Set Your Eyes on Things Above

I was widely known as a biblical scholar during my teaching career from the late 1970’s to mid-2015. My focus was the Catholic Epistles and towards the end of that period I produced three different commentaries on 2 Peter. Yet I was also teaching Christian spirituality during this same period. Still, while I was highly critical of the Nestle-Aland28 edition of Novum Testamentum Gracae for (among other things) changing the text of 2 Peter 3 to read that the earth as well as the heavens and the heavenly bodies would be destroyed (versus the burning up of the heavens and the heavenly bodies and the laying bare of the earth – by the removal of this covering – for judgment), I often quipped that I hoped that the judgment would result in the burning up of all that I had written, for I did not want to be embarrassed by my foolishness and errors throughout eternity. I was more conscious that my writings would likely end up on the back shelves of some research library where they would be consulted on rare occasions by some research scholar as I had done to other obscure scholars during my doctoral studies.

While there was a transition process between my retiring from then Houston Baptist University and my appointment as chaplain to the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist at Our Lady of Guadalupe Priory, I believe the Lord made increasingly clear to me that my career as a biblical scholar had ended, except as I poured my knowledge into homilies and the like, and my calling as a Catholic priest was rather monastic, to a life of prayer, worship, and sacramental ministry, not forgetting that I am married and have a wife who needs my care as well as an aging body. I did, at the request of a friend, give a paper at a conference in 2022 and submitted the paper for publication, but thought of it as my last. Pope Benedict XVI citing Pope St John Paul II confirmed to me that priests are in fact monks under all three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, although in a form somewhat different from the form of typical religious communities. One has left the world, although one ministers to the world, as do many religious communities (even the totally cloistered ones are praying for the world). I started to refer to myself as “the hermit of the eastern march,” which actually comes from C S Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, but in my case refers to living in the eastern border area of Georgetown.

So I was interested this week in a number of my friends and acquaintances announcing the publication of the second edition of InterVarsity Press’ Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Each was appropriately happy to see the articles that they had written in print. I thought back to the original edition of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, then the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, and finally the Dictionary of the Latter New Testament, in all of which I had articles. All were edited (along with a co-editor) by Ralph Martin, from the generation before me at Manchester University, whom I knew well and with whom I was co-editor of that third volume. Those were indeed good times with great conversations enjoyed with faithful colleagues. But the announcements of this publication were to me a reminder that those days are memories of the past. By eyes are already on prayer and worship and sacramental ministry, already turned beyond this age to the coming age that is breaking into this one. My work is already fading, pushed onto and perhaps off the forgotten shelves of libraries, for those who have used it in the past as in the twilight of their careers and for those who are active in their careers my oeuvre is replaced by or quickly being replaced by that of others. And that is good for me.

Jesus said to set our eyes on things above, that is on the coming age now breaking into the world. He called people who forsook perfectly good careers for a rather insecure career of following him and then itinerant ministry to the nascent Church (after his resurrection). Biblical studies can indeed help one draw closer to Jesus – it was through this and the associated study of the spiritual classics that that happened to me – yet the time came for me when he implicitly said, I want you more identified with me. It was almost as if he said, “Your name is Peter. Do you love me more than these (in my case, these books and studies)?” And I have received the gift of time in relative obscurity in my “hermitage” to live out that conformity to the person of Christ, to grow in love, and to let prayer and worship become the runway for my transition to a new phase of life at one with him, what the Eastern Church calls divinization (for 2 Pet 1). It is a gift.

So my prayer for my friends is that they enjoy their ministry as biblical scholars thoroughly, that they absorb from it the lessons that our Lord is teaching them, but that they also realize that this too will pass, that there is, as C S Lewis also said, an eventual call to come “further in and higher up.” And in that I rejoice.

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I do not desire the death of the wicked

I take my title from an Old Testament prophetic judgment oracle in which God is rejecting the religious practices of the “sinners” because it needs to include social justice as well. The truth is that God’s perspective is wider than ours so his justice and timing will look different than ours.

This past week included the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now while a lower scale insurgency supported by Russia had been going on for something like 9 years, this was the point in time that Russian military units openly crossed the border. Any semblance of peace ended.

The response of Christians has been prayer and at least humanitarian assistance (the civilians who are suffering are Ukrainian however one evaluates the invasion). The Pope has repeatedly called for prayer as well as called leaders on both sides to peace. The Patriarch of Constantinople has called for prayer for peace. Those in evangelical, Byzantine Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic, and Ukrainian Orthodox communions have prayed for peace (including many clergy in parishes under the Patriarch of Moscow, both in the Ukraine and in Russia, although more quietly of necessity). The list could go on in Europe and North America and around the world. I personally pray for peace in the Ukraine before every mass and twice within every Divine Liturgy (I am bi-ritual). One cannot say that people are not praying. Still the war goes on as military casualties mount to six figures and more on both sides. Still the preparations for more war go on as President Putin shows no sign of seeking anything less than total victory and so prepares large number of conscripts for future battles and obtains military hardware and design from China, Iran, and North Korea at the least, and also as Ukraine asks for and obtains ever greater amounts of military equipment and supplies from the West. Russia has threatened the use of nuclear weapons – at least obliquely – and the USA has said it would counterstrike as needed. What good have all those prayers done?

It was in this context that I was reminded of the Old Testament prophets. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel prayer for their people who were in a conflict with first Assyria and then Babylon, clearly the underdogs of a foreign aggressor. At least they prayed until they were told to stop praying. God often points out two things: (1) that Israel/Judah needs to repent, that that is his agenda (and the sins of the aggressor are a much lesser theme), and (2) that he will restore and bring peace to Israel/Judah after defeat and will give the aggressor nations their due payback, but will do it in his own way and time. What is clear is that God’s perspective includes both the aggressor nations and those who will eventually defeat them, and the smaller nations that they are gobbling up on every side, and Israel/Judah, in particular their faithfulness to his covenant with them and their witness to the nations. It also includes a divinely appointed ruler who will rule over all nations. It is also clear that the prophets themselves will not live to see their visions fulfilled. Isaiah sees the destruction of Israel and at least one divine defeat of Assyria but tradition has it that he was martyred by a king who would himself be taken captive by Babylon. Ezekiel hears of the fall of Jerusalem, but he dies before the return from Babylon. Jeremiah is forced into exile in Egypt by those involved in a final rebellion of Judahites against Babylon and there he dies. It takes time in our universe for God to work out his grand scheme of setting things right. His faithful ones, e.g. the prophets, trust him even when they see things getting worse rather than better.

As I have been praying I do not present to have received a revelation like the prophets, but certain some impressions that are related to the prophets. My job is to pray for peace, for that is God’s ultimate will, and to pray for the repentance of those perpetrating the evil rather than praying for their death, for that is also the heart of God, and to pray that he in his providence will provide and care for those caught up in the conflict – that it will ultimately be for their good, although I may never see it and they may never understand it. But I need to be prepared inwardly for the possibility that it may get worse before it gets better, that it may or may not be resolved within my lifetime, and it could even become intercontinental even if no missiles are used. The financial exhaustion of the West and/or the splitting of alliances would indeed be devastating, among many possible scenarios. President Putin is not entirely wrong in talking about the corruption of the West, although he may be less than accurate in what the corruption is and certainly out of place in critiquing the West before rooting out wrongs within Russia.

In other words, I need to be inwardly prepared to accept whatever God’s providence allows, for I am not God and do not understand how his grand scheme affects West and East, let alone the rest of the world. I pray for peace and for repentance in both West and East. I pray more for trust in the divine will, active or passive. I pray “your kingdom come, your will be done,” not “my/our will be done.” That is the way of Jesus.

This is a good reflection for Lent. We cannot tell God what to do, but God may well be telling us what to do in our lives (where we have some control) and requiring us to trust him with what he is doing in the wider world.

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Davids’ Advent Greetings 2022

Greetings to each of you as we await celebrating the birth of Jesus and his second coming. 

Judy writes “It seemed to take 2021 to climb back up out of the pandemic isolation and the knee replacement for me. Just as we were about to get on our feet again, our lives took a very different turn on November 12th, 2021. A pastor and his family from the Seattle area, who were dealing with an accident near Austin in which the wife had destroyed her ankle, moved in with us along with the wife’s mother who came to help care for the children, aged two and seven. At the time, the wife was in the hospital having surgery and we thought that they might be with us for a couple months. Well, six surgeries later and 8 months later, they moved out into their own home in Belton, Texas a 35-minute drive from here and are beginning all over again. (They had been taking a 3-month trip traveling around the US through every State when this accident happened.) Peter was a Facebook friend with the grandfather in this family and Peter responded to his post about his daughter’s being in an accident in the Austin, TX area. Within four days, they had moved in. The wife is still walking with a crutch and her ankle is fused with two steel rods inside attached to a bone graft. She is still doing physical therapy. The time, a Divine Appointment, in many ways was very formative and healing for them, but it got very tiring for me. In fact, on June 1st, I got the flu which turned into pneumonia. I was very sick for two months, which was probably contributed to by the exhaustion which I was feeling after 8 months with this family in our home.” 

