Tag Archives: church

Galatians, Adoption, and Unity vs. Division

worldI took Mom to church for the first time in a while. She turned 90 last month and her Alzheimer’s isn’t going to get better, but as long as I’m with her and we take her walker, she’s okay.

The pastor gave a sermon on Galatians, which was the typical sermon on Galatians for the most part (and believe me, I’ve had plenty of experience struggling with that epistle).

He did say a few different things though. The first was that he and his wife adopted three sisters, which I thought was terrific. So many of the opponents of Christianity, particularly those who are “pro-choice” complain that while Christians want to save lives from being aborted in the womb, we don’t care about what happens to kids afterwards. Adoption is one of the ways to care for kids afterwards.

The other thing he said had to do with identity, and yes, he brought up (among other things) gender identity. Of course he also brought up law vs. grace as if non-Jews could ever have been “under the law” in the first place, but I set that aside because I’m way past arguing about it.

But then:

Continue reading Galatians, Adoption, and Unity vs. Division

Easter this year face to face

policeMy elderly Mom lives in an independent home and of course, their restrictions for the residents has been rather tight. It meant, among other things, that I couldn’t take her to church every Sunday. In fact, she hadn’t been to church for a year.

Suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and macular degeneration, she can’t use a computer to attend services online. She can’t even read the Bible. About the best she could do was to find a Christian music television station and listen to hymns.

However, recently her facility eased up, and now I can take her out and bring her back without them putting her under quarantine. I got online and saw the church I take her to was holding in-person Palm Sunday services. I couldn’t get through to the church office by phone to confirm but made plans to take her anyway.

Mom was thrilled.

When we got there, only a few cars were in the parking lot. I thought I’d misunderstood the service time or sometime.

As it turned out, this was the very first time the church opened their doors for in-person services in months and I think a lot folks were hesitant to show up. Up until that Sunday, the Pastor had been recording sermons on his computer for the parishioners to access. More people started to filter in as the service began, but the crowd that day was still a bit thin.

It was even more exciting that they said masks were optional. So Mom and I “opted.” It was very liberating. That might freak a few of you out, but it felt really nice to have a choice.

They didn’t have the typical “shake your neighbor’s hand,” which was fine with me since, as a life long introvert, I can do without the “meet and greet.” Also, they just put a plate on a stool in front and anyone who wanted to donate could go up at any time during service and do so.

I have a love/hate relationship with Easter for a lot of reasons. All things considered, I’d rather celebrate Passover over Easter. On the other hand, it is the height of the Christian religious calendar, so I don’t support throwing Easter under a bus either. Especially when I know how much going to church means to Mom.

Mom wasn’t the only one looking forward to the Christian holiday season. Churches all over my little corner of Idaho have suffered for not being able to hold in-person services. Last Easter, our state’s governor issued a “stay at home” order right before Easter, so all services were virtual.

This year, all these same churches pulled out the stops in their planning to provide an in-person Easter.

Here’s a quote from that news article:

“I anticipate it will be a pretty emotional day tomorrow,” he [Reverend Duane Anders] said. “I’m a pretty emotional guy myself, I will probably cry through the whole service, just gathering, hearing people sing even with their masks on.”

For Foothills Christian Church in Garden City, however, in-person services never went away.

“I think that in-person services are critically important because it’s who we are as human beings,” Pastor Doug Peake said.

Unfortunately, not all Christians have the same sort of freedom. In the story Police break up Good Friday church service over apparent Covid rule breaches, police in south London broke up a Good Friday service over “apparent breaches of Covid-19 regulations.”

The video shows an officer telling the congregation that they could be fined £200 or arrested for the potential rule-breaking. He said: “This gathering is unfortunately unlawful under the coronavirus regulations we have currently. I suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that though it is Good Friday, and I appreciate you would like to worship, that this gathering is unlawful, so please may you leave the building now. Thank you.”

