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Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Mennonite Modesty Mishap

I've earlier written about misplaced Mennonite modesty, but here comes a whole book on it, as excerpted in this blog post by a former Conservative Mennonite. I quote:
Biblical Mennonite Alliance (BMA) was the Mennonite conference that our family had been a part of before God told our family to leave the Mennonite church a number of years ago. BMA was started in 1998 because of the liberal drift of Conservative Mennonite Conference and other Mennonite groups. Their goal was to be the most Biblical Mennonite group, hence their name Biblical Mennonite Alliance. BMA’s motto was "The Bible plus nothing, and the Bible minus nothing".
The modest, conservative dress of these young girls did not protect them from the sexual advances of this man. The conservative modest dress did not help this man to control himself as we were taught in the Mennonite church that it would. What is significant is that this man did not fall into adultery with an adult; instead it was perversion with young girls.
It is significant that those who take advantage of girls in such a situation are always those who are the most strident in their demands that they dress modestly.

What can be done to rid conservative churches (whether they be Mennonite, Independent Baptist, or Family Centered) of this curse? There is only one solution: take off the heavy lid and expose the wickedness:

Then a lead cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting inside the basket. “This is Wickedness,” he said. He shoved her down into the basket and pushed the lead weight over its opening. --Zechariah 5:7-8 HCSB
Hershberger did not have natural affection, but was sexually attracted to these "modestly" dressed young girls. He knew the judgment of God, but he did it anyway. God had given him over to a reprobate mind to do that which was not convenient.

Sadly, BMA did not follow the Bible in publicly rebuking their conference leader for his sin of sexual abuse. They covered it up and quickly scrubbed their website of Art Hershberger’s name and his leadership within the conference. They put other names in its place.  
The biblical model is to first expose the wickedness to the full light of day before deleting it. Who will do it?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Amish have returned to Nebraska

In earlier posts I wrote about the Nebraskan legislature running resident Amish out of the state--but according to this data, they're moving back:

Map: U.S. counties with extant Amish settlements as of 2010,  Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.


Amish communities are spreading at the rate of nearly 15 a year. Since they need lots of land to live on, that means emigrating to wherever land is cheap and Amtrak routes (red lines on the map) or bus lines allow them to get back home to visit. Or to return, if things get too hot for them in their new home.

The two Nebraskan counties now recording Amish residents are directly to the East and South of the beleaguered town of Monowi, now only one obituary away from becoming a ghost town.

So, there may be hope for Monowi. Once its last residence dies and the tavern closes down, don't be surprised if an Amish community buys out the whole town and turns the former tavern into a bent-and-dent bulk food store.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Pelagia the Harlot, part three

Having written earlier about Pelagia the Harlot (here and there), it's time to wrap up my evaluation of this ancient account (but see last line).

First of all, we see in this account that literacy was not at all uncommon; both Pelagia and Nonnus were able to write to each other as a matter of course (in this installment, we see that even her slave was able to write). Secondly, we see how new converts were accepted into the Church at a time when it was already customary to give the seal of membership to infants:
- Due to the delicate nature of baptism--similar in some essentials to a gynaecological exam--the presence of a deaconess was required. 
- Penitents were first required to confess all their sins.
- The Bishop then exorcised the penitent.
- "Baptism" was delayed until the penitent could provide proof that they had left their former way of life; in the case of a prostitute, for example, she had to show some other means of support, lest the temptation exist to return.

