Thomas Schirrmacher
Relevant ProMundis Blogposts

All people are sinners, part 3

20. November 2014 von · Leave a Comment 

A Basis for fighting social and structural evil

In my last two blog entries, I addressed the statement “all people are sinners.” This statement also has noteworthy sociopolitical and political significance.

The statement means that we, as Christians, do not see all sorts of social problems only as structural problems which can solely be combated with enlightenment, (re-) education, and political programs.

Behind torture, racism, hyper-capitalism, the oppression of women, and child sexual abuse – to name only a few social problems – lies the reality of sin, and as much as we might want to battle the consequences of sin locally, as much as we also want to address structural evil politically and from an overall societal standpoint, behind this is an eerie commonality which – even if it is in a suppressed form – forces its way into public view. Too many people intentionally do not use the possible ways whereby we could all do better. Rather, they attempt to obtain an advantage for themselves, even if they have to sometimes act as if they are concerned for the common good. (In Luke 22:25 Jesus said, “… and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.”)

Forms of evil such as envy, greed, hatred, and Schadenfreude (pleasure from the misfortune of others) repeatedly show their hideous face in greater and lesser matters. Without a view of the entire picture, every individual who champions sociopolitical causes remains unrealistic in his estimation of the opportunities. We have to soberly realize that the root of great social maladies is evil, i.e., sin – which dwells within many individuals as well as within social structures.

Without hatred, envy, pride, and lies, there is no racism. Without greed, addiction, and deceit, there is no exploitation. Without a lust for power and a lack of self-control, there is no abuse and sexual violence.

It is as Jesus said: It is not that which comes from without which makes us evil. Rather, it is that which comes from within us (Matthew 15:18–20, Mark 7:18–23). (Naturally, the evil which comes out of us is then malice for others that does come from outside. We are also affected by evil coming out from others individually or as structural, socially solidified sin from without.) It is not only people living after Sigmund Freud who know what sort of abyss can open up within themselves.

It is not only the claim that all people are made by God in his image that provides the foundation for public policies founded on the basis of a Christian idea of humankind. Rather, it also includes the idea that every individual can fall into temptation. Every person has to deal with the possibility that a person can surprisingly and suddenly fall from heights into severe depths. Exemplary politicians can suddenly be bribed, peaceful citizens can suddenly turn to violence, or they convert and become religious terrorists.

Christians should never say: “I would never have thought that was possible,” or “That could never have happened to me.” Indeed, everything is possible, and good politics takes this into account and makes provisions for it in order to prevent the worst. The church, using good New Testament judgment, knows that their own leaders can become a danger (e.g., Acts 20:30)! Everyone is capable of misusing power, priests with the power they hold over children, parents with the power they have over their sweet little ones, and anti-corruption agents with the power they have over their co-workers.

There are people who want to utilize radioactive materials against others. One does not have to wait until there is a reasonable concrete suspicion or discuss whether this or that individual will really strike. Rather, one has to plan now and make provisions. This is due to the fact that the evil which one can think and plan can also be carried out. Where the misjudgment led that thought Hitler would not act as evilly as he spoke and wrote is visible for all to see (comp. the introduction to my book Hitler’s _Kriegsreligion [English title translation of the title: Hitler’s War Religion]).

To be continued …

All people are sinners, part 2

16. November 2014 von · Leave a Comment 

Judeo-Christian anthropology (the study of humankind) lives with a peculiar tension. On the one hand, humanity is created in “the image of God” and endowed with unbelievable abilities and complexity. On the other hand, humankind has turned away from God as a “sinner” and is capable of staggeringly evil thoughts and deeds. On the one hand, evil in the world (coming from the state, for instance) can only be addressed through limitation, hindrance, and punishment. And on the other hand, it can only be addressed with forgiveness, grace, peacemaking, and reconciliation.

Let us choose our children as an example. They are viewed as images of God, and they need guidance and encouragement in order to develop the abilities given to them by God. This is the case whether these abilities are intellectual or artistic, literary or interpersonal. An independent personality subject to his or her Creator is the goal of child-rearing. Child-rearing is not an end in itself. Rather, it targets a time when the one to be brought up takes on complete responsibility for his or her life.

