August

August 15, 2012

Dear Centenary family,

Stephen Waldheim has done a great service to the nation by penning Founding FaithHe recognizes that while it is a distortion to insist that the Founding Fathers were Orthodox Christians who founded a Christian nation, it is also a distortion to believe they were secularists who loathed religion.  There were more complexities and subtleties to the personalities involved, particularly Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, and John Adams. 

Consider these facts: 

  • Franklin flirted with a variety of religions, including Deism, but he also was interested in the Great Awakening (a time of revival in America).  Of particular interest is the fact that Franklin had a deep appreciation and affection for George Whitefield, the great Methodist preacher.  Franklin writes in his journal that when he went to hear George Whitefield preach he would leave his wallet at home, taking only enough money for travel fare, lest he give more than he wanted because of Whitefield’s eloquence. 
  • Adams was more likely than the others to support government involvement in religion, but he moved to Unitarianism the older he got and rejected much of orthodox Christianity, thinking that Christianity had been corrupted. 
  • Jefferson, perhaps the most eloquent Founding Father, was a fascinating personality who created his own Bible by cutting out the portions of scripture he found disturbing or nonsensical.  He rejected the divinity of Jesus and the miracles, but was absolutely fascinated by the moral teachings of Jesus. 
  • Washington spoke the least about faith, and he very rarely attended church.  Yet, he outlawed the anti-Catholic bias of the military.  He also spoke of religious equality (for Jews specifically). 
  • Madison was more orthodox than the others.  However, he believed the most strongly in separation of church and state.  Madison was radically pluralistic and believed that being unequivocally for the separation of church and state did not mean being anti-God.

The bottom line is that it is impossible to generalize too much about what the Founding Fathers believed.  There was no consensus and there were very sharp disagreements among them.  Waldheim writes: “However, they did share several common traits:  Each felt religion was extremely important, at a minimum to encourage moral behavior….each took faith seriously enough to conscientiously seek out a personal path that worked for him;  each rejected major aspects of his childhood religion;  and none accepted the full bundle of creeds offered by his denomination.”   All of this led the Founding Fathers to promote religious freedom rather than religion.

The sentiment of America being a Christian nation (in the way it is presently discussed in America) would have been disturbing to the Founding Fathers.  Separation of church and state was a deeply held core value. 

During these days of increasing cacophony in the rhetoric of campaigning I encourage you to: Read.  Be informed.  Respect the faith of others, even though that faith might be radically different from your own faith.  Reject a mindset that creates a spirit of exclusivity.  It is fine to love our nation, but it is imperative to love the world more than we love the nation.  And finally, I invite you to care deeply about what happens in our country and in the world.

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This Sunday I am preaching from one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament (Matthew 15:21-28).  The story is fascinating, but confusing.  I hope that you will plan to be present as we wrestle with scripture.  In the service you will hear everything from classical music to gospel hymns to a Supertramp.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  Supertramp, the 1970’s British rock band, had a song titled “Give a Little Bit”, released in 1977.  And that is the title of my sermonGive a Little Bit.  I hope to see you this Sunday!

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

 

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.

www.centenarymacon.org  

 


August 23, 2012

 

Dear friends,

Ed Grisamore, writing in The Macon Telegraph, recently reminded me of some interesting and revealing trivia about Macon.  Did you know there are more churches in Macon per capita than any other city/town in America?  That bit of historical trivia became translated into a well-known joke that was included in the novel Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil.  Here it is:  “ In Atlanta they ask what business you are in…  In Macon they ask what church you attend… and In Savannah they ask what you are drinking.”  Cities develop reputations.

Back to the bit of trivia about the number of churches in Macon -- It seems to me that there are only two possible explanations for the fact that we have more churches per capita than any other city.  First, we are an incredibly holy and religious city, valuing spiritual matters above all else.  More churches in Macon equal more holiness, therefore we start as many churches as we can, causing Macon to have more churches per capita than any other city in the country.  Second, Maconites have a propensity toward division and this divisive spirit lives itself out not only in the secular and political community but within the religious community.  Don’t like what your preacher is saying?  Mad at another church member?  The answer to those problems is to split and form a new church, thus creating more churches per capita than any other city in the country.  I’ll let you decide which explanation is closer to the truth.

But lest we put too much blame just on Macon, the church throughout the ages has always been known for discord and splits.  For example did you know that there are two Popes?  The one with which we are most familiar is Pope Benedict XVI.  This Pope traces his line of succession to Saint Peter.  But there is also Pope Shenouda III.  His official title is Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark.  When Pope Shenouda III pulls together his softball team, it is very difficult to fit the team’s name on the baseball cap!  

How did the world end up with two popes?  Here is a brief summary – it all revolves around the nature of Christ: 

  • Version 1) Christ was both divine and human – somewhat like two persons living in the same body.  This view was condemned by the church in 431.  
  • Version 2) Christ is both divine and human, with divine nature nearly consuming the human nature.  This view was condemned a little later in the mid 400’s. 
  • Version 3) Christ is both divine and human (see Version 1), but the two natures are without division and without separation.  This is the dominant view in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and most Protestant Churches .
  • Version 4) Christ is one nature (not two) retaining all the characteristics of both divinity and humanity.  This the view of the Coptic Orthodox Church, led by Pope Shenouda III. 

Theologians love slogging through theological minutia.  1500 years after all of these disagreements  created major fissures in Christendom, the ripples of division are still evident.  Christianity is rife with theological debates.  There are winners and losers in the debates and sometimes winning and losing turns on a dime.  The fallout is impossible to ignore – a Church with more denominations than anyone can count, arguments about who can serve Holy Communion, disagreements about who is in and who is out, and then we end up with more churches in Macon per capita than any city in America. 

So what is our call in the face of all this discord?  Centenary Church… bridge builder… reaching across barriers… bringing people together…  Loving God… Loving Others… Loving Ourselves… Serving. 

That perspective, in and of itself, is a witness. 

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Sunday Sept. 9th & 16th   9:45 am Inquirer’s Class with Tim Bagwell – Wanting to know more about Centenary? Ready to determine what commitment to the community means for you? Want to take the next step? Whether you are committed or just curious, all are invited.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ This Sunday we are exploring Isaiah 43:1b-3a. My sermon is titled, “The Power of Naming.”  I hope you will come with a sense of anticipation.  God will be at work with all of us.  I promise.

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.

www.centenarymacon.org