Now, on to the final segment:


Chapter IX 
As we were drinking the wine, we suddenly heard a great shriek like that of a man suffering great violence. It was the shout of the devil.
"Woe! Woe! Why should I be suffering because of this decrepit old man? Weren't you satisfied with the thirty thousand Saracens whom you snatched from me, baptised and offered up to your God? Weren't you satisfied with Heliopolis, which used to belong to me along with everyone in it, which you have snatched from me and offered up to your God? And now you have taken from me the one in whom I had placed my greatest hope. O, how I suffer from this damnable man! Cursed be the day in which you were born. Her tears have flooded out over the floors of this hospice and all my hope has been cut off from me."
All these things he shouted out, lamenting outside the doors. Everybody there could hear him. And he continued, addressing himself to the neophyte.
"And you have done this to me, my lady Pelagia? Thinking to imitate my beloved Judas, were you? As one of the chosen apostles he had a place of glory and honour, and he betrayed his master. You have done the same thing to me!"
"Cross yourself and renounce him," the holy bishop Nonnus said to her. She signed herself in the name of Christ and breathed upon the demon, and at once he disappeared.


 Chapter X 
On the second day, the devil appeared by night to Pelagia, the handmaid of the Lord, as she was asleep in the cell of her holy mother Romana, and woke her up.
"Just answer me this, my lady Margarita," he said. "Weren't you plentifully supplied with god and silver? Wasn't it I who decorated you with gold and precious stones? Tell me, what have I done to upset you? Tell me, so that I can put things right. Don't make me a laughing stock for these Christians."
Pelagia, the handmaid of the Lord, crossed herself and breathed at the demon.
"My God has snatched me out of your very jaws," she said, "and led me into his bridal chamber. He it is who fights for me."
And the devil was suddenly no more to be seen.
 

Chapter XI 
On the third day after her baptism, Pelagia had some instructions to give to the slave that looked after her possessions.
"Go to my wardrobe," she said, "and make a list of how much gold and silver I have, and how much richly decorated clothing I have, and bring it all back here."
He did as he was asked and brought back everything she possessed. She asked her holy mother, the lady Romana, to ask the holy Nonnus to come and see her, and gave him everything she possessed.
"These riches, my lord," she said, "are the rewards that Satan has given me. I want to give them freely to your holiness, to do with as you think best. It is my task now to seek for the riches of our Lord Jesus Christ."


The bishop summoned his chief steward, and in Pelagia's presence handed everything over to him..
"I want you to swear by the indivisible Trinity," he said to the steward, "that none of this goes either to the bishopric or to the church, but rather disbursed to widows and orphans and the poor, so that what has been gathered by evil can be distributed for good purposes, and so the riches of a sinner can become the treasury of the righteous. And if this oath is broken either by you or by anyone else who takes any of it for himself, let him be anathema and all his house, and let them be as those who cried out, 'Let him be crucified'".


Pelagia called together all her slaves, male and female, and freed them, taking their golden torcs off with her own hands. "Make haste and free yourselves likewise from this wicked world, full of sin," she said, "so that as we have been together in this world, so also we may be together in that blessed life where pain is no more."
 

Chapter XII 
On the eighth day, when she was required to divest herself of the white baptismal garment, she got up at night without telling anyone, clothed herself in a coarse tunic which the bishop supplied her with, and from that day onwards she was nevermore seen in the city of Antioch. The holy Romana wept bitterly, but the holy Nonnus comforted her with these words:
"Don't weep, my daughter, but rather rejoice with great joy, for Pelagia has chosen that good portion just like Mary, whom the Lord in the Gospel preferred to Martha" (
Luke 10.42).
Pelagia went to Jerusalem and built a cell for herself on the Mount of Olives, the place where the Lord prayed.

Chapter XIII
A little while later the bishop of the city dismissed the bishops and they went back to their own places. After three or four years, I, Jacob the deacon, had a desire to visit Jerusalem in order to pay my devotions to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. I asked permission of the bishop and he let me go with these words:
"My advice to you, brother deacon, is that when you get to Jerusalem, you make enquiries there about a certain brother Pelagius, a monk and a eunuch who has been enclosed in solitude there for many years. Visit him. I am sure he will be of great benefit to you."
Of course he was really talking about the servant of God Pelagia, without actually saying so.


