Acton On The AirDr. Donald Condit joined host Drew Mariani on the Relevant Radio Network to discuss the positives aspects of end-of-life planning as well as the troubling issues surrounding end-of-life care under government health care systems. Dr. Condit is an orthopedic surgeon and the author of Acton’s monograph on health care reform, entitled A Prescription for Health Care Reform and available in the Acton Bookshoppe; he has also authored a number of commentaries on health care for Acton and other organizations; his most recent commentary can be read right here. And don’t forget to check out Acton.org’s special section on Christians and Health Care for a wealth of related information.

To listen to Dr. Condit’s 20 minute interview with Drew Mariani, use the audio player below.

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We have tried to raise awareness of the persecution and violence Coptic Christians face in Egypt and around the world at the Acton Institute and in the pages of Religion & Liberty. On New Year’s Day, a suicide-bomber killed 21 Coptic Christians as they left al-Qiddisin Church in the port city of Alexandria, Egypt. On the heels of the attack, news reports have surfaced that al-Qaeda lists Coptic Churches in the Netherlands as targets for their terror. CNN also reports that Coptic Churches across Europe are on alert because of the attack in Alexandria. The same Islamist website that called for the attack on the church in Alexandria also list Coptic Churches in England, France, and Germany as targets to blow up during the Christmas celebration. Copts celebrate Christmas on January 7.

In last year’s Winter issue of Religion & Liberty, we interviewed Nina Shea who spoke at length on the perilous situation of Egypt’s Coptic Christians as well as persecution of Christians around the globe. She also provided additional statements on violence against Copts previously on the PowerBlog. Just yesterday, Shea weighed in on the recent attack in Alexandria at The Corner over at National Review.

In my own commentary I asked “Will America Help the Persecuted Copts of Egypt?” Certainly, we need more action from our own State Department in the United States and our ambassador to Egypt. I also added a post on the Coptic issue highlighting some of my own experiences with Coptic Christians when I lived in Egypt.

The Egyptian government has been entirely absent in responding to human rights for Copts. It has also been well chronicled that the government in Egypt is often complicit in the persecution. It is time for that practice to end and hopefully our own government will champion the human rights cause of Coptic Christians and help to alleviate their suffering.

The Acton Commentary this week from my friend John Teevan compares church budgets to government budgets, and what “government thinking” might look like if it were reflected in charitable and ecclesiastical budgeting. He writes, “If we think the government is the best source of compassion for the needy and the engine of economic growth, then it makes sense to set taxes at high rates so the government can do all good things for the people.”

On that point, over at Evangelical Perspective Collin Brendemuehl asks some salient questions in comparing government welfare to private charity.

Is the government 50% efficient? 75% efficient? I can’t venture a guess. But apparently neither can the bureaucrats. But even so, is it a stretch to say that the government is more than likely much less efficient than these charities? Not a tough one, really. Though government has the advantage of being in tough with society on a broader scale, it is also much less capable at targeting specific needs in a short amount of time. Anyone remember how fast Feed the Children and others got into New Orleans ahead of government? They were there faster, with just as much material, and actually met needs. (They did not randomly hand out $2,000 debit cards without accounting.)

Now that’s not to say that efficiency is the only valid factor to consider when evaluating charities or government programs. But it is an important factor and has to do with meeting one’s obligations as a steward of other people’s money or property. It’s in this sense that, as Collin writes, “Government is a servant. At least it ought to be.”

On the question of giving to charities and churches, D. G. Hart has raised this question of extra-ecclesiastical giving in a couple of posts over at Old Life. My final commentary of 2010 made the point that “Christian Giving Begins with the Local Church.” But as I said in a follow-up post over at Mere Comments, I don’t think Christian giving ends there. I wonder why Hart has focused so much on The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, and Redeemer City to City in particular. It seems his critique would apply equally as well to other organizations like the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and Ligonier Ministries.

News from the Acton Institute:

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty is joining forces with Refo500, a project that aims to bring international attention to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Leading up to the anniversary in 2017 of Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses, Refo500 is engaging with a variety of partner organizations to promote the importance of the Reformation period and its relevance for today’s world.

