My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I sometimes blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
Protestants often think they are the cutting edge of Christianity. And evangelicals often tout their proclivity to adaptation and innovation. Yet can other Christian traditions claim innovation as well?
I am frequently asked about why the churches in the West are in decline. An assumption often imbedded in the question is that the churches have in some way been deficient in their practice and/or doctrine. And a concomitant assumption is that such closures are signs that God’s blessing has been lifted from the churches. Some even refer to “ichabod” (“the glory has departed”) as a chief cause of decline.
While Protestants are not prone to take advice from popes, they would do well to take heed of what Pope Gregory I had to say about the pastoral office. In fact, I find it amazing (and somewhat surprising) that I could be trained and ordained and never been required to read his Pastoral Rule.
Wars are never static. Domestic and battlefield conditions constantly evolve due to both anticipated and unexpected exigencies of conflict. In fact, wars can lead to changed conditions to such a degree that what seemed to be clear at one time now seems, at best, murky.
And that fluidity makes it hard for Christians to think rightly about a conflict – in this case my focus is the war in Ukraine, but my point basically applies to any conflicts dragging on over a year.
What I find interesting is that for many Protestants there is an instinctive return to aspects of monastic life as a way of dealing with the shifts and setbacks of the church in western society.
This month marks the 78th anniversary of the end of the war against Nazi Germany in Europe (the war in Asia against the Japanese Empire ended in September).
The devastation of the war was global, with flattened (and two irradiated) cities, destroyed infrastructure, and ruined economies throughout Europe and Asia. The death toll was staggering, with over 75 million deaths of all sorts including the horrors of mass civilian casualties due to starvation, disease, famine, bombings, and genocide. Civilian deaths outnumbered military deaths by roughly 3 to 1.
My current research for a book chapter on Canadian Protestant churches and the Korean War has led me to wade through commentary on the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. And that commentary has reminded me of how the upcoming Coronation of King Charles III is set in a very different world from that of his mother.
The Queen’s Coronation on 2 June 1953 was a major event and not surprisingly it drew significant attention from various Protestant denominations. Most of the reporting was positive, but, as will be seen, some were concerned about an excessive focus on events.
I recently found a fascinating quote on the restoring of public virtues in chapter eight of Edward Gibbon’s magisterial The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
The context was Emperor Decius’ (201-251AD) desire to restore the ancient virtues that made the empire so powerful and public support for the emperor so vital. One of his solutions was to appoint a “censor” – a long neglected political office that had once been entrusted with promoting public virtues.
Yet, as Gibbon notes, Decius was to find that public morals, once lost, were not easily restored. And that had grim consequences for the state (and for Christians):
“A censor may maintain, he can never restore, the morals of a state. It is impossible for such a magistrate to exert his authority with benefit, or even with effect, unless he is supported by a quick sense of honor and virtue in the minds of the people, by decent reverence for public opinion, and by a train of useful prejudices combating on the side of national manners. In a period when these principles are annihilated, the censorial jurisdiction must either sink into empty pageantry, or be converted into a partial instrument of vexatious oppression. It was easier to vanquish the Goths than to eradicate the public vices…”
Decius was known for his brutal oppression to bring about a restoration of Rome’s past glory. He died on the battlefield fighting the Goths.
In one of my trips to the archives I unexpectedly found in a Canadian Methodist periodical an editorial on the subject of a climate crisis. It was published in the Christian Guardian well over 100 years ago, and I was struck with how the language is virtually the same in 1901 as it is now.
Here I sit craving dark chocolate. Craving… Craving… I am fighting to remain faithful to my Lenten vow to go without dark chocolate, my favorite snack (low sugar, yummy cocoa).
But I am not alone in my suffering during Lent. And as the following story indicates, nor were some hungry printers roughly 500 years ago. They were craving sausages. And their cravings were a catalyst to reforming the church’s view of Lent.