While the Dominican Sisters were away the end of July, Peter took the opportunity to visit his brother in Maryland. John turned 80 this November, a day after Peter turned 75, and at that age one must grasp such opportunities. On his return trip, probably in an airport, Peter contracted COVID and a few days later Judy came down with it as well. Paxlovid (and vaccination) made this a shorter and lighter sickness than it could have been, but Judy was still under the weather from the flu and pneumonia. Judy continues, “A real ‘downer’ came when Covid kept Peter and I from attending my aunt’s funeral. She had made it to 100 years old and this was really a celebration of a life well lived. She was the last of that generation in my family.” 

“So, when Christmas of 2021 rolled around, we were very busy planning a celebration for Christmas for seven people. We had a lively time with two small children in the house: it was a very joyful occasion. The grandfather arrived for New Years and stayed 10 days with us, which made us a family of 8. Peter and he had many theological discussions; and he has since come to the fulness of faith, entering the Catholic Church back home in Vancouver.”

“The war in Ukraine has also been occupying our attention. I have been zooming with a friend who left her husband, (who was mandated not to leave the country) in Lviv and escaped with her 12-year-old son to Warsaw, Poland, where she is staying with a friend. Peter has become involved with a previous student from ETF Osiejek Croatia who lives in Ukraine with his family. We are trying to help both these struggling families. We are praying for peace.”

Both Peter and I find ourselves aging and trying to deal with this gracefully; but I am finding it a real challenge. I need a second knee replacement. I also have a frozen right shoulder. But we have many gifts in our lives- especially that of family. October brought a real gift: the highlight of my year, a birthday visit from our daughter Elaine, a physical trainer, and her eldest daughter, Caitlin, a professional photographer, aged 25, from Calgary, AB, Canada. 

Judy’s sister, Elaine with our daughter, Elaine

Our daughter, Elaine and her daughter, Caitlin

We had fun treating Canadians to a Mexican and a Cajun meal. This was a very special time.

Peter has continued as chaplain to the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist here in Georgetown. He also is the priest for a Byzantine Catholic Community in Austin, since he is 

bi-ritual. He helps in parishes in the local deanery. He has basically retired from involvement in biblical studies so he can focus on prayer and ministry, although he took part in and read a paper at a conference at Lanier Theological Library sponsored by the International Library for Biblical Research. Another part of the ministry is leading a cell group for the Domestic expression of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity in the Austin area. Of course, he attended the Priests Assemblies of both the Diocese of Austin and his home diocese, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter.

This has been a year for deaths: besides the loss of Judy’s aunt, Peter has lost a former dean from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, a faculty colleague from Regent College, a rector he supplied for in Calais ME, and others. This month we both went to the funeral of our BSCD friend of 10 years David Dickinson, a model of godly servanthood, who was 13 years younger than Peter (David and Gina were members of the cell group we were part of at St Clare Monastery in Houston). Those events keep us focused on what is meaningful in life and where to keep one’s focus.

So, we are back to Christmas again and we will rejoice in Father God’s gift of his Son, Jesus, the greatest gift that the world has ever known. Have a joyful and blessed Christmas, celebrating!

Peace and joy, 

Peter and Judy Davids

Mission House, our home in Georgetown, TX

Posted in Brothers and Sisters of Charity Reflections, Ministry, Personal | Leave a comment

Our Failures are Due to What We Forget

Over the past year we have seen quite a few significant failures in evangelical and charismatic leadership. We have, perhaps, listened to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcasts, an excellent series that concerns much wider issues than Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll. We have, perhaps, read Scott McKnight’s A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing (Tyndale House Publishers, 2020) – an audiobook version is available as are video discussions of the contents. More recently there has been Michael Bird’s “Lessons from the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” And then there are innumerable revelations about and discussions of this or that leader or community on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other online media. In other words, it looks like the Episcopal/Anglican sexual abuse scandals have moved into the evangelical-charismatic world, but with two differences: (1) there has been no institutional move to address the issues with mandated training and reporting and a zero tolerance policy (in the Catholic Church in the USA this was the Dallas Accords of 2006) and (2) the evangelical-charismatic issues have been as much or more abuse of power as sexual abuse and often the former has been justified and the latter has been treated leniently, at least if the leader’s spouse did not divorce them.

The Catholic and Anglican world (which are the two I know) have had a great awakening partly due to the development of trauma science which showed that the memories (often initially fragmentary) of trauma (including sexual abuse) were rarely false and should therefore be trusted (this was very important because clergy predators were usually well-known-and-like, personable, and ministerially effective individuals, all of which was necessary for them to effectively groom victims), partly due to recognizing the addictive nature of this behavior (in other words, a stern rebuke from a bishop would not work, even if, as in the Catholic situation, it was sometimes accompanied with an assignment to a monastery for penance and reflection, which was the earlier response, and neither would psychotherapy work, which was the later response), and partly due to legal challenges. In my earliest sexual abuse prevention training in the Episcopal Church I was told that the training and policies associated with it were required or else the Church Insurance Corporation would drop its coverage, for instance. Now we will never be able to eliminate such abuse for no psychological screening or background checks will prevent 100% of potential abusers from becoming ordained or otherwise having access to potential victims, yet it is significant that in the Catholic Church in the USA and Canada, at least, the rate of abuse peaked in the 1980-1990 period and then fell off sharply. Furthermore, the most scandalous new revelations generally come from Church-commissioned independent studies that cover 50 to 70 years of cases. Finally, the issues that seem to be hitting the press today are whether bishops covered up abuse or fulfilled their duty of due diligence decades ago. (There is an exception in the case of some Religious Orders rather than dioceses that either had endemic abuse within – abused people have a good chance of becoming abusers – or which seemed to feel they were not bound by the Dallas Accords since they were not dioceses.)

Now, without pretending that I have discussed all the ins and outs of Catholic and Anglican problems in this area, the elephant in the room was that this never was just a Catholic and Anglican problem, but involved all churches and organizations in which there were people to abuse. It involved the now-bankrupt Boy Scouts of America (of which I have personal experience), it involved schools for evangelical missionaries’ children abroad (again, we know victims), it involved evangelical and charismatic churches in North America, as well as parachurch organizations (e.g. Christianity Today had a serial abuser on its editorial staff while the Mars Hill podcasts were being produced as one can tell from court records). While counseling a largely evangelical – charismatic clientele in two different provinces in Canada my wife once commented, “I no longer ask if a woman who comes to me (for whatever presenting problem) was sexually abused, but when is she going to disclose it.” This was not being talked about except when this or that high profile person hit the headlines. But that did regularly happen and has continued to happen.

Furthermore, the abuse of power was rarely if even discussed. Sometimes this abuse of power was financial, sometimes it was angry tirades, sometimes it was misuse of church discipline to expel or shame or discredit or “shut up” a person. In the charismatic world it often came out in the use of “prophetic words” to control or even destroy others. When prophecies, even very public ones (one thinks of “words” about COVID and about former president Trump as recent examples) were not fulfilled, rarely did anything happen. Perhaps that is because they were more about the emotions of the moment when they were being given and not about truth claims, perhaps because they were more enhancing the “spiritual” power image of the speaker than the reputation of Jesus. What is clear is that these things were not the stuff of outrage within the evangelical – charismatic movement and that in many cases, as Richard Foster saw so clearly so long ago, money, sex, and power, including charismatic power, are linked. I want to suggest that behind the issues there was historical-spiritual amnesia. In this I am supplement what Michael Bird and others have written.

First, there was an amnesia about the nature of leadership. Leaders were looked for who were organizational men (for the most part) who projected strong personalities, preached what seemed like powerful sermons (depending on how one defined “powerful” – converts made, miracles happening, etc.) and otherwise fit the mold of the secular leader. After all, it was “their” church or “their” ministry – the person was the headline name. Over against this is 2000 years of church history. If you want to find what was looked for in a leader, look at the lives of the saints (the tradition was well-aware of corrupt leaders and then need for periodic reform, as Dante’s Divine Comedy shows, so looking at those designated saints indicates the characteristics that were approved and sought).