At the same time, children are seen as people who, owing to their sin, no longer live according to their original purpose. For that reason, they need to be educated away from evil. This includes admonition, limits, and punishment as well as the gracious attention, counsel, and encouragement to experience a fresh start.

All People are Sinners, part 1

14. November 2014 von · Leave a Comment 

Is this a claim of faith or of reason?

When Christians make divine revelation the point of departure for their thinking, this does not mean that they believe something nonsensical or that revelation is essentially divested of reasonable justification such that it cannot be discussed. It only means that God and, more specifically, revelation can make statements which cannot be grasped in their entirety, such that we first comprehend them after we have accepted them and understand what they mean through everyday life.

Let us choose an example: A biblical statement which Christian doctrine has integrated is that all people are sinners. That statement, for instance, can only be believed and not proved, for how can anyone conduct an investigation of all people? And who could be unbiased in evaluating every individual? Who knows all people, let alone knows them so well that such a judgment can be made about them? And who would want to make such a judgment about people of other cultures, about those who have died, or even those who are yet to be born in the future and to document this scientifically? Only the Creator has such knowledge – and the justice and righteousness – to make such an all-encompassing statement.

Does that mean, however, that the statement only rests upon blind faith and contradicts all reason? No. Though the essential statement is too broad for us, yet it is confirmed and, in that sense “proved” by reason day by day in us individually, in the people we know, and in humanity at large (in our coming to know them through media coverage, for instance). For that reason, the Bible incessantly sees substantiation of its basic statement that all people are sinners through specific individuals, examples, and sins. We all tangibly lie, hate specific people, let others sense our avarice, and live at the expense of others. Moreover, the only reason there is racism and people starving, to state it in concrete terms, is because there are people involved.

Since we have never met anyone about whom we could say that he is not a sinner, our statement, made on the basis of divine revelation, turns out to be correct and sensible. It is so because, to the extent that verification is possible, it corresponds to reality. No individual has ever known a person who was selfless, loving, and gallant from the time he or she was small, and who has never cheated or lied. Even Mother Teresa, who demonstrated selflessness on the whole, was not always simple in her daily dealings and, in addition to great, earth-shattering words, she also uttered many a peculiar political statement.

By making the statement that everyone is a sinner is far from saying in detail what sin is. But no matter how sin is defined in particular, as that which is wrong, or what is evil, you will not find an individual who is completely free of it.

It is mysterious to me how one can basically proceed on the assumption that the Bible and Christianity are wrong when they speak about all people’s tending towards that which is evil. Do people who dispute this deal with other people than the people I deal with? Do they read other newspapers than I do? And have they never heard of the philosophical insight: “Man is a wolf to man” (Latin: ‘homo homini lupus est’)?

No Church without Missions – No Missions without Freedom

7. November 2014 von · Leave a Comment 

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarifies the Relationship between Truth and Religious Freedom

A few days after the second encyclical was issued 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI on the hope of Christians, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presented a subtly cautious “Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization“ (2008), a very far-reaching and meaningful declaration. Even if it does not have the rank of an encyclical, only the Pope himself can endorse such a Doctrinal Note and ‘mandate its publication.’ Additionally, Pope Benedict was once the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the successor of the once feared top inquisition authorities, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is still the most important congregation of the Catholic Church, being responsible for doctrine and ethics. And after the choice of the Pope, the appointment of Cardinal William Levada as the Prefect of this Congregation was one of Pope Benedict’s first official acts.

The Doctrinal Note follows the example of the book on Jesus by the Pope and his second encyclical in which he – unlike what was common under John Paul II – formulates in a manner which is commonly Christian in many respects. Every act on the part of the Church has “a foundational evangelizing dimension,” which even applies to its social action. The “missionary command of the Lord” may not go “unheard and ineffective,” for the Church gives up itself and its essence if it stops proclaiming the gospel. This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3) is seen as Christian truth par excellence, which no Christian can deny or subordinate in any situation. The striking parallels and demarcation to the Islamic profession of faith, that there is only one God and Mohammed is his Prophet appears to be deliberate, and the Doctrinal Note can even be understood as a welcome reaction to the letter from 138 Muslim scholars to the Pope and other church leaders.