A statement posted on the church’s website on Saturday said that they complied with the order to close the service and for people to go home, but insisted it had met all government requirements. It claimed the Met officers had misunderstood regulations on church services during the pandemic.

Fortunately, it looks like the church is going to formally complain because they believe they complied with all of the stated regulations.

And things in Ireland seem even more heavy handed.

I realize there’s a certain risk in meeting in person, especially if you’re part of the older population. In Mom’s church, masks were optional and some people wore them while others didn’t. The Pastor wore his when he was near people but took it off to deliver his sermon. On Palm Sunday, only a single singer/guitar player provided music, but today the choir and small band did so. None of them wore masks.

Worshiping together, as Pastor Peake stated, is very human. It’s not a license to be stupid or to ignore either medical evidence or common sense, but at some point, something’s got to give. If that London Catholic church wasn’t able to have a Good Friday service, I certainly hope they still got a face-to-face Easter.

At the end of the day, our relationship with God is personal, just between each of us and Him. But we are commanded to worship together, to support one another, to visit the sick, feed the hungry, support the lonely and grieving. At some point, we have to come together to do that.

The Consequences of Trinity Sunday

ChurchI had no idea there was such a thing as Trinity Sunday until I was sitting in a little, local Lutheran church with my Mom last Sunday and the Pastor was preaching on it. I guess it’s a “thing,” just like Reformation Day, which I’d never heard of either until several years ago. Seriously, I know more about the Jewish religious calendar than the Christian version.

I checked this with my friend Tom earlier today, who had never heard of it either, and he’s been a Christian a lot longer than I have.

Anyway, part of the service included the congregation reciting the Athanasian Creed, which is Christianity’s formal codification of the doctrine of the Trinity, and this supposedly can be traced back to the 6th century CE.

However, the Pastor actually preached about the Nicene Creed, including presenting a pretty sanitized version of the Emperor Constantine.

Apparently, it all began with a 4th century CE presbyter and ascetic (and also a heretic according to Pastor) named Arius, who taught that God the Father was superior to the Son, and that Jesus was a created being like the angels. There’s a Biblical basis for this found in Proverbs 8, but I won’t get into the details.

Apparently, in the first few centuries of the (Gentile) Christian church, there was a lot of disagreement over the nature and character of God and the relationship of God the Father to both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know):

Arius is notable primarily because of his role in the Arian controversy, a great fourth-century theological conflict that led to the calling of the first ecumenical council of the Church. This controversy centered upon the nature of the Son of God, and his precise relationship to God the Father. Before the council of Nicaea, the Christian world knew several competing Christological ideas. Church authorities condemned some of these ideas but did not put forth a uniform formula. The Nicaean formula was a rapidly concluded solution to the general Christological debate.

Long story short, Constantine got all the Bishops together (I am severely oversimplifying all of this) to hammer out these issues, and they eventually concluded with the Trinity as we have the doctrine today.

I’m probably going to make a lot of people mad at me, but it seems that between Biblical canon and the present day Church, a bunch of religious authorities got together and decided the exact nature and character of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, the so-called Church Fathers got a few things wrong, in my humble opinion, such as supersessionism or replacement theology. I mean if they could reinvent the nature of Gentile faith in the Jewish Messiah King to eliminate the nation of Israel and the Jewish people, why should I believe they didn’t get the Trinity wrong, too?

See? I told you I’d make people mad. But it gets worse.

Why is the codification of the Trinity any different than the Jewish codification of halakah in Talmud? Okay, I probably just got myself in trouble on a number of levels, but please, give me enough rope to hang myself with. Christianity likes to think of itself as relatively tradition free compared to Judaism, but it seems to me that there are some similarities, at least in terms of process.

You have ancient Christian counsels that got together and defined all kinds of things about Christian belief and praxis, and you have ancient Jewish authorities that got together and (more or less) did the same thing about Jewish belief and praxis. Christians say they are “Bible-believing” and are led to interpret scripture by the Holy Spirit (also “scripture interprets scripture”), but really, what Christians believe and do today, especially relative to the Trinity doctrine, was decided centuries after the last book of the Bible was added, and more centuries after the Gentile Church divorced itself from the original Judaism.