The chief characteristic was humility, for these were men and women who were very aware of their sins and weaknesses, who were often quite penitent, and who were humble about their own abilities. They did not talk about their own exploits, including spiritual ones, but, if they did praise anyone, they praised another. Augustine of Hippo does not praised himself – see his Confessions – but he does praise Ambrose of Milan, under whose influence Augustine was converted. Many tried to flee to solitude rather than be raised to high office. Power and fame had no control over them.

A second characteristic was their love of charity. Nicholas of Myra is noted in the true tradition for having secretly tossed a bag of money through the open window of a house so that a young woman could marry rather than be forced into prostitution. John Vianney, as recent Popes have pointed out, received significant funds from grateful people he had ministered to, but it flowed through his fingers to those in need. Ones sees this throughout the tradition.

A third related characteristic was their service to others. It was Pope Gregory the Great who coined the title other popes have used, “servant of the servants of God.” The good ones, including Pope Gregory, have lived that. Often the degree of their service only came out after their deaths: they did not advertise or try to create an image. One thinks of the Bishop Francis de Sales, willing to walk into his diocese each day and walk out at night, serving tirelessly, constantly at risk because Protestants within his diocese would have gladly killed him. Then at night writing a voluminous number of letters of spiritual direction that have left us with a treasure trove of spiritual insight we still read. The theme of service varies with the person from care for the sick and dying (sometimes ending with the death of the saint who contacted plague or leprosy) to the education of street youth or prostitutes to hospitals (which started with Basil the Great in Cappadocia) to support of the destitute (most recently seen in Mother Theresa). Some were too weak or ill to do much, but still knew, as Therésè of Liseaux put it, “Small deeds done with great love” are pleasing to God.

The fact is that these and other virtues were not isolated, but were woven together in works such as The Imitation of Christ (put together and translated into Latin by Thomas á Kempis. In other words, the tradition uniformly presents concrete examples of people whose lives were given to serving others, whether they were Popes or hermits or tradespeople. This is the opposite of the CV’s of celebrity pastors and church leaders who boast about building their church. It may indeed be theirs, but in that case it is not Jesus’. I suspect, and there is evidence to support this, that even the bad examples of bishops and priests, filled with love of power, political influence, graft, nepotism, and simony (all of which one can find in the failed leaders of today) at least knew that there was another model and saw that model in the saintly bishops and priests and abbesses and the like around them. But if we forget our history and only focus on what is in our terms the “successful pastor,” we do not have the concrete historical examples of people living like Jesus (in quite a literal sense) to prick our consciences and tell us that something is wrong. Leadership is living out the virtues of Jesus as one fearlessly and gently, but firmly, goes about sacrificially doing what he has called one to do, which will always be something to do with love, i.e. seeking the good of others.

Second, there is an amnesia about the Holy Spirit and the effects of emotional worship without spiritual transformation (which is the result of spiritual disciplines). Many ecclesial communities, especially charismatic ones, act as if the Spirit went to sleep in AD 70 or perhaps AD 100 (often identified with the completion of the New Testament) and woke up with the Pentecostal movement of the early 1900’s. In the early 1800’s J. N. Darby, who would go on to promote gift cessationism, within the context of the prophetic conferences of his day said, “It is the duty of Christian men in these last days to seek the restoration of the gifts of the Spirit.” But Darby did not like what he saw of this in the New Apostolic Church of Edward Irving. The various revivals of the 1800’s, usually focused on celebrity performers/ preachers, did change the ecclesiastical landscape of the USA, but did little to change some of the social ills, especially the slavery of and the suppression of the rights of Afro-Americans (George Whitfield ended his days as a slaveholder in Georgia; Johnathan Edwards owned slaves in New England). It did result in a lot of adventist fervor and healing movements, but it also produced the “Burnt Over District” where repeated revivals had led to religious burnout. It was from there than some of the new and less orthodox groups of the 20th century originated, including Joseph Smith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was out of this ferment that the Pentecostal movement came with its call to pray until the group was hit with Spirit-revival marked by speaking in tongues (which the early ones believed were known languages). The fervor and conviction was genuine enough and people left the USA for foreign countries expecting to be able to speak the language with the gift of tongues and be miraculously supplied “by faith,” often with disastrous results. But these groups rarely realized that the previous century with both its good and bad had prepared for their “revival.” They thought that they were the first (and different groups did claim to be first).

That would move into the mainstream churches, first as the Charismatic Movement in the Episcopal and other mainline churches and then in the 1960’s in the Catholic Church. It was a time. of great conferences and then of various more or less charismatic church movements (I think of the Associations of the Vineyard Christian Fellowships which positioned itself between evangelical and charismatic) and then the independent charismatic churches that would eventually develop into church networks. Each seemed to focus on a few leaders, prophets or apostles, and if one’s position is dependent upon being filled with the Spirit and manifesting the Spirit’s power the prophecies and claims increased as fast as the internet. They also became worldwide in such groups as the Global Awakening and the New Apostolic Reformation. The problem was that there were also multiple scandals, for power unless controlled by deep humility links to money and sex, as well as the abuse of power. Furthermore, many of the prophecies, especially the political ones, were unfulfilled without any repercussions for the prophet (just as the many books on the “Last Days” predicting on the basis of the assured interpretation of Scripture what would happen in the next few years often garnered royalties without any check on whether any of the predictions actually happened).

There were two reasons for this. The first is that there was no one such independent folk were responsible to. For many of them, although they had a board, it was only the Spirit in the pastor that was the real authority. John Wimber tried to set limits in the Vineyard movement, but he once he was disabled and then died, without “papa” (as he referred to himself at times) there was no check on the groups that left or were expelled from the movement, no one they were responsible to, except perhaps a council of independent minded “elders” or “apostles” who seemed to exercise little control. The lack of true responsibility structures was one reason that the Catholic and other hierarchal groups could clean up their act (as the numbers show) but that was not noticed where the spirit of independency reigned util their ships started sinking.

The second is that, again, there was no awareness of history. There never was a cessation of spiritual gifts, at least not if one read the literature from the early second century up to the present. There was a focus on the character gifts rather than the so-called charismatic gifts, even if the latter were recognized as still quite active. There was a stress on humility so a person rarely talked about what God had done through them, but would talk about what God had done through this or that other person. There was also a different approach to gifts in that one sought God, not gifts, and in that seeking communal prayer, humble service, and a holy character were stressed. This was expressed in different ways, but it was relatively universal. In the 1800’s St Seraphim of Sarov spoke what is know as his work “On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” His directions were not that different than what one sees in Teresa of Avila (or of Jesus) in The Interior Castle. This would not be that different from the relevant parts of The Imitation of Christ. The point is that whether one looks East or West or which century one looks in one tends to find the same wisdom. That begins with seeking Jesus rather than seeking gifts, power or position. It continues with accepting those gifts that God gives, but neither trying to hold onto to them nor talking about them to others. Then when it comes to revelations and locutions of various types, always check them out with a confessor/spiritual director before sharing them (I recently read multiple pages on this in Alphonsus Liguroni’s book of instructions for confessors). Teresa of Avila would say to check them out with a “theologian” if possible, if one’s confessor is not astute in that area. The above is only a small sample of what is available.

In other words, not being under authority, real authority that can say “no,” is dangerous, and that danger has been seen in crashing ministries and, in some cases, churches, not mention disillusioned folk who join the conglomeration of people now called the “nones” (they identify with no church and do not regularly attend any). And, on the other hand, there are a couple of thousand years of wisdom in discerning spiritual phenomena (including Ignatius Loyola’s chapter on the Discernment of Spirits in his Spiritual Exercises) which, if followed, would have prevented both the charismatic madness that we sometimes see and the leaders who lead their people, like lemmings, off cliffs.

I do not pretend to have said all that could be said, but simply to note that ignorance of history is disastrous and the spirit of independency makes one a sitting duck for negative spiritual forces as well as for one’s own emotional baggage. We have pretended that the church began again with the Reformation or with Topeka Kansas or Azuza Street or with the beginnings of our own denomination or church. This is not just pride. It is disaster, and disaster is what we have been seeing in the news.

Posted in Church History, Theological Reflection, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Power and Powerful

Our culture values, as Richard Foster wrote so many years ago, money, sex, and power. And, in fact, the three often go together. A Hollywood mogul may make buckets of money and have the power to make or break a career and because of the two be able to get sexual favors from actors. writers. and the like. We talk about powerful politicians (or about the more powerful financiers and party bosses behind the politicians) or businessmen and businesswomen or generals or the military-industrial complex. We are also well-aware of the scandals that have resulted from the misuse of power.

