brandy, he thought about the naughtiness and niceness of the people of the world. Some elves entered his study, disturbing his meditations.

“In accordance with EU Directive 2018/600891, the wood suppliers will be charging us value added tax of 35%, Santa. We’re worried that the income generated from your Anti-Arian investment fund won’t be enough to cover the costs this year. Especially as the national government has decided to increase income tax to 45% on dividends and interest payments from corporate bonds this year. It’s a great shame: we had hoped to provide the children with wooden crosses this year – before they’re banned as gifts to under-18-year-olds. Christmas is about the birth of Christ, after all.”

“Well, we all knew the game would be up one day. By the grace of God, I have performed many miracles in my time, but no one fights with powers of taxation and survives. This time they’ll have my crosier and mitre, for sure. No doubt I’d be forced to carry a staff made from recycled steel, sculpted in an abstract, post-modern fashion. As for the mitre, they’d probably stick me with some polyester affair, embroidered with rainbow edging and the emblazoned with “CO-EXIST”, spelt using religious symbols. No – I don’t fancy that outcome. It’s bad enough I can’t smoke my pipe in the workshop since they brought in that anti-smoking legislation. It’s really taken the twinkle out of my eye.”

Another group entered his study, this one carrying placards that read: “Animal Welfare: Say no to reindeer-drawn sleds”. These people did not show the melancholy and respect with which the obedient elves’ faces were lined. Their features were contorted with rage, spittle and froth streaming from their mouths and noses – unlike the reindeer, which had never shown such signs of exhaustion and rabidity.

“May I help you, my children? What seems to be the matter? Perhaps a nice tankard of mead and some ginger biscuits would calm your anxious hearts…”

“No platform for animal abusers! End the patriarchy! Reject the male and Christian domination of Yuletide!”

“Ah my children, you grieve me. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are about Christ, not about our selfish perspectives and desires. This is a time to acknowledge that the Creator Himself took on flesh and was born in a stable in Judea to redeem all of Adam’s helpless race. Nevertheless, I doubt I shall convince you…”

As the elves quietly ushered the protestors off what was still designated private property – but for how long? – Father Christmas decided to warm his troubled heart by reading a few letters from children. The first one, sent by one Harmony Unicorn Jones, read as follows:

Dear Yuletide Caregiver,

Thank you for your gift of toy soldiers and chocolate last year. Unfortunately, our pacifist commune refuses to endorse the concepts of private property and just war. Regarding the chocolate, my parents, who are vegans, were dismayed to find it had been made using milk, and insisted that I sell the chocolate and use the proceeds to buy placard materials for our march on Washington DC in February. They informed me that if you get your friend Saint Valentine to send me chocolate during our campaign, they will report you and him to social services and the DC police, followed by a suit alleging interference with the separation of church and state – though on what grounds, I am not sure.

Tears streaming from his eyes, the old bishop turned to another letter, in the hope that it would offer some comfort.

Dear Father Christmas,

Thank you for your wonderful gifts last year. I really appreciated the thought and care that went into them and I thank you for your prayers for me and my family. This year, if it is not too much trouble, I would like to ask for things on behalf of my parents, rather than myself: if they are happy, I shall be happy.

My father would like you to bring him an annual subscription for a newspaper that reports real news and lets him decide what to make of it. My mother would like a t-shirt that says, “Being a full-time mother is not oppression: it is service to mankind”. My uncle would like membership in the “Obnoxious Cigar Smokers’ Club”, and my aunt would like an extra large rolling pin – she says big cigars call for big pins…

“Well, that’s enough for today.” Taking a sip of his brandy, the tired old man went to bed, but not before kneeling down to say his prayers.

“…and bless all your people in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Armenia, and Lebanon, Father. May your Son bring peace to this troubled world. Amen.”

 

 

 

Refiner’s Fire

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

-1 Peter 4:17

Politics, culture, and economics are important. It is right that we discuss the philosophical underpinnings of today’s competing ideologies and the practical consequences of policy decisions. However, these things must be ranked second behind the Great Commission, the Church’s primary purpose. First and foremost, Christians are to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations.