In other words, it may well be that the Apostle Paul had no idea that Jesus was supposed to be the second person of the Godhead.

I know the Pastor of the church I take Mom to every Sunday would call me a heretic too, most Christians would, but how sure are we that we have a Triune God? Just asking.

One More Time Back at Church

ChurchI’m sure my regular readers have noticed that I rarely post missives here anymore. There are a lot of reasons for that, including the feeling that I’ve said just about everything I have to say about faith, God, and a non-Jew’s bent toward Jewish learning and worship.

However, changes and challenges continue to come my way. My Dad passed away over two years ago, and even then, my Mom’s memory was beginning to fail. Today, her dementia is quite pronounced and for over a year and a half, she’s been living in an independent residential facility, which has worked out well for her.

However, she was in Southwestern Utah, where she and Dad had decided to retire many years ago, while I live in Idaho and my brother lives in Virginia. It was a nine hour drive one way just for my wife and me to visit her.

Mom’s support continued to dwindle as her peers either moved away or passed away, and especially without Dad, she became very lonely. I finally convinced her to move to Boise so we could be near her and she could see us as well as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My wife and I researched support systems here and found a very nice independent living home just 15 minutes away from where we live.

With her memory and judgment continuing to deteriorate, she’s had a tough time adjusting, but then, it’s only been about two weeks since she’s arrived. There have been a number of hurtles to cross and we’re managing them as best we can.

One of the commitments I made to Mom was that I would find a Lutheran church for her and go with her to services every Sunday. I haven’t regularly attended church services in almost five years, ever since this happened. I never saw myself worshiping with traditional Christians ever again, but now, I go with Mom.

I took her for the first time last Sunday. She seemed to enjoy it, although she said the sermon was a bit long (I actually enjoyed it for the most part, though mentally, I was making little notes about how it could have been better). She even took communion (I called the church ahead of time and they said it was okay).

I’m taking her again this morning, hence my blog post.

It’s a nice place, relatively small and informal. The pastor and the church have a child-focused ministry, particularly regarding chronically ill children and those in the child welfare system. Not too many older folks at the later service, and when I did my research, I found they don’t have anything senior focused including any outreach.

At Mom’s church in Utah, when Dad was alive, they were very involved, had tons of friends, and participated in a lot of activities. Just before we moved Mom up here, she knew the Pastor and had one of Dad’s old friends give her rides to and from Sunday services, but that was about it (and the so-called “friend” of Dad’s turned out to be a bit of a snake, but that’s another story).

At her current residential home, there are plenty of activities, and thus opportunities for Mom to socialize as long as she takes advantage of them, but if we just go for Sunday services, we’ll arrive, worship, and then leave. No socializing, and Mom really needs to connect with folks.

I’ve thought about taking her to Sunday school before services, but between her dementia and macular degeneration in one eye, she neither reads well nor is able to retain what she reads for more than a minute or so. She wouldn’t even be able to follow along with a Bible study since, in any given conversation, I usually have to answer the same question five or six times or more since she forgets that she’s asked and that I’ve responded.

I know one of the reasons Mom likes the idea of me taking her to church is that it gets me into a church. However, in spite of her intentions, I’m going this time around only for her sake, which means, even if I were to go to a class with her, I’d be keeping my big mouth shut, something I didn’t do the last time I was “churched.”

I don’t know how this is going to work out in the long run, but as long as Mom wants to go to church on Sunday’s, I’ll take her.

I’ve looked at the church’s events calendar online, but besides a Quilter’s Group, there isn’t much for women, plus Mom doesn’t quilt. There’s actually more activities for men and a bunch for kids, but nowhere to plug Mom in.

I’m writing this to “think out loud,” so to speak. Beyond that, I don’t have much of a point.

I sometimes find it amazing and daunting that I’m actually attending services again, but it’s only to serve Mom.