The above is why I am concerned when Christians get into the power game. This happens when we look up to a pastor who appears “successful,” whose church can obviously spend lots of money on worship or web platforms, who demands absolute allegiance or else . . . People boast that that go to pastor x’s church. Christianity Today’s podcast series “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” shows what can happen. But one sees the same in a number of books, blog posts, and articles that came out in 2021. (It seems to have been a good year for taking a hard look at such things.) This can happen when people go to charismatic conferences advertised as “powerful” or with a “powerful healing evangelist” or that it will have “anointed” (read powerful) worship or will feature the “powerful prophetic ministry of . . .” It can use a substitute for the power word and people get the message. This will start a global awakening or will destroy powerful demonic holds over nations (and is therefore more powerful itself). People go to “schools” to get this type of power, whether it be prophetic, healing, or apostolic (that is in itself a power term, for it implies authority over a number of churches, not missionary activity as one sees in its origin). Powerful phenomena happen and the more that happen, the more significant the conference or church service.

Now there are several issues this raises. First, seeking power, spiritual or financial or influential gets one into the culture’s methodology or, as Foster put it, money sex and power. That means that one is using the culture’s methods to try to gain spiritual ends (or admiring the use of those methods). Second, it puts one at risk of misuse of money and sexual exploitation of others. More than one megachurch pastor has fallen into one or both of these traps and the same has been true of more than one charismatic community or organization. They are at risk of becoming a TACO, a totalist, aberrant, Christian organization (the subject of the doctor thesis of a friend of mine some decades ago), one that is controlling to the point of abuse, whether it be spiritual, emotional, or sexual (and sometimes also physical).

Third, and most importantly, it breaks with the Christian spiritual tradition. While Jesus is pictured as exercising power in the coming age, in his life he is portrayed as not exercising the power of this age, but instead serving others. We do not find him kicking any of his disciples out, not even Judas. Nor do we see this in the letters of Paul or the other New Testament writers. Paul, in fact, boasts in his weakness and critiques those who want status in the surrounding culture or to be seen as powerful by the church. Down through the ages these has been a tradition of giving up power and focusing on service. There have, of course, been exceptions when the church became corrupt, but I am talking about those we refer to as saints, as the examples of those who. embodied the Christian spiritual tradition. Many, while from noble birth or having significant positions in the church, cared for the poor and tended the sick. Others were noted for selling luxuries of their state in life. Gregory the Great described himself as “servant of the servants of God” and that tradition continued in those who embodied his spirituality right down to at least Pope Benedict XVI who was noted for a simple lifestyle and a reluctance to seek or even exercise power (other than teaching and leading by example) right down to and through his retirement. Men and women with known healing gifts did not speak about them and often moved to areas where they were unknown to avoid fame – most of such people we only know about through others who wrote about their gifts. I think of Br. André scrubbing the floor when someone came to him asking for healing for a family member. He did not look up from his scrubbing the floor, but just said something like, “Go home. They are well.” In other words, it is humility that is a Christian virtue, not telling of the great things one has done. It is “not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing.” It is sacrificing one’s life for others (as not a few did quite literally and others by caring for plague victims). All of this is inimical to seeking, holding onto, or exercising power over others (unless it is a necessary part of one’s office and one does it humbly and reluctantly).

So flee power, if you can, and embrace humble service. Beware of advertisements that boast of this conference or institution is great, powerful, “anointed” or “world shaking” or the like. That will protect us from the dangers of power and allow us to live in the freedom of the children of God who identify with Jesus who gave his life for others.

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The Davids Advent Review-2021

Davids Family October 2021

The biggest highlight of this year was a replanned visit by all three of our children from Canada on Judy’s birthday in October.  (Originally, the trip had been planned for May 2020 and, of course, the border had closed.) Below is a picture of us five on our back porch – from left to right it goes Elaine, Ian, Gwen, Judy and Peter. Gail Einkauf, my cousin Robert’s wife, had come over and taken our pictures and put them all in an album for my birthday. We had a great time being together for that week – meanwhile their spouses were back in Canada keeping the home fires burning and taking care of all our nine grandchildren. We praise God for our family and are appreciating them more because Covid-19 has made our visits almost impossible. We are so thankful for Zoom.

Moving to the beginning of the year, in January, I, Judy continued teaching Ian’s two children a course via Zoom since they have been home-schooled because of Covid-19. That was a joy to spend an hour per week with each child over Zoom. As September rolled around, I’ve begun to teach Adana, the 10-year-old, a course on women in the Bible, looking at their virtues with encouragement to imitate them.

The February deep freeze was quite an experience for us Texans – the loss of power (and also water) as well as freezing rain and snow. We were well cared for during this time, for the Dominican Sisters brought us 5-gallon buckets of water, blankets and anything else which we needed to survive. 

We also enjoyed several retreatants and visitors during the year. That possibility is a highlight of living in a former convent with multiple bedrooms and large enough kitchen and dining room. 

I (Judy) was also overjoyed to find a Spiritual Director – a Dominican Sister of a different order aged 81 – to help me with my spiritual Journey. To do spiritual direction with others, I felt a real need to have a director myself. The privilege of continuing to do spiritual direction with people on two days every week has given me great joy and purpose this year. 

I have struggled with my health, especially since my knee replacement in Oct 2020, experiencing breathlessness and very little energy to carry out life’s duties. So, after a series of doctors, I ended up at a sleep clinic and discovered that I have severe sleep apnea. The CPAP machine has made a huge difference in my energy level. 

A joy of the year for me was having the privilege of attending my aunt’s 100th birthday party. 

In June, Peter and I were invited to come to near Columbus, OH, to tape our spiritual journey stories for the Coming Home program. This allowed us to reflect on God’s goodness over the years. While it aired the end of September, it, and our written stories, are still available here

Judy has begun to get more involved in our local parish, teaching (with Peter) in the RCIA program and getting involved in the Seniors’ Group, so she has been getting to know people. 

A surprising development happened in November when Peter responded to Facebook post about a woman who had severely damaged her ankle in a freak accident and needed a place to stay (with husband and children) during what is turning out to be months of treatment. So, we have the privilege of providing hospitality and prayer. Please join us in praying for Rebekah’s healing (and the trauma this is for the family). 

Meanwhile Peter has continued his ministry as chaplain for the Dominican Sisters in the Priory just over the rise from us and as resident priest for the Austin Byzantine Catholic Community in central Austin. He has found that he has had to retire from teaching and most writing to have enough time for prayer (he is thankful for the fully equipped chapel in the house) and keeping the household running, as well as helping some in local churches. He does lead a cell group for the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. It is for him a semi-monastic life. 

As December rolls around, we are so very grateful for God’s great gift of Jesus, coming into our world as a baby boy to bring us salvation and we look forward to his second coming with hope. 

May you have a blessed Christmas and a joyful New Year,

Judy and Peter

Peter and Judy

Our mailing address remains: 723 W University Ave, Ste 110-#263, Georgetown, TX 78626, although our physical address is 5499 E State Highway 29, Georgetown, TX 78626

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Happy Unbirthday

Pentecost is often called “the birthday of the church,” which implies that the church did not exist before Pentecost, except in, perhaps, nascent form. The phenomena associated with Pentecost are then said to be characteristic of the church. And often there is even a strong contrast between Jesus, who proclaimed the kingdom, and the post-Easter church, which Jesus did not foresee. This, I submit is an exegetical error.

When we look at scripture, as Gerhard Lohfink pointed out decades ago, it is clear that Jesus was forming the church long before Pentecost. Let us look at some characteristics.

Initiation: Jesus led a movement, calling disciples who followed him around Galilee and to Jerusalem. At least the first of these were associated with the Baptist movement, according to the Fourth Gospel, as was Jesus, for he was baptized by John. We do not know how long he was around John before his baptism. Again, the Fourth Gospel narrates (John 4) that Jesus continued a version of the baptistic movement, although his disciples did the baptizing. The synoptics know nothing of this initiation rite for followers of Jesus, but Matt 28 indicates that a continuation of baptism as an initiation rite was part of the final instructions given to the the band of disciples.