There are times when our vision has been clouded, when we have been distracted by matters of secondary importance. Certain parts of the Church today have become little more than self-help seminars, while others have been so consumed by political questions as to seem more like Bolshevik committees than congregations of the Lord. Well, I exaggerate, but for a purpose: to hammer home the truth that it is not about us; it is about Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

I believe a time is coming when that focus will be restored to the Western Church. A fire is coming to consume our impurities, to kindle our zeal, to show us the holiness of our God. Hard times will shape us into the image of Jesus Christ; tough choices will reveal what we really believe. As this fire spreads outwards from us, the idols of the nations will fall.

This is not pure triumphalism; this is a sober message regarding the transition from where we are now to where we must be at the return of Christ. Some are more devoted than others: they have spent their lives in service to the Lord, longing for Him to bring revival and to return as the Messianic King to end the reign of the god of this age. These people will shine when the change comes. They will help the Church as leaders, teachers, servants, and spokesmen.

We are all in this together: Christ loves us all and does not want anyone to be left behind. As we all bring our gifts and labours together, we shall learn anew the teaching in 1 Corinthians about the one Body with many parts. The glory of the Lord and the persecution that Christians of all stripes will face will impress upon our hearts the Church’s early creed.

There is one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.

A Church inspired by this truth and visited by the grace and power of God can turn the world upside down as it did in the days of the Apostles. The Lord has promised (Joel 2; Acts 2) that He will send signs and wonders upon His servants as a testimony before the great and terrible day of the Lord. The day of the Lord approaches. Judgment is coming on the world. The children of Israel will enter the time of Jacob’s trouble, and the Gentiles will know that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Be prepared for the refining fire: it will hurt, but it will clean us all. Be prepared for an increase in persecution from the nations: many will hate us, but some will repent and believe. The Lord does not forget history as the sons of Adam do. He remembers when Britain was the great missionary nation of the world; He knows what America has done and is doing to bring the Gospel to those in darkness. He can do greater things than our fathers witnessed: for with God, all things are possible.

Cantique de Noël

O Holy Night is one of the most famous Christmas songs, and one of the most beloved, suitable for both choirs and operatic solos. What is less well known is that it was originally written as a poem in French by Placide Cappeau at the request of a priest. Not long after it was written, Adolphe Adam composed the soaring, moving music that has made it such a soul-stirring peace. Today I would like us to consider the literal translation of two portions of the lyrics that our English version does not bring out as much.

Où l’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’à nous

Pour effacer la tache originelle

Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.

When the God-man descended right down to us

To erase the original stain

And to halt the wrath of His Father.

Christ is God: the Scripture tell us so and the Spirit testifies to this truth. The author here, consciously or unconsciously, echoes St Paul’s famous hymn to Christ in Philippians 2 and John 1. That the Creator of all things should take on the flesh of lowly creatures – not even the spiritual flesh of the gods – shows true humility. He did it to rescue us from our sin and from the wrath of God. An unpopular doctrine, the Scripture nevertheless states boldly that God’s sin rests on the unbelievers. No less than Christ Himself said so.

…and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

-John 3:36

Advent and Christmas are times when we think of the frail Christ in His manger, His glory veiled, and those given a glimpse mere nobodies in the world’s eyes. He came with a mission: to reconcile us to God. This mission was important: it matters to God and it matters to us. The preaching of the Gospel must never present this as a trivial affair. A mission that required the Incarnation and suffering and death of the Son of God is important – far more important than transient political, economic, and social realities. At this time of year, we must put that back into its proper perspective. Let the world howl in madness – we must turn to that eternal Light.

Qui lui dira notre reconnaissance,
C’est pour nous tous qu’il naît, qu’il souffre et meurt.

Peuple debout! Chante ta délivrance,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur!

Who will tell Him of our gratitude?

It is for us all that He is born, that He suffers and dies.

