Soli Deo Gloria: “to God alone be the Glory.” J. S. Bach often wrote this (or its abbreviation “S.D.G.”) at the conclusion of his scores (secular as well as sacred). Also listen to parts two and three of this recording made at Pilgrimage Church Maria Himmelfahrt, Tading, Germany, 2005.

In a follow up to Jordan Ballor’s commentary last week, “Christian Giving Begins with the Local Church,” here is a related excerpt from Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the rise of Evangelical Conservatism. I will review the new book published by Norton in the next issue of Religion & Liberty and for the PowerBlog. The excerpt from Dochuk’s book is an excellent reflection of not just how the local church can fulfill their Gospel mandate to help the poor, but also empower and build the community:

The sense of community the Allens found in this congregation was deeper than anything found in Dodson. Theirs was not an uncommon experience. During the last stages of the Depression, southern evangelicals relied heavily on their churches for support of all kind. After moving from Oklahoma to Compton in the 1930s, Melvin Shahan, for instance, saw his parents falling into debt, even with his own weekly ten-dollar paycheck from Goodyear helping out. In response, the Shahans’ church organized a “pounding,” a ritual that saw congregants stock the pantry of a needy and unsuspecting friend with canned goods, preserves, and smoked meat. Melvin would later recall that such acts of kindness were facilitated in part because his neighbors lived so nearby, something he did not experience in Oklahama:

‘So many people there are at Guymon [Oklahoma] came from neighboring farmhouses out around town. When they came into town for the services, it was farther for them to drive than it was here [Compton] where people lived right in the immediate area of their church.’

For the Shahan family, the intimacy of the country church often idealized by those from the South was a reality not enjoyed until after arriving in Southern California. The same applied for the Allens. When wartime conditions sent fathers to the front and mothers to work, the congregants of Southern Missionary leaned especially hard on each other. Since women constituted a majority of church membership during these years, the onus for community fell on them. Churchwomen not only organized drives to increase Sunday attendance but also made sure that neighborhood families were provide with child care, transportation, and, when needed, financial support. For Marie Allen, whose family livelihood depended on her full-time work at a local defense plant, such neighborly assistance proved financially critical. More importantly, it strengthened the bonds of Christian sisterhood and her ties to the church family. (p.21)

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

U.S. Book of Common Prayer

Ghosts of Departed Usurers hand colored etching by John Leech (1809-1870) from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
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The Rome Reports news service has put together some video and text based on Acton’s Dec. 2 conference in Rome, Italy, “Ethics, Aging, and the Coming Healthcare Challenge” Acton has also created a special web page where you can download the speeches and presentations from the event. Report follows:

December 12, 2010. With people living longer than ever before, this has created certain challenges for society, the Church, and medicine in general. Many questions of ethics have also arisen in this area, that brought academics, clergy-members, and leaders from the around the world to meet at the forum: “Ethics, Aging, and the Coming Healthcare Challenge.”

Their aim was to address the ethical and economic issues concerning healthcare for the elderly.

Prof. Philip Booth, Institute for Economic Affairs (UK):
“We have a population that´s aging with, relatively speaking, a fewer number of young people and a larger number of older people. With health care costs rising and this could well be an enormous, well it will be an enormous burden on young people and young tax payers unless we revise our system of health care funding.”

The Acton Institute works to find a common ground between the interests of business and the interests of the individual. This seminar mainly focused on the topics of pharmaceutical research, healthcare infrastructure, and welfare reform.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President Acton Institute:
“Today we have an expansive conference dealing with health care especially as it relates to the aging population, so we´re having discussions about demography, the decline of birth rate, and the increase in longevity and all the economic and moral concerns that are emerging from this.”

The challenge is how to guarantee a peaceful and secure retirement to all people, something the conference spoke about in length.

Bishop Jean Laffitte, Secretary, Pontifical Council for the Family:

“Today’s conference was to sensitize the public, politicians, and the people here on a situation that necessitates urgent measures. The demographic crisis is something that is very important and together is a human, moral and even spiritual problem.”

The attendees of the conference hope to promote discussion between political and business leaders regarding the ethics of providing effective healthcare. In an effort to fuse together good economics and smart policies toward healthcare.

My favorite pair of glasses has a scratched lens (despite the much vaunted “no-scratch” coating). So, I went to Lenscrafters to get the lens replaced. They asked me when I got the prescription. It turns out it was a little over a year ago. ”I’m sorry,” the woman at Lenscrafters tells me, “but we cannot replace the lens because your prescription has expired.”

Let’s review the situation. I have a scratched lens in a pair of glasses which are working very well for me. I can see perfectly clearly with the current prescription which is now just a little over a year old. State law prohibits Lenscrafters from replacing the lens. It is apparently ILLEGAL to replace a lens with a prescription older than 12 months.

Now, who benefits from a law of this type? Is it the consumer? No. Is it Lenscrafters? Not necessarily. They lost the opportunity to charge me for a replacement lens, though they may do better from me having to buy new glasses. But the biggest beneficiary is optometrists. Thanks to the law causing prescriptions to LEGALLY expire, I MUST go to an optometrist to solve my problem. Through legal (and therefore coercive) means, the optometrists have made themselves necessary gatekeepers to me resolving my personal vision issues even though I already have a prescription that works well.