Structure and Leadership: while Jesus called some of his disciples personally, the group seems to have been a bit amorphous in the beginning. That changed when Jesus designed the Twelve as his official emissaries. They are sent out to do what Jesus did: preach, heal, exorcise. They are sent out depending on God alone for their needs, just as Jesus appears to have done. Within this group there was a further structure, the Three who were made witnesses to some of the most important events in the ministry of Jesus. It was one of these Three who, in the presence of the other eleven, was said to have made the core confession that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. According to Matthew 16, Jesus in return gave him pre-eminence: “You are Rock and upon this Rock I will build my Church.” It is, at any rate, clear that Simon Peter, whether due to this pronouncement or due to his character, seems to have been something of a spokesperson for the Twelve or the Twelve and whatever other disciples were around. There is evidence that Jesus promised the Twelve rule when the kingdom was established.

Other Structures; Luke has two other structures within the community. One was that of the Seventy or Seventy-Two who were sent out to widen the missional work of the Twelve – certainly they are symbolic of the nations, but whether or not they actually went into non-Jewish lands is a matter of debate. Certainly some of the sayings of Jesus see the Twelve and other disciples as getting into trouble not only with Jewish but also with Gentile authorities. Luke 8 also refers to a group of women who followed Jesus, caring for the needs of at least the core group, in some cases using their own funds to do so. Of course, it is these women who followed Jesus to the cross and then were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Their stated function would mean that they would also have been present at the Last Supper – indeed, they would have cooked the supper.

That Jesus could say “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God” indicates that he saw his group of disciples as a fictive family, a family that took precedence to the blood family. And, of course, a number of his parables speak of future rewards of those members of the group who remain faithful. But it is a group.

Other Rites: the community not only had a function of proclamation and, of course, of formation (people listened to and learned from Jesus and experienced Jesus), but they learned to pray from Jesus, and to pray as a community, assuming that the Matthew form of the Our Father is pre-resurrection, since it is communal, not individual. They would have celebrated Jewish festivals with Jesus, but it was the last festival, the Last Supper, that Jesus reportedly told them to continue as the central act of community worship. It was associated with the Passover and took at least some meaning from the Passover, but scholars are divided as to whether or not it was a transformed Passover meal or not, partly due to the differences between the Johannine and Synoptic accounts. Then there was the distinctive ethic that Jesus taught, which would have identified the members of the community as much as a Pharisee could have been identified by his way of life or even by that way of life have indicated whether he belonged to the school of Hillel or the school of Shammai. I use “he” because it was the men who functioned in public, but presumably while the actors of Jewish women were mostly inside the dwelling, the women who followed Jesus were marked out by that very lifestyle as part of the community.

My point is that Jesus had a functioning community before the crucifixion. While the crucifixion event temporarily shattered the community, we find the core leaders gathered together in that upper room before Easter. The crucifixion had not ended the church, we might say, but it had raised a lot of questions about the meaning of Jesus. It was the place for what we would now call theological reflection on Jesus, even if most reports indicated that it was the resurrected Jesus who gave the final keys to interpretation.

What, then, was the function of Pentecost? The Fourth Gospel at least indicated that the Spirit had come upon at least the leaders of the Church while Jesus was still present. They had been given the authority to bind and loose, to make rules and to make judgments, i.e. leadership roles, even before that (in Matthew). Gathered in the upper room they had presumably worshipped using the Psalms (one suspects that they were not yet going to the prayer services in the Temple) and quite likely celebrated the Eucharist, since we later hear that they originally had the custom of doing this daily. Of course, it would not have been in its more developed forms, but is it not likely that the broke bread and drank wine, repeating the words of Jesus. What happened at Pentecost? What happened at Pentecost was that they burst out of the upper room on mission.

The end of Luke indicates that they are to remain in Jerusalem until . . . Until “power from on high” comes. That means that when the power came they would be leaving the central place of worship (for a Jew, and they were all Jews) and the locus of David kingship to “go into all the world.” They use the time to restore the full number of leaders, with Peter taking decisive leadership. Then comes the day when people from around the world – Jews and prosylytes – gather in Jerusalem. The Spirit comes upon them in power, signified in the flames, and they go out to the people from “all the world” equipped linguistically to address each in their own language. And the rest of Luke has the Spirit thrusting the church from Jerusalem to the core of the empire, to Rome. Pentecost is the birth of mission, not the birth of the Church. Pentecost is the starter’s gun propelling the runners forward from the starting blocks or out of the starting gate. And every time the linguistic gifts are mentioned in Acts the Church is crossing some missional boundary, the Spirit giving the indication that this boundary crossing is him.

Paul mentions the Spirit in a number of places, but particularly 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 has been associated with Pentecost. Again notice that the “gifts” are gifts for ministry. They are outward focused not inward focused. They enable the Church to fulfill their missional task. Most healings, even the healings of Jesus, are missional – they reach outside the body of the disciples, outside the church, or they have that effect (see Luke’s comments on Aeneas and Dorcas, who both seem to be part of the church – the whole village or town turns to Jesus as a result). The linguistic gifts obviously helped cross cultural boundaries and proclaim the good news. And one can see the same in most of the other gifts. They are not status symbols; they are not marks that one is a Christian (love may be such a mark, but not the gifts), they are not, for the most part, permanent characteristics of a person, but rather the Spirit of God giving the tool necessary for the next act of mission or to meet the situations brought up by mission.

Now a book could be – and books have been – written about these topics. I already mentioned Lohfink, to note one rather old book. I write this simply to be clear about one point: Pentecost is not the birth of the Church; the Church was born and doing fine in the upper room before Pentecost. Pentecost is the propelling of the Church out of the upper room into mission. And it is in mission directed by Jesus and dependent on the Spirit that one both finds the need for the gifts of the Spirit that we associate with Pentecost and that those gifts find their proper context.

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Historical Amnesia

I recently was part of Catholic – Charismatic (=neo-Pentecostal)/Pentecostal Novena to the Holy Spirit. I was part of it mainly because John Michael Talbot was speaking in one online session (there was a talk each day before the prayers), unfortunately that was a session that I missed. 

Now not only do I have nothing against ecumenical activities, I am very much for them. They played a part in my spiritual journey. I teach for an evangelical institution, I have many friends in various Protestant denominations, and view my own Protestant background as contributing to my spiritual health and present situation. Furthermore, Pope Francis has encouraged ecumenical contact, not just with the Orthodox, but also with Pentecostals, not to mention his visits to Islamic and other leaders. What I am interested in in this blog post is a type of historical amnesia and contextual warping that I admit was very much part of my past and probably part of my present as well and which warped both this novena and many ecumenical activities. 

I grew up Plymouth Brethren, a group that had started out as an ecumenical movement in the post-Napoleonic-wars British Isles. They correctly discerned that the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist was the center of first century worship. They felt that the various liturgies were what were holding Christians apart. So, they proposed meeting around “the [Eucharistic] elements” in “primitive simplicity,” i.e. without formal leadership and allowing the Holy Spirit to direct the service (in the beginning, the movement was open to any spiritual gifts being exercised: “It is the duty of Christian men in these last days to seek the renewal of the gifts of the Spirit.” After the early 1830’s they were still open to “leadings of the Spirit” in life and liturgy, but argued that the gifts of 1 Cor 12 has ceased, even if historically speaking they were present under other terminology). Of course, their historical-cultural amnesia was in not realizing that the early Church met in a context that included (1) Greco-Roman meal customs, (2) Passover liturgy, (3) synagogue service-of-the-word patterns, and (4) Temple prayer liturgies using the Psalms, among other influences. The Holy Spirit led the Church into all truth, for sure, and the Holy Spirit was, according to Acts, the impulse behind her cross-cultural missional activity, but the Holy Spirit apparently did not feel any need to jettison all elements of the liturgical and customary structure surrounding the Last Supper. Needless to say, the denominational leaders of the clergymen (there were women, but they would not have been part of church structures) meeting “in this way,” took a dim view of their ignoring of both New Testament and intermediate history and forced those involved over which they had influence to choose either the new “assembly” or their place in their denomination. As a result, a new denomination (which, of course, did not consider itself a denomination) was born. 