“Refo500 has the potential to help Acton bring its message about the relationship between faith and freedom to a broad and diverse audience around the globe,” said Dr. Stephen J. Grabill, director of programs at the Acton Institute. “The ecumenical vision of Refo500, which broadly encompasses the time period and is not merely a narrow confessional project, shows why the Reformation was so important in the shaping of the modern world.” He points to, for instance, the important contributions of the Roman Catholic School of Salamanca to the development of modern economic thought, as well as the legacies of the Protestant Reformers on doctrinal, political, and ethical matters.

The themes of the Refo500 project, which include “Money and Power,” “Art and Culture,” and “Freedom and Preaching,” resonate with the Acton Institute’s mission to promote a society characterized by freedom and virtue. The aims of Refo500 are also consistent with the institute’s work in creating The Birth of Freedom documentary and curriculum products for the importance of communicating the roots of freedom in Western civilization.

Lord Acton, the nineteenth-century British historian for whom the institute is named, was particularly clear about the significance of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for the development of limits on political power. “From that time it became possible to make politics a matter of principle and of conscience, so that men and nations differing in all other things could live in peace together, under the sanctions of a common law,” he wrote in his essay, “The History of Freedom in Christianity.”

“Refo500 is excited to welcome the Acton Institute into partnership,” said Refo500 project director Dr. Herman Selderhuis. “Acton’s significant achievements on a variety of levels, from academic publications, to popular writings, to film and social media, connect well with the comprehensive vision of the Refo500 project.”

Next year Refo500 will be involved in observing the 450th anniversary of the publication of the Heidelberg Catechism, including a conference held in the Johannes a Lasco Library Emden (Germany), March 3-5, 2011. The Acton Institute will also be publishing a translation of a section of Abraham Kuyper’s commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism in its Journal of Markets & Morality later in the year. There are also plans for Acton Institute scholars to take an active role in participating in the Reformation Research Group (RefoRG), the academic section of Refo500. RefoRG will hold its first conference June 8-10, 2011, in Zurich and will be hosted by the Institut für Schweizerische Reformationsgeschichte on the theme, “The Myth of the Reformation.”

For more information visit:

http://www.acton.org/Refo500

http://www.Refo500.com

Christianity Today has named the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization at Cape Town one of the top news stories of 2010:

Thousands of global evangelical leaders gather in Cape Town to discuss missions, highlight evangelicalism’s global diversity, pray for religious liberty, and build relationships that will likely bear unexpected fruit in the decades to come.

Check out some of the resources from the Acton Institute related to Cape Town 2010:

Blog author: jcouretas
Saturday, December 25, 2010
By

L’Accorche-Choeur, Ensemble vocal Fribourg. Veni, Veni Emmanuel is a synthesis of the great “O Antiphons” that are used for Vespers during the octave before Christmas (Dec. 17-23). These antiphons are of ancient origin and date back to at least the ninth century.

Blog author: jcouretas
Saturday, December 25, 2010
By

Our Savior, the Dayspring from the East,
has visited us from on high,
and we who were in darkness and shadow
have found the truth;
for the Lord is born from the Virgin
(Exaposteilarion, tone 3)

The video features the Romeiko Ensemble, a Byzantine choir, performing hymns for the Feast of the Nativity in 2006 at the Hellenic Library in Athens, Greece. About those Byzantine brims:

The cantors (psaltes) wore wide-brimmed hats (skiadion) or tall “bullet” hats (skaranikon) and dressed in special cloaks (kamision and phelonion) girded with a belt (sfiktourion). This cantors’ costume tradition was lost after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 leaving the cantor dressed only with a black robe (rason) of the Eastern Church. However, for the first time since the Fall, Yorgos Bilalis has joined forces with costume designer Fatima Lavor-Peters to recreate these Byzantine vestments as they are described in several treatises or depicted on Byzantine frescoes and manuscript miniatures.

More on worship in the early Church here on the Liturgica.com site.