Chapter XIV

When I got to Jerusalem I worshipped the holy resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and next day made enquiries about the servant of God. And I went up the Mount of Olives and found him there where the Lord prayed, in a tiny cell completely enclosed except for a small window in the wall. I knocked on the window and it opened to me. Pelagia recognised me, but I did not recognise her. How should I have recognised her,

when that face which had once been of such marvellous beauty had withered away through severe fasting, and her eyes were sunken in her cheeks? 

"What have your come for, brother?" she asked.
"My bishop, Nonnus, told me to seek you out," I replied. "He told me to ask you to pray for him for you are a true saint of God."


Pelagius immediately shut the window and began to sing the third hour. I joined in the prayer from the other side of the wall, and went away quite uplifted by having seen such an angel. Returning to Jerusalem, I began to visit the monasteries and make the acquaintance of the brothers.
 

Chapter XV 
Brother Pelagius had a great reputation in the monasteries, such that I decided to visit him again in order to have the benefit of his teaching. I went back and knocked on his window, and even presumed to call out to him by name, but there was no response. I did the same the next day and the day after, calling out to Pelagius by name, but no one answered. I said to myself that either there was no one there at all, or else that the monk who was there had departed this life. Inspired by a nudge from God, I began to think that I really should take seriously the possibility that he was dead, so I pushed open his little window and looked inside. I could see that he was indeed dead. I shut the window and tried to make the best I could of the situation by going back to Jerusalem bearing the news that the holy monk Pelagius, worker of miracles, was dead. 

The holy fathers, together with monks from various monasteries, came and opened up the cell and brought the holy body outside with as much care as if it were gold or precious stones. As soon as the holy fathers began to anoint the body with myrrh they of course discovered that it was a woman. They tried to keep such a wonderful thing secret but it proved impossible to hide it from the people, who cried out loudly, "Glory to our Lord Jesus Christ who has hidden so many riches upon earth, not only among men but also among women". As the news spread further among all the people, all the monasteries of virgins came from Jericho as well as from Jordan where the Lord was baptised, carrying tapers and torches and singing hymns, following the holy fathers who were carrying the holy body to its final resting place. 


So there you have the life of this harlot, a holy life of one who had been without hope. May the Lord have mercy upon her and upon us in the day of judgment, for to him belong honour and glory, power and majesty unto the ages of ages. Amen.


Well, so much for the story. Now me must deal with the question, "Is it factual?" which is a bit more to ask then "is it historical?" because most of history plays fast and loose with the actual facts. If it isn't even historical, however, then we know it wasn't factual either.

This is a hard question to answer. One of the easiest ways to determine that an account is unhistorical is to look for anachronisms. For example, the basilica of Antioch is mentioned, which had been built by the Emperor Constantine about the 330's. So any story set before that time wouldn't fit. But the setting of this story seems to be the Council of Antioch in 341, so--no problem, because that Council was called upon the occasion of officially dedicating the basilica to the memory of the martyr Julian (as it was so identified in this account). The big problem seems to be the presence of Nonnus, whom we know to have attended the Council of Chalcedon in 451, 110 years later.
But wait--I've just come across what seems to be a translation directly from the Greek account, of which the above is another whole step removed. I'll have to start all over by examining it, before passing further judgment.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Should Elijah the Tishbite be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records?

Yes, but.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world's fastest Marathon (42,195 metres) was run by Wilson Kipsang in 2013. But according to 1 Kings 18:46, Elijah outran King Ahab's horses from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel--a distance of over 50 km by road. Does this mean that Elijah was faster than Kipsang?

In a word, no. As others have pointed out, the account doesn't specifically say that Elijah was supernaturally powered to run ahead of Ahab. And a man on foot, running carefully over somewhat uneven and rocky ground, can easily outpace a team of horses pulling a chariot. The bus route from Haifa to Jezreel takes an hour and forty-eight minutes, so we'd expect a chariot to take at least a couple of hours. Even the Pony Express, which seldom ran a horse farther than 25 km without breaking a gallop, only averaged about 16 kilometres per hour. So Ahab's horses would have had to be extraordinary even to make the full run without breaking pace.