This present initiative (in common with similar initiatives – I am just using the example I participated in) shared with the Plymouth Brethren the desire to bracket the differences among the neo-Pentecostals, Catholic or Protestant, involved, and meet together more or less on the basis of a shared perception (common interpretive tradition and common language and experience) of the Holy Spirit as experienced in Pentecost, a type of “primitive simplicity.” They cited Pope Francis who had suggested “getting together for a gelato,” in other words, for human contact, for ecumenism from the ground up, bracketing the issues between them that theologians were dealing with. Notice that Pope Francis did not mention the core Christian gathering, the Eucharist, but a human activity with no obvious theological ramifications, i.e. eating “a gelato” together. And, of course, Lumen Gentium does note that our “separated brethren” are, due to their baptism, members of the one Church and in many cases live some aspects of the faith better than Catholics (Pope Francis himself was friendly with and apparently influenced by the late Luis Palau). Getting together for a novena to the Holy Spirit, i.e. for prayer, seemed relatively safe, although in the prayers and in the talks theological positions were expressed that I am sure some needed to ignore. And the novena style with some prayers repeated daily (e.g. the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed and the Gloria) was surely foreign to non-Catholic neo-Pentecostal ecclesial communities. Still, this was a long way from the Fundamentalist excoriation of Billy Graham for merely having Catholic clergy on the platform of some of his “crusades.” It was also naïve for both the Protestants and the Catholics that I heard to speak as if this was the beginning of the unification of the church, for Pope Francis is Jesuit-trained and uses language carefully, even if he seems off-the-cuff, which means that once we get past gelato to working together theologically there is work to do. Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals are a small segment of the Catholic Church and the Protestant world. And Lumen Gentium does not give the equality to “separated brethren” that at least some of the speakers claimed. [To cite a personal “for instance,” before I, as an Episcopal priest, resigned my orders and was received by the Catholic Church I had come to realize that I did not have valid orders in Catholic eyes (I had read the appropriate papal document) and that the Episcopal Church was an “ecclesial structure” or “ecclesial community,” not a church, since there can only be one Church; but I was nevertheless treated by those receiving me as if I were a priest (e.g. with the honorific “Father”) and part of a church. Their graciousness, however, was just that and they still received me as a layman without any promise of later ordination.]

However, the real amnesia came in other comments. A connection was made between a nun urging Pope Leo XIII to call for prayer for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the Pope’s praying the Venite Creator Spiritus on January 1, 1901 (a prayer that is not uncommon in liturgies) and what is viewed as the start of the Pentecostal movement near Topeka, Kansas, that same day. There was no reference to the Topeka event as an expression of healing-holiness-adventist fervor that had been going on in the USA for something like 20 years and had spawned at least two denominations already (with a variety of Pentecostal denominations about to add to that number). There was no mention of the fact that far from unifying Christians the Pentecostal movement was separatist, insisting that one was not “in” unless one spoke in tongues (and it was strongly anti-Catholic – as I remember my reading, the first Pentecostal missions went to Catholic countries and went out without language training, depending on the Spirit given them the proper “tongues”). And there was also no mention of the fact that the “tongues” expressed that first evening were considered actual languages (which would be true to the biblical texts); in fact, the first woman to receive the gift claimed others told her she was speaking “Bohemian.” This is unlike the ecstatic “tongues” of the neo-Pentecostal movement of the 1960’s and later in mainline ecclesial communities and the Catholic Church (although there are isolated cases in which an actual language was spoken, almost always in cross-cultural situations).

A second type of amnesia was that of more distant history. The Pentecostal movement originally (which often today requires a “tongues” experience of pastors as a once-off qualification, but otherwise is often like other conservative evangelicals) and neo-Pentecostal movements in general see themselves as repeating the Acts narrative (understood without Luke’s purpose). There is no reference to intervening history, even in the speakers from the Catholic Church. Of course, scriptures tended to be used as proof-texts without reference to the wider context of the books in which they occur and that is a (in the Catholic Church) pre-Vatican II approach. That is also the approach to doing “theology” that I had in a Protestant seminary in the late 1960’s. In that “intervening history” quite a few major Catholic figures, such as John Chrysostom, mention the gift of tongues and apply it to the spread of the gospel to people of many languages (which, of course, is what the biblical term means). Augustine cites the “groanings” of the Spirit that are beyond words (from Rom 8) and then mentions some men were specially gifted to understand such groanings and express them in human language and that that is the origin of the collects in the liturgy. In other words, many aspects of the various biblical passages are picked up in the tradition, and I heard no reference to any of it in the novena speakers, for the interpretative template of 20th century experience had created an amnesia. 

Perhaps, more importantly, there are a host of Holy Spirit inspired revivals in church history, some more local, some more widespread. They did not, of course, require a crisis experience characterized by speaking in ecstatic utterances, for the requirement of crisis experiences for either conversion or “Holy Spirit filling” is a product of the 1880’s onward, but they are characterized by various gifts of the Holy Spirit (in the sense of the Pauline lists). Catherine of Siena could read the souls and thoughts of others. Francis of Assisi started what became a worldwide proclamation movement that saw many miracles of various types. John of the Cross would write about spiritual experiences (which he views as sensual yet, when God-given, a step in the right direction) and both their value and their ability to be counterfeited, as does Teresa of Avila in a less systematic way (and, of course, the two of them renewed and revived Carmelite spirituality, forming the touchstone of that movement until this day). St Philip Neri was known for his healing gifts, his joy, and his fervent prayer – as well as his ascetic lifestyle. Of course, there were others in the East, such as John Chrysostom, to mention only one. And there were those in the north who evangelized or renewed the church in the Germanic world. Some, like Ignatius of Loyola, did have dramatic conversions or callings. Others, like Francis of Assisi had a series of steps in their conversion or calling narratives. My point is twofold: there are numerous incidences of Holy Spirit generated revival, renewal, or evangelism through all of church history. (I have only referred to the ones I have been reading about recently.) The other side of the coin is that while we can see the various spiritual gifts of 1 Cor 12 at work, the movements look different from one another. Francis of Assisi eventually became a deacon, but started off as a layman. Philip Neri was a priest. Some others were bishops. Catherine of Siena was a woman who was not cloistered as, for instance Clare of Assisi was. Some revivals or renewals were more local, while others took in whole countries and others sent out missionaries to the far ends of the world. The one thing they have in common is that they tend to play down references to miracles and visions and the like; in fact, it is usually followers or later biographers who mention them, not the person himself or herself (although Tersa of Avila did so when ordered to for the benefit of the Inquisition). Even Jonathan Edwards who defended various Spirit-phenomena in the New England revival then went on to make it clear that they were no mark of that the revival was a real work of the Spirit – things like holiness and changes lives were the mark of genuineness.

In fact, as Paul (in 1 Cor 12 – 14) makes love far more important than gifts that some may have (and probably usually have on a temporary basis) and as he in 2 Cor 12 only mentions his visionary experience because he feels “forced,” the ones considered most spiritual through history stressed such things as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, lack of anger, etc. as the marks of the Spirit and mostly kept silent (or tried to) about visions, ecstasies, prophecies, healings, and the like as something that needed testing or which were occasional private experiences or which were gifts needed for a particular mission. They sound like Jonathan Edwards: the genuine marks of a move of the Spirit are moral. The other things may be from the Spirit or may not be, they can be counterfeited or real, they can be corrupted or, with appropriate maturity can lead to growth in Christlikeness. This, of course, fits with Jesus, who tells people he heals to be silent (when he is dealing with single cases) and never advertises. 

So, something happens in Topeka and Azuza St and Arkansas in the 1901 – 1906 period. It is not something absolutely new, not something that has not happened since the first century, but one more in a series of revivals and renewals down the ages. The Holy Spirit had not “come back,” but – to the extent that it was genuine (and as all revivals is was a mixed works, as Jonathan Edwards points out for the revival of his day) – it was another in a series. Likewise, the spread of Pentecostal theology and practice to mainline and Catholic groups was good, but it was also very North American in style and origin. Yet at the same time the Holy Spirit was at work in Europe, for example, but with a more contemplative shape to the renewal. The Holy Spirit was at work in East Africa in the Anglican Church, with miracles of all types, but without tongues (the so-called East African revival). 

That means that if the Holy Spirit does a work of revival in our time (as the neo-Pentecostal movements seem to be dying out or in some cases getting rather weird) it will probably not be a fourth wave of what happened in 1901 (the third wave being the interdenominational movement of the 1980’s and later that was identified with John Wimber, which did not have Pentecostal theology or an emphasis on glossalalia) but something different. And it may be in China or Africa and not in North America. It will not look exactly like Acts, for Acts served the purpose of initial cross-cultural beginnings, as Luke points out. But it will have characteristics that are common to the various revivals and moves of the Holy Spirit down the ages. And we may only notice it if we are well-read enough to get over our historical amnesia and notice that what is going on here or there looks like this that happened there then and this other thing that happened in this other place at another time, but of course not exactly the same. However, those involved will likely not be talking about what is going on, first because they are too busy and second because humility is a mark of the true action of the Holy Spirit.

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Pentecost Means Crossing Boundaries

Pentecost closes the Easter season and a grand celebration. But it is more than a celebration: it is the beginning of cross-cultural mission and the rule of Jesus over the nations.

