On The Outside, Looking In

Filed in ReligionTags: Christianity, Missouri, Saint Louis

You know, moving to St. Louis some three years ago has been an educational experience in so many ways. St. Louis remains very much an old-fashioned, blue-collar, labor-friendly city. St. Louis has two very strong religious identities: Roman Catholic and Lutheran. These religious identities are due, in large part, to the very strong ethnic identities with which St. Louis is blessed. One such ethnic identity - the Polish immigrants of the St. Stanislaus Kostka parish - are in the midst of a legal battle with the St. Louis archdiocese that is painful and saddening to witness.

St. Stanislaus is unique in that it was granted a "perpetual charter" to control the property and assets through a board of directors. The St. Louis archdiocese has been attempting to gain control of the parish's $9 Million in assets, having no legal, moral, or other authority or power to do so. The dispute has escalated from the archdiocese removing the parish's priest, to the parish independently hiring its own priest, to the archdiocese excommunicating said priest along with the entire board of directors and declaring all religious rites performed at the parish to be "illicit", to the parish continuing to hold mass and perform religious rites in defiance of the archdiocese's edicts, to the archdiocese removing the parish from the archdiocese altogether.

The reaction of Saint Louisans has been divided, perhaps even hotly, with support for both St. Stanislaus (more) and the archdiocese of St. Louis (more). Of course, both the archdiocese and the parish have their own side of the dispute.

At least at this point, I am somewhat dispassionate with respect to the legal dispute. Others much more well-versed in the details can offer much more meaningful opinions. The issue I have a problem with, though, is the archdiocese excommunicating the priest, board of directors, and essentially the parish itself over a legal dispute. (I question the right of anyone other than the Holy Spirit to "excommunicate" anyone, but that is another matter altogether.) The idea that such a legal dispute could be grounds for moral action does not appear to be consistent with my understanding of the Bible. For the archdiocese to claim that participants in a so-called "illicit" mass are placing themselves in danger of "mortal sin" is preposterous. The mass worships and glorifies God, regardless of whether or not one recognized as an "official" priest officiates it. (Of course, again, my reading of I Peter 2:9 tells me that there is no longer any separation between laity and priesthood - so my bias is obviously against the Roman Catholic position here.)

Yes, I am extremely bothered that I am forbidden to participate in communion (eucharist) if I attend Roman Catholic mass. We profess faith in the same Christ, and claim righteousness through that same faith. What about "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace"? Would the Roman Catholic church consider my Catholic friends to be in danger of "mortal sin" if they attended a service at my non-Roman Catholic church? That very thought is preposterous. I would not join those protestants who think that Catholics are "non-Christian" or "unsaved"; to me, anyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ, and claims salvation from sins through that faith alone, is my brother (or sister) in Christ.

Among my observations of being a Saint Louisan for better than three years now is that this city is fragmented and segregated - ideology, ethnicity, even neighborhoods - more than any city I've ever known. Identity is not so much as a Saint Louisan as a member of a neighborhood community (of which there are too many to list here). It is extremely disappointing that the same segregation appears in the Christian community in Saint Louis. I pray for the unity of the city - but my prayer is first for the unity of the Church of Saint Louis. And I pray that I will have the opportunity to participate in bringing about the reconciliation so desparately needed.

OYB: January 6

Filed in ReligionTags: Christianity, Devotions, One Year Bible

Today's reading:

OT: Genesis 13:5-18, Genesis 14, Genesis 15

NT: Matthew 5:27-48

Ps: Psalm 6

Pr: Proverbs 1:29-33

Today's notable verse:

Bit I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain onthe righteous and the unrighteous.

Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV)

The One Year Bible Blog notes:

In verses 17 through 20 in chapter 14 we read about Melchizedek. And I definitely would like to get others opinions on this - Who was Melchizedek? The reason I ask this question is due to Hebrews Chapter 7...I guess my thinking currently is that Melchizedek was a very great priest - but I'm not sure he was Jesus Christ preincarnate? But, again, I'm willing to listen to others on your thoughts on this. My thoughts on this is that Hebrews 7 seems to be saying that Jesus is "like" or "in the order" of Melchizedek - but not quite saying Jesus is Melchizedek. I read there are 4 basic theories on who Melchizedek is - 1. simply a king of Salem and Abram was showing him respect, 2. Melchizedek was a standard title for the kings of Salem. 3. He was a "type of Christ" and he illustrates a lesson about Christ. or 4. He was Jesus preincarnate in a temporary body form. So - whaddya think?