Well, maybe I’ll take a few notes during the sermon just to see what turns up.

How is Messianic Judaism “Trending?”

the crowdMy stats say this blog has a little over 900 followers and while that doesn’t put me anywhere in the same neighborhood as TechCrunch, it does mean that at least potentially, a few people out there are visiting and reading my content (and thank you for doing so, especially since I don’t post here nearly as frequently as I have in the past).

In answering a comment on my previous missive, I found myself wondering about the current state of Messianic Judaism (or whatever you want to call it) and whether or not it is growing, shrinking, or just holding steady. That is, how is MJ “trending” in terms of population?

It’s the sort of question I’d love to dig into but I haven’t the faintest idea where to go to find valid numbers. I know there are probably individual Messianic organizations that likely keep track of their numbers, but I can’t think of any one central repository that could tell me if MJ is gaining or losing ground.

Why should I care?

Because I wonder how many people there are out in the world like me.

I once belonged to a private Facebook group made up of Christians who are “unchurched.” The term “unchurched” usually means people who don’t go to church, but in this context it describes Christians who remain in the faith but who no longer attend a formal congregation. Usually they meet in small, home groups because “church” in one way or another, no longer suits their needs.

I left that Facebook group when I saw them using the Bible to somehow justify that large, organized bodies of believers isn’t supported by scripture. Of course, I had to bring in Temple worship, plus the system of synagogues that existed during Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) “earthly ministry” which even Rav Yeshua attended.

I got a lot of blowback and I know how much fun that is from maintaining a presence in the religious blogosphere for so many years, so I dropped that association like an angry rattlesnake.

I have lots and lots of reasons for not being involved in any sort of faith community anymore, some are relative to theology and doctrine and some are personal. One has to do with being intermarried to a Jewish spouse and how my affiliation with organized Christianity (including the Messianic movement) impacts her. No, she’d never say I couldn’t worship as I see fit, but we’ve been married nearly thirty-five years and I can tell how my “praying with the enemy” (metaphorically speaking) affects her.

Every once in a blue moon I catch myself missing such congregational meetings, but in the end, the liabilities involved still outweigh the benefits.

How many others who have previously been regularly involved and integrated into some sort of formal Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots group have since dropped away to march to the beat of their own drummer? Believe me, I can see why folks would fall away, either to go back to the normative Church or to attend no congregation at all, but how can we find out about them?

Of course this begs the larger question of the state of Christianity. Is the normative Church shrinking? If so, then maybe a shrinking Messianic movement (though I have no idea if it is shrinking) is understandable in that context.

A quick Google search wasn’t particularly illuminating.

The Washington Post published a January 2017 article called Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving but Thom S. Rainer’s blog (President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources) posted a September 2016 blog post titled Five Reasons Churches are Dying and Declining Faster Today. ChurchLeaders.com produced a December 2017 article that was way too long but reported mixed trends depending on location and church size, and The Gospel Coalition created a March 2015 “fact checker” that seemed to say conservative churches weren’t growing as fast as they once were but were still growing, while “mainline” churches which had strayed away from “Biblical Christianity” were on the decline.

However that’s normative Christianity, not Messianic Judaism.

So does anyone really know how MJ is doing and if so, what’s your source of information?

The Devil Made Me Do It Redux

Over three years ago, as part of my “church experience,” I wrote this blog post illustrating how many churches (including the one I was attending at the time) emphasize the influence of an external tormentor who causes them to sin over their own personal responsibility. I highlighted the fact, using multiple examples, that the Bible emphasizes that we are accountable to God for our actions and that blaming HaSatan (the Adversary) is no excuse.

I was reminded of this again while listening to Christian radio this week. All they talk about is Satan, Satan, Satan, and how if we’re not careful, we’ll fall into one of his traps.

But what about the traps we set for ourselves? I don’t think our external Adversary needs all that much help when after all, most people are their (our) own worst enemies. Just food for thought.

calvin-and-hobbes-devil
Calvin and Hobbes