Verona – Apse of Chapel Miniscalchi in Saint Anastasia’s church from year 1506 designed by Angelo di Giovanni with main scene of the Pentecost on January 27, 2013 in Verona, Italy.

Pentecost has often been seen as the birth of the church, often in contrast with the message of Jesus. Phrases such as “Jesus preached the kingdom of God and we ended up with the church” express this contrast. That, however, overlooks the evidence. As Gerhard Lohfink pointed out in Jesus and Community, the gospels all present Jesus as gathering a community. He and many of his followers had been followers of John the Baptist, having been baptized into the John the Baptist movement.  At least the fourth gospel indicates that Jesus and his core disciples baptized others, initiating them into the movement. Certainly, Jesus invited some people to join the group with his characteristic “follow me,” while others either asked to join or just followed without formal acceptance. There was organization within the movement, for all gospels refer to the Twelve whom Jesus selected as official representatives. Luke, of course, adds another group of 70. And Peter emerged as the spokesperson for the group. Thus, it is no surprise that the movement regrouped around Peter after experiencing the resurrection of Jesus, but as yet they had no mission beyond the renewal of Israel around the figure of Jesus. Pentecost is not the formation of the church, but the thrusting out of the church into mission.

John claims that within his life Jesus had used a water festival in Jerusalem in which the people prayed for rain to anticipate this pouring out into mission. In the middle of the feast Jesus says,

“If any one thirst, let him come to me
and let the one who believes in me drink.” 

This unpolished translation picks up the balance of the two lines and leads to Jesus’ (or perhaps John’s) explanation: “”as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” That is, picking up on John 2 in which Jesus presents himself as the New Temple and then on the waters of the temple garden in Eden, which water the earth, and the idealized temple in Ezekiel, from which water flows to “heal” the Dead Sea and the Araba, Jesus paints a picture that will be fully realized in the end of Revelation when the new Jerusalem is the community of God on earth and in the midst of this city-temple is the throne of the God from which flows a river that nourishes trees with leaves that are for the healing of the nations. In fact, all nations will go to this temple-city. So Jesus, as that Temple, is calling people to come to him and drink the water that is or will be flowing from him, that water that brings life, not just to Israel but also to the nations.

This is presented differently in Acts 2. The community is gathered in prayer with Peter functioning as leader. But that is inward or vertical. There is no outward. Luke is, perhaps, about the inward in that it is organized around a movement from Galilee to Jerusalem, while Acts is organized around the outward in that it is organized around movement from Jerusalem to Rome. Then the Spirit, perhaps seen as bringing the presence of Jesus as ruler, comes and three things happen. First, there is wind, the meaning of “spirit” in Greek (and Hebrew), like the creative wind sweeping over the chaos in Genesis 1. The Spirit has come. But then there are tongues of fire, perhaps, as an early homily on this passage indicated, bringing purification, or (and both meanings could easily be intended) perhaps indicating the Spirit setting tongues on fire, i.e. indicating the incendiary action of the outward thrust. The people begin speaking, but in other languages, which is no accident, for this happens just when Jerusalem is filled with pilgrims from the nations around the (to them) known world. The nations have come to the Temple, getting along as best as they can in Greek, and they hear God coming to them speaking their languages. There is a reversal of Babel, it is true, in that rather than language being confused and splintered when a unified people sought a diabolical goal or storming heaven now a disunified people seeking the good goal of the true God are spoken to by a single ethnic group (Galileans) speaking their language and are called into the new community. But there is also God’s using human beings to cross ethnic and cultural divides with the good news by giving them the necessary linguistic tools. Whenever speaking in foreign languages is indicated in Acts it is in a context of crossing such divides and not only facilitates communication, but indicates that God has crossed the divide ahead of them.

Interestingly enough, Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 will indicates that he spoke in (to hm) foreign languages more than all the others, but then he preached the good news from the eastern end of the Mediterranean all the way around to (what is today) northwestern Greece. In fact, the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 are basically outwardly directed, just as most healings in the New Testament are either the healings of those not yet committed to the Jesus movement or have evangelistic effects (as in the case of Dorcas and Aeneas in Acts 8) – perhaps to be read as an evangelistic purpose. This is a far cry from the idea of “tongues” as ecstatic speech turned inward towards the personal spiritual experience of the practitioner, something that is not found in the New Testament (nor in the Patristic Church). Rather than healing meetings made up mostly of believers, we find healings happening as the Spirit directs in evangelism, outside the community. 

We could, of course, continue going through Acts and the letters of Paul, but we trust that the meaning of Pentecost is by now clear. Pentecost is the Spirit empower the Church, which was at the time focused inwardly and vertically, to go outward and bring healing to the nations, equipping it to cross cultural and ethnic boundaries. The debates in Acts are the debates occasioned by the crossing of such boundaries: are Samaritans (with their dialectical differences), are a centurion’s friends, are gentiles from various nations people out of which the growing church can be formed without their coming into the original ethnicity, that of Palestinian Judaism? The Pauline corpus agrees with what is depicted narratively in Acts, namely that while all in the church are children of Abraham, those who were not born such as made such by God without ethnic conversion. The focus is on Christ as Lord, but Christ acts through the Spirit in his people to gather the nations into one people.

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Seek the Lord

In my previous blog post, Presidential Fallout, I reflected on the effects of the last presidential campaign and election on the church and particularly on the evangelical and Pentecostal/ neo-Pentecostal parts of the church. I want to reflect further on the latter, asking what it was that could turn what was often a renewal from God (at least in some people’s lives) into something that often drives people from the church. Basically, my answer is twofold: (1) forgetting the tried and true ways of spiritual renewal and ministry found in church history and (2) seeking the power of God and the gifts of the Spirit rather than seeking God himself and letting him grant whatever gifts whenever he wishes.

I want to express how I developed these conclusions by presenting my own narrative:

We got involved with a German charismatic movement in 1975. There were no “power people,” no special initiation event (e.g. “baptism in the Holy Spirit”) – it was contemplative and in the context of a quiet seeking the Lord some of the named (and unnamed) gifts of the Spirit manifested. We were thankful for the results, of course, both for personal spiritual refreshment and for our joy in a work of God when my boss was healed of what doctors expected to be a deadly cancer. Yet we did not pay a lot of attention to phenomena, for our eyes were fixed on Jesus.

Over the years after our return to the USA we were involved in a variety of healing and ministry movements, including neo-Pentecostal versions, which often mixed with older movements. We were involved in Camps Farthest Out and The Order of St Luke the Physician. My first Eucharist as an Episcopal priest was a tiny healing Eucharist in a large church (and, yes, someone was healed); my one ordination gift was an oil stock that had been used in Episcopal healing ministry for something like 40 years plus before being passed on to me in 1979. We knew Baptists like Roland Brown and Catholics-in-Exile like Francis MacNutt. I doubt we had “experienced it all,” but we had experienced a lot. 

But what were we looking for? We were seeking closeness to God but, other than those times that God directed us to this or that, we were seeking it affirmation of that closeness in concrete experiences, in seeing healing, in experiencing this or that gift. And that is also what the early Pentecostals sought – the gifts and the power to assure them of the presence of the Spirit – and the later neo-Pentecostal movement in mainline and Catholic churches.

In 1985, I believe, an interdenominational pastor’s renewal fellowship to which I belonged invited John Wimber and a team to come to Vancouver, BC. What struck me was (1) that Wimber was not the show, so to speak, when it came to healing but that he got prayer teams praying for people and walked off the platform, while the prayer teams drew in others around them, so that at the end of the conference it was mostly the conferees who were praying rather than the team, and (2) that Wimber saw events like that conference and healing prayer in churches as “clinic” with the real “stuff” happening in the street as people prayed for or ministered to people in the course of their daily lives. That sounded a lot like Acts and the purpose behind the manifestations of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12. It also struck me that the music was intimate and contemplative, especially if Wimber himself shifted to the keyboard. 

A team from Anaheim came to my church the Sunday after the conference, and I had forgotten that it was Pentecost. Well, it was Pentecost that day in more ways than one. However, what I remember is the words of one humble member of the Vineyard team in a Q&A time: “Seek the Lord, seek the Lord, seek the Lord; and when are finished then seek him some more.” The various signs and wonders were simply tools the Lord hands one as one seeks him and his will and goes about sharing his love in the world at his direction. 