"in the order of Melchizedek" (Heb. 6:20 NIV) - or more literally, "according to the order of Melchizedek" (Heb. 6:20 NASB). The Hebrew word translated as "in" or "according to" is kata, which means, "down, against, according to." The Hebrew word translated as "order" is taxis, which means "an arranging, order" and derivates from the root tasso which means "to draw up in order, arrange." Thus, the Scripture is not referring to "order" as a group (religious order, or group) but as an arranging (order of events) or type (similarity). Hebrews indicates that Melchizedek symbolized and foreshadowed several things about the Christ, including (regurgitating liberally from my BSF homework of a few weeks ago):

  • Both are King of Salem (Jerusalem) - which means "king of peace"
  • Both are a priest of God Most High
  • Melchizedek means "king of righteousness"
  • Both are without beginning of days or end of life
  • Both remain a priest forever
  • Both blessed Abraham
  • Abraham tithed (gave 10 percent to) Melchizedek, establishing the tithe to Christ

Clearly, Mehchizedek was both King of Salem and a Prist of God Most High (Scripture tells us this much). The Bible tells us little of Salem at this time. Perhaps Salem was ruled by Priests; perhaps Melchizedek was extraordinary in that he was a Priest King. Perhaps "Melchizedek" was the title for "King of Salem", but I don't consider this point consequential, since this passage clearly refers to a specific person, and Hebrews 7 refers to this same passage and person. I don't, however, think that Scripture supports the theory that Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate Christ. Would a pre-incarnate Christ offer blessings to Himself?

and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most Hight, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand."

Genesis 14:19-20 (NIV)

Certainly, part of the role of the Levitical (Old Testament) priesthood was to offer blessings to God; however, New Testament priesthood is completely different from Old Testament priesthood (this point being the entire reason for this particular passage in Hebrews). The work of the Old Testament High Priest was imperfect, incomplete, and continual. The work of Christ, the New Testament High Priest, was once, for all - perfect and complete. Old Testament priests offered praise to God through the High Priest. We the New Testament priesthood offer praise to God the Son, our High Priest, seated at the right hand of the Father. The Old Testament priests ministered on behalf of the people, temporarily and symbolically purified through religious rite. The New Testament priesthood consists of all believers, sanctified forever through Christ (I Peter 2:9).

OYBB points out that today's reading from Matthew consists of "hard teachings" about the condition of our heart:

Matthew 5:27-30 are Jesus' teachings about adultery. And really I think these teachings, along with many others in the Sermon on the Mount, are even more so about what is going on inside our hearts. Jesus discusses how the law says clearly how we are "not to do" something - it's very apparent and very "exterior" if we commit a sin like adultery. Jesus says that the exterior/apparent/obvious sin is wrong for sure - but Jesus is equally as concerned with what's going on in the "interior" - inside our hearts. Jesus proposes that if we have looked at someone lustfully with our "interior", we have committed the same sin as if we had actually committed adultery on the "exterior". Do you see how Jesus' teachings in today's readings are really focusing on the condition of our hearts? How is the condition of your heart today when it comes to these teachings? ...I know these can be seen as "hard teachings."

True enough, but I think the real message of this passage is much deeper. Jesus here gives several examples of the imperfect nature of the Old Testament Law, and what the perfect standard is for each example. Jesus turns our thinking upside-down: from "what TO DO and what NOT TO DO in order to avoid sinning" to "what TO DO in order to become holy", which Jesus summarizes thus: "be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Another point Jesus makes here - and one about which I hope to write at some length in the near future - is that Love is only considered virtuous when it is difficult.

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than the others? Do not even the pagans do that?

Matthew 5:46-47 (NIV)

Love is an action, a conscious decision of the will. This choice is easy to make when we act in love toward those who reciprocate; but to love our enemies, or those who hate us? That love is truly Christ-like.