What Elijah did is not at all out of the realm of possibility. Running downhill from Mt. Carmel, Elijah could have gained quite a lead on a horse-pulled chariot, and held it coming back out of the Valley of Esdraelon, fueled by nothing more than a desire to beat the approaching rainstorm. Then, he ran another 180 kilometers to Beersheba, fueled by an irrational terror of Jezebel. And his servant was able to keep up with him at least that far!

So, no world record for Elijah running the Mount Carmel Marathon. It was what he did afterward--going all the way to Mt. Sinai from Beersheba without eating--that would earn him an early mention in today's record books.

Monday, 30 June 2014

The pagan hero vs the christian conqueror

I've written before about the warrior mindset and the pagan world view, but this is where they come together.

About a year ago I satisfied a sudden urge by reading through the entire Harry Potter series in a single week. I had basically ignored the series when it came out in book form, content merely to read reviews. I couldn't help being exposed, however, to images of the movie series, and after years of hearing one allusion after another I set out to see if I could examine the Potter phenomenon firsthand--thus my reading binge.

I came away from that binge with a better understanding of the pagan mindset--for Harry Potter's universe is, apart from passing references to Christmas and witch burnings, totally pagan. There is no supreme good or supreme evil, only an amorphous power that can be tapped equally for one or for the other, depending mostly upon the skill and dedication of the one tapping into it. And that is exactly the pagan mindset.

As I considered what made Harry such a powerful force (for good, as it turned out--or at least, against evil), I realized that the fact that he was good did help--but it wasn't sufficient. Other people in his universe were good, but being good was not sufficient in and of itself to overcome evil. Indeed, it was only the last straw at the tipping point. Harry's primary virtue was bravery. In every book in the series, he single-handedly took on the personification of evil, and prevailed. At other times, however, evil prevailed until he was able to acquire some magical tool to fight back. Tom Riddle also sought those tools, and had he managed to acquire them all, even Harry's bravery and goodness would not have been enough.

So, the formula for success in the pagan universe basically breaks down to:
Ownership of all the magical tools = victory every time.
Ownership of some of the magical tools + bravery = victory, unless going up against
Ownership of some of the magical tools + bravery + good. In that case,
Ownership of some of the magical tools + bravery + good = eventual ownership of all remaining magical tools, or at least all the most powerful one(s), thus resulting in victory.

Now, in the Christian world view, magical tools can be totally overcome, not by more powerful magical tools, but by spiritual purity (Matthew 17:21). Thus good is not the final ingredient needed only when up against a magically equal but evil force; it is the primary weapon against evil.

Thus we see, wherever the Christian worldview confronts the pagan one, a massive power struggle, with bravery and good one one side, and bravery and magical tools on the other. For the Christian, however, bravery is merely the last ingredient, to be pitted merely against the remaining bravery of the sorcerer who has just seen his most powerful magical tools rendered useless by an invisible foe.

Eljah on Mt. Carmel is an excellent example of the Christian world view confronting the pagan in a massive show of force. Mustering all the magical tools at their disposal, represented by hundreds of ecstatic priests sacrificing their own blood to Ba'al, the pagans were confronted by the spiritual purity of one man, represented by restoring the altar of God on the high place of Mt. Carmel. Elijah showed his superior bravery by daring to challenge and even mock Ba'al, and when the power struggle came down in favor of Elijah, by ordering the deaths of all his opponents.

It was a lack of bravery, however, that removed Elijah from the scene when no number of palace guards could even arrest him. When his bravery failed, all the spiritual purity he could muster availed him nothing, and he fled for his life from henpecked Ahab's pagan wife. Elijah needed personal ministering, not only by an angel, but from the Voice of God Himself, before his powers returned.

Sorcerers can be defeated without any human or magical powers, simply by applying the formula of good + bravery against the foe of magic + bravery. The pagan's bravery will vanish when he sees his magical powers rendered inert, but he will try to win by threatening the Christian with physical harm instead. In order to prevail the Christian will have to show bravery against both attacks.