The wisdom of that focus would come out in the next months. On the one hand, “powerful” charismatic “ministers” showed up in our church, “called by the Lord,” to “help.” They drifted in, and, wisely, the elders did not give them a platform (had they stayed long enough and humbly proved themselves it would have been another matter) and happily they were “called elsewhere.” We also realized that some of them were inspired by a dark spirit, not the Holy Spirit. Others were emotionally or spiritually wounded. That was a lesson learned. When there is a public move of the Spirit of God it attracts all sorts of counterfeits, including, as St John of the Cross notes in Ascent of Mt Carmel, the devil’s counterfeits. 

Then there were some in the church who experienced the initial “wave” of the Spirit who sought ever new power experiences, what I now recognize as the instability that St Benedict, Jean-Claude Nolt, and Joseph Ratzinger talked of (the latter two under the term “acedia”). Various communities, sometimes parts of churches that had been part of inviting Wimber, sometimes home communities, started inviting “power ministers” and members of my church got involved. I often went to these events, for, while I was not drawn to the loud music (often poorly played in the smaller venues), anti-intellectual comments (not being educated was held up as a qualification for ministry), and poor exegesis of scripture, I also realized that one must go with an open mind and experience such events from within if one is to really understand them. After all, the Spirit sometimes comes in strange guises. Furthermore, it was where my friends and congregants were going, so I needed to know what they were experiencing. I always went forward if pastors and leaders were called forward for prayer and at times I was prayed over in small groups. I did have quiet experiences with God, but basically independent of what the “power minister” was trying to do – they were spontaneous, not directed. After one meeting in which a lot of people were falling (i.e. “slain in the Spirit” as the lingo goes) a week later I talked to four I knew well asked about the experience and its effects. One was indeed significantly changed for the positive with lasting effects, two felt it had affected them positively that evening but with little long-term change, and for one it “was just an experience.” Apparently, the ministry was less than infallible. But, I was where I needed to be, inside, participating, and reflecting later. However, this raised my level of concern about seeking power, or powerful experiences, or gifts versus seeking God in all humility and only asking for gifts as needed for particular acts of charity that one felt God was leading one to perform. I did not see much humility in those meetings.

The other issue that arose was “the prophetic.” While in my understanding of Scripture so-called “words of knowledge” are actually a form of prophetic speech, in seeking “the prophetic” people were looking at full-time “prophets” as models and seeking much more intense forms of prophecy, either prophecy given to groups directing what they should do or prophecy given to individuals directing what they should do. Later there would develop “strategic spiritual warfare” that was over cities and nations, often without the knowledge of said cities or nations, and which sought through performative prophetic speech to influence the course of history. But that would start in the 1990’s. We saw that leading up to and in the Jericho Marches of November – December 2020.

There was some quite responsible prophetic ministry that seemed to build up and impel people to a deeper relationship with Jesus and some quite abusive ministry that seem to build up the “prophet” or the leader the prophet was associated with or that seemed to try to control a person, church, or leader. I certainly heard of “prophets” who crossed sexual boundaries themselves. The end result in my church was that, after I had moved away to another city, the church blew apart, so to speak, with a number of wounded individuals. The cause was “prophetic” leadership. Eventually, the remnant of the church merged with a quite traditional evangelical community that needed a building. While this happened before my eyes, even if at a distance, it is also generally true that the rise and fall of charismatic covenant communities and churches because of controlling leaders or leaders who transgressed financial, sexual, or personal boundaries does litter the church landscape. I choose not to name the groups or the leaders. What I will say is that some of them had quite a positive effect upon me and my family, sometimes before they “went off the rails,” sometimes because they were at a distance and sometimes after the original leader “crashed and burned” (often without that being public knowledge) but before the church or community or organization started its decline. 

The problem was, and continues to be, that of seeking the Lord versus seeking power or experiences or influence in society (the in case of those who want decree the results of elections or the rise and fall of cities or countries or the end of pandemics or any number of other things). My friend at that conference in Vancouver was right: it is about seeking the Lord. John Wimber was right, It is about drawing near to God and “doing the stuff” (proclaiming the good news, feeding the poor, and praying for the sick) with eyes and ears open to “see what God is doing” and then joining in as he invites one with the manifestation of particular acts of the Spirit being more of an “of course, God gives the needed gift when a person is doing his work in his way at his direction.” Gifts, power, experiences are not sought in themselves.

Of course, that is also the teaching of the Christian spiritual tradition. Paul rarely talks about his spiritual experiences, and when he does, he mentions that he felt forced to do so and did so unwillingly (see 2 Cor 11 – 12, but that is also going on in 1 Cor 12 – 14). What he talks about readily is suffering, humiliation, and the like. He sought Jesus, and he found him crucified, knowing that being joined to the crucified Christ meant that after Paul’s own death he would be joined to the resurrected Christ. 

When one follows the story into church history one finds that the most honored (today) spiritual leaders did not talk about their own spiritual exploits, but about the miracles and the like done by others. (Although others sometimes talked about them.) They did not seek honored positions, but often had to be virtually forced to be bishops and the like (e.g. Augustine of Hippo). Sometimes they left a place of honor and authority, when they could, and retreated to a monastery for their remaining days. They wanted to seek God alone. 

The neo-Pentecostal movement is, as was the Pentecostal movement in its roots, Adventist – they were the revival of the last days. But that means that they fail to see that the Spirit has been working through people over the generations, people who were humble. I think of St André Bessette (1845 – 1937) in Montreal (a porter in the Congregation of the Holy Cross), whose healing prayers were sought and who was sometimes found scrubbing floors (one of his duties) and who would not even look up at the one requesting he pray for someone, but simply say (from his recollected inner self) “He or she is well” and go on with his work. And it was just as he said. 

I think of “Blessed Solanus Casey (d. 1957), a priest who served in Detroit, Michigan. He was known for helping to heal the sick and burdened through the intercession of Jesus Christ. As a member of the Franciscan Capuchin Friars, he did small, humble tasks in his monastery but would often spend his afternoons performing the Anointing of the Sick for ill parishioners. Fr. Solanus had great compassion for the sick, and through his compassion and personal holiness services, healed many people.”

These examples could be multiplied down the ages, but they have a common theme. They all were humble. They all served quietly. They all developed their closeness to God over years of classical spiritual disciplines, normally in a community setting. They all simply obeyed God and prayed or spoke as God told them (in the case of Blessed Solamus Casey using the approved form of liturgical prayer). They did not have an impartation from some other power minister nor necessarily a peak experience, let alone a peak experience that they talked about. They usually functioned outside of rallies or conferences or even church gatherings. And most would have been unknown had someone else not felt it necessary to write about them.

They (and while I have named two Catholics, there were others in Protestant traditions that I could name, such as the Rev Roland Brown, whom I met, but in Germany, not his actual residence of Chicago, and who would be unknown to me had not his translator in Germany (where he taught on prayer) published his talks. But they were charismatic men (and women) – although they would have rejected that term as setting themselves off from others too much – before, during, and I am sure after the neo-Pentecostal movement that were every bit as filled with the Spirit – without the hype.

The fact is that when the church or a church leader became involved with power, whether it be political (as Dante saw clearly in the end of the Purgatorio in the Divine Comedy) or miraculous/ spiritual power, they were (and are) at risk. Some handled it well, being as humble as bishops or abbots as they were before they were chosen for high position. Others were corrupted by money, honor, power (political or charismatic), or the pleasures that the former could give them access to. 

Basically, St John of the Cross put it well especially in his Ascent of Mt Carmel and in his Dark Night of the Soul: if one is seeking God with a mind fixed upon him and in obedience to his guidance, one will have “sensual experiences” stemming from the Spirit. These could be an ecstatic experience during worship or in private prayer, a miracle as one prayed for others, or a great number of conversions when one preached. One experienced God’s presence in an outward way. St John of the Cross’s instruction is to acknowledge God’s grace and then put such experiences into the “dark night of forgetfulness.” Do not pay much attention to them. Do not seek them. If you seek them, realize that the devil can counterfeit them and deceive you. Rather, putting them behind you in forgetfulness, continue to seek God in worship, prayer, fasting, and all humility. Indeed, as one goes on in the spiritual life, to assist one to progress, God will lead one into the “dark night of the senses” in which he withdraws such experiences so one will not become attached to them (this precedes the “dark night of the soul,” which only those God chooses enter).  

I chose St John of the Cross because he happens to be my most recent reading and one of my favorites. Any number of others could have been chosen. The fact is, that those who are truly spiritually great are only accidentally famous – they did not seek fame, they did not want to start a ministry, they simply wanted to humbly serve and obey God. Instead of seeking prominence, they, like St. Thomas Aquinas, when asked by God about what he wanted as a reward for his devoted service, answer, “Nothing but you, Lord, nothing but you.”

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