On your feet, people! Sing of your rescue!

Christmas, Christmas, let us sing of the Redeemer!

Christmas, Christmas, let us sing of the Redeemer!

These words do not shy away from the suffering of Christ. Even in the manger, He is Christ crucified, which makes this a Gospel-centric hymn. The final words call us to celebrate in joy the work of Christ on our behalf. They call us to proclaim from our hearts our gratitude to God, and in so doing acknowledge that He is victorious, that He succeeded in His noble work.

 

Insanity

I wrote in a previous post on Hanukkah that commitment to Christ entails separation from the world, which has intellectual, emotional, and social consequences. In the West, where there is a great deal of materialistic and non-committal “spiritual but not religious” thinking, the belief held by Christians that there is a personal God (and a personal Devil) sets them apart from their broader societies. It is a sad fact that religiously a Christian may have more in common with a neo-pagan than with his next-door neighbour (particularly in Europe; cultural Christianity has held out longer in the USA and Canada).

Among Christians, a contextual interpretation of texts such as Genesis 6, Deuteronomy 32, and Psalm 82 adds further separation between those who truly affirm the spiritual metaphysical doctrines of Scripture and those who adopt a minimalist approach, acknowledging the Creator, but little else besides. The latter group fails to acknowledge the full reasons for the fallenness of our world and, in so doing, loses some perspective on the means by which this fallenness is to be rectified. The authors of Scripture understood the fall not as one event but as several: the rebellion of the Serpent, the fall in the Garden, the corruption of the Watchers, and departure of the spiritual rulers of the nations from their appointed mission.

The supernatural causes of our present condition require a supernatural response. The flood was a judgment on the sins of the children of the Watchers, and the Watchers themselves were imprisoned in Tartarus. Following the Exodus, the children of Israel were sent to slay evil forces occupying Canaan, just as their cousins, the descendants of Esau, had done in Edom. At the cross, Christ dethroned the powers that ruled over the Gentiles. They no longer have claim on this earth, and can be driven off by the proclamation of the Gospel and the testimony of the martyrs. But these spirits are not removed yet. Scripture tells us that Satan will be bound at Christ’s return and will be cast into the Lake of Fire following Christ’s millennial reign.

To hold views such as those outlined above is to accept the spiritual realities of the Israelite worldview as presented in Scripture. These are not the views of the materialists around us. For them, we will either progress to utopia by our own humanistic efforts, or we shall perish in an abyss of our own weakness. They are blinded by their philosophies and the efforts of the god of this age. Christians, by the grace of God, have had the veil lifted from their eyes. While we do not see everything, what God has chosen to reveal to us is illuminating.

A consequence of these beliefs is that righteous people yearn for the return of Christ, because he will rule the earth with a rod of iron and reverse the injustices and tragedies of this age. But the wicked do not desire His return, for to them it will mean judgment and punishment. The humble and righteous bend to the rule of Christ because they recognise that His ways are good for us and that He loves us, whereas the arrogant resist His kingship, His wisdom, His correction. In their resistance, they must characterise Christians as deluded and foolish. They must cast doubt on the veracity of our beliefs and the basis for our beliefs: the promises and actions of Christ. In so doing, they cast doubt on Christ Himself, the foundation of the Church, by whose blood she is redeemed.

Doubt is a powerful tool. It can make a man think himself insane. In his concern to “fit in”, he may abandon his beliefs in order to regain the esteem and comfort of his peers. Such comfort is short-lived, however. Our lives are brief by comparison with eternity, be that the eternal bliss of Paradise or the eternal torment of Hell. While our senses may tell us to be preoccupied with today, our hearts testify to eternity: for God put eternity in our hearts. A measured reflection on the a priori concepts we impose on reality will reveal to us that they are themselves timeless and that time itself is a construct, a means of parsing our experience. But what is time to God? With Him a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years a day.