Blog author: jballor
Saturday, December 25, 2010
By

Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 24, 2010
By

In his annual Christmas commentary, Rev. Robert A. Sirico examines the meaning of a season “prompted by the very Incarnation of God’s Love, a love that goes beyond words, but rather is a Word – the Logos – that became flesh.” A shorter version of this article was published on Dec. 21 in the Detroit News. Sign up for the free, weekly email newsletter Acton News & Commentary here.

The ‘Small’ God Who Brought Heaven Down to Earth

By Rev. Robert A. Sirico

Some years ago I found myself at a fashionable dinner party in Los Angeles where the lamb was roasted to perfection, and the deep, rich red Australian wine complimented it to a tee. The conversation around the dinner table was likewise high-minded and it did not take this largely secular gathering very long to turn their attention to the Christian sitting in their midst. With all the graciousness and condescension she could muster, my dining companion turned to me and said, “I am not a believer, of course, but I have long admired your Church’s care for the poor and suffering and the generosity and effectiveness of your social agencies who tend to human needs without regard to the belief or non-belief of the recipient.”

Had she stopped there I would have humbly received her acknowledgement and we might have moved on to the dessert in the same spirit of conviviality we had begun. It was when she smiled, drew a breath and said, “Yet — ” that I knew all had not been said that needed saying from her perspective.

“Yet,” she continued, “how is it that Christianity, whose priests invented the scientific method, and who built the institutions of the hospital and university, can hold to the idea of such a small God?”

The pugnacious New Yorker in me wanted to reply to the effect that, “Well even a small God is bigger than no god.” But I knew that would not go down well, and that the issue was not about “size” after all, but about meaning and, ultimately, Truth.

Feeling something like I imagined Flannery O’Connor did when confronted with collapsed-Catholic Mary McCarthy’s observation about the Eucharist as a impressive symbol, O’Connor retorted, “Well, if it’s just a symbol, I say to hell with it.”

Instead I swirled my shiraz and asked, “Whatever do you mean?”

She responded: “Well, all this stuff about God being born as a baby. This business about the ineffable inhabiting time and space. It just seems so small, so concrete, so … improbable.”

The lady had it right, or more precisely, she had it half right. The doctrine of the Incarnation is indeed a scandal, not to say improbable, to the modern mind that does not yet grasp the immensity of the concept or the enormity of its impact on all that would follow from it throughout history from that first Christmas to this one.

That the eternal God should deign to co-mingle in time and space with humanity does tell us something, not about the ‘smallness’ of God, but about the inestimable dignity of the human person who is created in the image of the Lord of History. Thus it tells us about the importance of human history to eternity; of the relation of the visible world to the invisible one; and of the way the mortal life we each live here and now determines our immortal destiny.

This season, which pulsates with nostalgia, memory, sadness as well as with a deep and abiding sense of profound joy and human meaning – and does it all at once – is a season prompted by the very Incarnation of God’s Love, a love that goes beyond words, but rather is a Word – the Logos – that became flesh.

It is for this very reason that the Christian faith which emerges from this proclamation about God’s entrance into the human condition, could build institutions and cultures aimed at concretely reverencing each and every human person from the very first moment of their existence in the womb, in all their vulnerability and potential, without regard to their ethnicity or some other accidental factor. It is the belief stipulated in that memorable passage from Ecclesiastes (3:11): “He has … set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

This idea can easily be dismissed by armchair sociologists and village atheists as the ranting of a Christian who presumes his message of the enfleshment of God to be true and therefore universally appealing.

But more than appealing it is compelling. As it was to my non-believing dinner companion who, in admiring the social consequences of institutional Christianity (from the university education she received that enabled her to articulate her critique in the first place, to the transforming of personal almsgiving into the massive worldwide network of social care and education, and even to the moral and justifiable denunciations against Christians for their failures to live up to the demands of the Gospel) she was in some inchoate way acknowledging the core idea of Christmas: that in the fullness of time, Heaven came down to earth to reveal man to himself and invite him to the simple, discrete yet world-changing concept of love.