Law is supposed to be made for the common good. But what we miss is that the government is an excellent instrument for profit seeking through regulation. If you make the government too big and too important, a variety of interests will go to the government to find a way to make their money instead of making it through customer service, innovation, etc..

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
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Rev. Daniel Meeter, pastor in the Reformed Church of America (RCA), writing in the Reformed journal Perspectives, “Observations on the World Communion of Reformed Churches”:

My participation at Johannesburg is the reason I was an observer at the General Council, and why I was assigned to the General Council’s committee on Accra (though there were many other committees and a host of workshops that interested me, from worship to theology to inter-faith dialogue). Our committee was huge: sixty people or so. We eventually divided into table groups, and I was a pinchhit table leader. My table included Taiwanese, Chinese, Filipinos, and Indonesians. Our tables were charged to come up with a variety of responses to Accra, such as actions and outcomes or further work on its content and theology. Our responses were recorded and two delegates were appointed to consolidate them into a report to the plenary. I had to leave before the report was made, so I look forward to reading the minutes of when they come out.

One of the table groups reported that a key outcome was that the main concern of the WCRC in general should be “social justice.” The reporter was from a church that had belonged to WARC. This worries me. It suggests to me that this WARC delegate was not talking to REC delegates. It also worries me because I suspect the view that the main concern of the WCRC should be “social justice” is more widely held. Here is my second observation: this is going to be a problem for the WCRC. I hope the executive committee can direct a more holistic kind of ecumenism for the WCRC. (Would there was a Hungarian on the committee.)

I don’t mean to be flippant, but “social justice” is the main concern of civil government, not the church. This is an example of the politicization of Christian witness on both left and right which James Davison Hunter analyzes in his new book, To Change The World (Oxford, 2010). It is certainly true that on such issues the church is responsible to be prophetic in speech and active in demonstrating a just and wholesome life in real and even institutional ways, but to consider this the main concern of a church body is to miss the main concern of a church body. Unfortunately, this is not rare among the churches of the WCRC, the most Protestant and secularized of the world ecumenical groups, and with the weakest common ecclesiology.

I want to be clear that I think it’s right for the WCRC to be focused on the Accra issues (while the Anglican Communion is preoccupied with the sexuality of its bishops). I believe that justice in the economy and the earth is the great issue of our time, and critical to the church’s credibility. But it seems to me that the Reformed tradition can do better than “social justice”–to the actual benefit of social justice. It seems to me that the main concern of the WCRC is the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or in classic terms, the Sovereignty of God, or in gospel terms, the Kingdom of God or the Reign of God. As the Belhar says, “Jesus is Lord,” and this makes all the difference for justice in the world and in the human race. Making some version of the Kingdom of God the main concern of the WCRC will also provide a place for such other concerns as worship, doctrine, ecumenical dialogue, and inter-faith dialogue. Otherwise, the WCRC will have no right to consider itself a “communion” instead of just a big religious NGO.

As they said, read the whole thing. And for an engagement of the Accra Confession and the WCRC within the broader ecumenical context, see my book released earlier this year, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

I assert the existence of the “ecumenical-industrial complex” in my book Ecumenical Babel.

On that point, this bears watching: “Ecumenical news agency suspended, editors removed.”

From the piece:

Earlier this year the WCC, which has been ENI’s main funder and in whose headquarters the agency was based, said it was reducing its financial support for 2011 by over 50 percent.

The WCC is an umbrella body linking Protestant and Orthodox churches around the globe. An acting spokesman for the organisation told Reuters on Monday that the funding decision was “part of a broad redeployment of WCC resources” and had been a “key element in decisions related to the re-shaping of ENI.”

The cash cut came in the wake of complaints by the WCC’s former Kenyan general secretary Samuel Kobia of “inaccuracy” and “sensationalism” in coverage of the body by ENI — which had run reports from an authoritative German religious news service that he had falsely claimed an academic degree.

That doesn’t make for a very merry Christmas for all the ENI staff affected by the cuts.

The full official ENI story related to the “restructuring” after the break. (more…)

Over at Mere Comments, and following up on this week’s Acton Commentary, “Christian Giving Begins with the Local Church,” I discuss some reasons why Christian giving doesn’t end there.

It’s vitally important, I think, to distinguish between the church as institution and the church as organism.

In this week’s “Two Minute Warning,” Chuck Colson shows that “work is something we are all called to do, using our gifts to God’s glory.”



Work: The Meaning of Your LifeAs a special offer this week, the Colson Center is giving away complimentary copies of Lester DeKoster’s little classic on this subject, Work: The Meaning of Your Life—A Christian Perspective from Christian’s Library Press. Be sure to sign up at the Colson Center website for your free copy, and order a copy or two for important people in your life who could use some perspective on the importance of their work to God.

Where we serve others through our work we are serving God. That is the central insight of DeKoster’s book. He writes that “a right view of work becomes the key to a satisfying life, as it now looks to me. And whenever, and wherever, I see people working—at any kind of work, such as head or hand, blue-collar or white-collar, trade or profession—I want to shout out the good news: This gives meaning to your life! Right here! Right now!”

See also, “Work and the Two Great Love Commandments.”