The reader will note that this post relies heavily on the teachings of St Peter. There is a reason for that. Peter saw the miracles of Christ. He saw Christ’s challenge to the gods on Mount Hermon, where He was transfigured into the glory of His Second Coming. The Apostle saw the risen Christ and witnesses His ascension. He saw the Spirit come first upon the Jews at Pentecost and then upon the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius. People would lay out their sick and afflicted in the streets in the hope that they would be healed as the shadow of Peter fell upon them. This was a man who knew the spiritual realities of life. We must continue to have faith, whether we live to see such miracles or not.

Hanukkah: Solidarity

When the Samaritans saw the Jews under these sufferings, they no longer confessed that they were of their kindred, nor that the temple on Mount Gerizzim belonged to Almighty God. This was according to their nature, as we have already shown. And they now said that they were a colony of Medes and Persians; and indeed they were a colony of theirs. So they sent ambassadors to Antiochus, and an epistle, whose contents are these: “To king Antiochus the god, Epiphanes, a memorial from the Sidonians, who live at Shechem. Our forefathers, upon certain frequent plagues, and as following a certain ancient superstition, had a custom of observing that day which by the Jews is called the Sabbath. And when they had erected a temple at the mountain called Gerrizzim, though without a name, they offered upon it the proper sacrifices. Now, upon the just treatment of these wicked Jews, those that manage their affairs, supposing that we were of kin to them, and practiced as they do, make us liable to the same accusations, although we be originally Sidonians, as is evident from the public records. We therefore beseech thee, our benefactor and Savior, to give order to Apollonius, the governor of this part of the country, and to Nicanor, the procurator of thy affairs, to give us no disturbance, nor to lay to our charge what the Jews are accused for, since we are aliens from their nation, and from their customs; but let our temple, which at present hath no name at all be named the Temple of Jupiter Hellenius. If this were once done, we should be no longer disturbed, but should be more intent on our own occupation with quietness, and so bring in a greater revenue to thee.” When the Samaritans had petitioned for this, the king sent them back the following answer, in an epistle: “King Antiochus to Nicanor. The Sidonians, who live at Shechem, have sent me the memorial enclosed. When therefore we were advising with our friends about it, the messengers sent by them represented to us that they are no way concerned with accusations which belong to the Jews, but choose to live after the customs of the Greeks. Accordingly, we declare them free from such accusations, and order that, agreeable to their petition, their temple be named the Temple of Jupiter Hellenius.” He also sent the like epistle to Apollonius, the governor of that part of the country, in the forty-sixth year, and the eighteenth day of the month Hecatombeon.

-Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 12.257-264 (trans. William Whiston)

The story above, recounted by Josephus, is a tragic one. Looking upon the matter historically, we must make account for authorial bias and other factors. However, even if this particular set of events is not true, there are many other similar examples in history. There is a lesson in this for us as Christians: whatever our differences, we must stand by each other in the day of trial. God desires that we love one another and dwell in unity. What kind of love is it that makes one denounce one’s brothers and sisters?

Christ and Paul the Apostle warned us that similar betrayals would happen in the days of the Antichrist:

And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

-Matthew 24:10-13

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

-2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

In WWII there were righteous Christians who extended their protective efforts to the Jews, hiding them from the Nazis, even though Christianity and Judaism are sundered by their respective attitudes towards Jesus of Nazareth. Corrie ten Boom is a famous example of a Christian who was a doer, and not just a hearer, of God’s word.

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

-Matthew 25:40

Hanukkah Approaches

Thanksgiving has passed and Advent and Hanukkah draw near. The story of the political and religious turmoil that led up to the first rededication of the Temple can be found at 1 Maccabees 1-4; 2 Maccabees 1-10; Josephus’ Wars of the Jews 1.31-40;  Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 13.237-326; and Megillat Antiochus. The story of Hanukkah is a salutary lesson in faithfulness to God, martyrdom, and perseverance. This was a time of much suffering in Jewish history as well as a time of civil strife: the Maccabees fought against both apostate Jews and gentiles under the command of the Seleucids.

Antiochus in his rage could be likened to a wounded beast. The Seleucid dynasty was already in decline: it had lost lands to the ascendant Roman Republic and was compelled to pay war reparations to the same. In the east, the Parthians were taking territory away from the empire, and just when Antiochus thought he could finally conquer Egypt, the Seleucids’ old rival, the Day of Eleusis occurred. This day is possibly the origin of our expression “line in the sand” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line_in_the_sand_(phrase)). In his wrath he turned against Jerusalem, which was already causing him trouble. A wounded beast is a dangerous foe, against which one should take every available precaution.

Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea! For the Devil is come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time.

-Revelation 12:12

We are in a spiritual war, a continuation of Satan’s war against Israel. For as long as there have been Christians, there has been persecution of Christians. Faithful Christians also know what it means to be separate from the world and yet in the world, just as the Jews are a people apart and yet live among and surrounded by gentiles. This deep sense of separation can be felt inside and outside one’s circle of Christian acquaintances.

One of the tools of the enemy is to make a Christian doubt himself and the revelation of God he has received. This doubt can be pushed until a Christian fears that he is insane, confused by the fact that those around him seem to have no grasp of the seriousness of our eternal destinies, of the fact that Christ will return and judge the cosmos.

Whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see Him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory

-1 Peter 1:8

It would have been very easy to stop believing in God during Antiochus’ persecution. There was terrible suffering, and until the armies of the Maccabees assembled, there appeared no guarantee of survival. In our own time, though there are reports of miracles in the developing world, the average western Christian does not see the kind of wonders described in the Gospels and Acts. Our polite neighbours, friends, and acquaintances may not openly mock us, but the “humour” Christians receive is still an indication that they are outside the pale of acceptable belief and conduct in our post-Christian, secular societies.

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

2 Peter 3:3-7

The downfall of the Jews at the time of the Maccabees was that many of them had grown weary of the cost of separation. There was a faction that desired to be like the surrounding nations, following the Greek customs of their Seleucid overlords. In the same way, parts of the Church today have become so obsessed with gaining non-Christian approval, that the message of the true Gospel has been lost in those quarters. The scandalous behaviour we see now across the denominations is a warning sign, a harbinger of worse to come, just as the building of a gymnasium at Jerusalem was.

I believe that we shall see the events of the Hanukkah story replayed in our own times. A third Temple will be built and will be desecrated by the Antichrist. Not content with persecuting Israel, he will stir up persecution of Christians as well. Christ, echoing the words of Daniel 12 in Matthew 24, told us that such a time had not existed since the foundation of the world. This is how terrible that coming persecution will be. The Antichrist will seek to take away the daily sacrifice of the Mass and replace it with either a different religion altogether or a syncretistic cult. True Christians will be forced to go underground, except perhaps in countries that resist the Antichrist.

Nor should we assume that Rome will be spared. Identified as a target for Islamic conquest since the birth of Islam, it may find itself vulnerable if American forces are diverted elsewhere. There is a question as to how strong and co-ordinated European military forces are in certain wargame scenarios. Indeed, there is speculation in some Catholic circles that the last secret of Fatima concerns an attack on Rome and the flight of the Pope. Many Catholics do not accept the application of this secret to an assassination attempt against John Paul II.

Thus the story of the Maccabees reminds us of peril, but also of hope. The story does not end with the persecution of the righteous and the desecration of the Temple. Judah the Maccabee was able to purify the Temple, God providing a miracle in extending the life of the holy oil for the full eight days of the rededication festival. Hanukkah soon became a yearly commemoration that was celebrated by Christ Himself and persists to this day.

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch…

-John 10:22-23

The Menorah shone with light in the Temple; Jesus as the Light of the world shines in the darkness. The darkness does not understand Him and cannot conquer Him, so take heart that the world does not understand you, dear Christian, in your longing for His return, for the establishment of His righteous kingdom on this corrupt earth. He came once before in human frailty to a couple from Nazareth. He will come again in glory to take you to Himself.