Even where the indispensability of the Church with respect to missions is described, the formulation is such that a Protestant can also agree. This holds even if the view behind that surely goes unexpressed, i.e., that it is the Roman Catholic Church alone, organized in apostolic succession, which is truly able to fulfill this assignment. Only one of the five sections speaks on a topic entitled “Some ecumenical implications“ and contains formulations in only a few sentences which have led to sharp reactions by Protestant churches. The Congregation has namely defended the rights of Catholics to witness to the Catholic faith to other churches and Christians and the right of non-Catholics to join the Catholic Church. For non-Catholics, however, that is something which is a matter of course. They take umbrage at the fact that this conversion is interpreted as a working of the Holy Spirit, according to which “the fullness of the means of salvation“are offered which other churches apparently do not have. Since, however, every form of ’pressure’ is forbidden and apart from that the formulation is rather invested with common ground, these sections, however, go more into the category of friendly statements over recent years and in the direction of ecumenism.

However, what is truly serious is that the Doctrinal Note takes up the action of an ethical codex for missions without expressly calling it that, on which the Vatican, the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance are working together. The Doctrinal Note clearly and in detail repeatedly espouses religious freedom and issues a condemnation against any mixture of evangelization and political pressure, deception, and any range of advantages offered or other means which do not target conviction or persuasion of the heart. By the way, this also applies when a Christian is enticed away from his faith.

At the same time, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes a very meaningful clarification for all churches, for it proclaims clearly and unambiguously that its right to evangelization comes from divine right. Likewise, however, it makes claims for religious freedom in the political arena. For all that, religious freedom only means to coexist peacefully and respectfully with adherents of other religions and for evangelization to renounce force, pressure, threats, and other unfair means. Religious freedom does not mean, however, that Christian revelation is put on the same level with other religions and does not presuppose religious ecumenism.

This should actually unite all churches: Evangelization and the proclamation of truth do not exclude the desire for peaceful and free co-existence with people who think differently. Rather, they are inclusive. One can have both: taking a stand for religious freedom and democracy, all the while clutching unswervingly to the truth of Jesus Christ and the gospel.

Tony Palmer (†): The sudden death of a friend reminds me of the center of our faith

3. November 2014 von · Leave a Comment 

My last photo with Tony Palmer in St Peter’s Cathedral

My last photo with Tony Palmer in St Peter’s Cathedral

My friend Bishop (†) Tony Palmer died on Sunday 20th July, 2014, after injuries sustained in a motorbike hit-and-run accident – in spite of a operation of several hours. Thus close are life and death. We just had visited the Pope and had far reaching dreams, and how is no longer among us.

He was at home on four continents. Born and raised in South Africa he lived in the USA, in Argentina, in Britain and Italy. In the end he was constantly traveling all over the world, something we had in common.

He already may see, what we only believe for now. The community with Jesus Christ, he saw as what the Pope and we have in common first of all, has come to its fulfillment for him.

Palmer’s bio from the web

„Anthony Joseph ‘Tony’ Palmer was a British-born South African Bishop with the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches a Communion of Dioceses and Ministries that are inspired by the ‘middle way’ of classic Anglicism Anglican Communion and count themselves as part of the Convergence Movement. They were originally inspired by Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, a British theologian, missiologist, missionary and author.“ (Wikipedia on the day of his death)

This is the entry of the Community he lead, as it stood on the day of his death:

„Tony is an ordained Minister, ordained by the Anglican/Episcopal Church, within the CEEC (Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches). He relates directly to his Archbishop, Robert Wise as his Canon to Church Unity Affairs ( Our Community is also consecrated within the CEEC as an Inter-denominational Christian Community, and enjoys much input from Father Robert’s wisdom.

Tony is initially trained as a Medical Underwriter (Med. Dip. 1987), with further specialised studies in HIV/AIDS management (WITS University Medical School, RSA). He accepted his vocation to full-time Ministry in 1993 and then studied for 3 years at a Christian College (Rhema Bible Training Centre, RSA). He has also completed a short course in Biblical Archaeology and Biblical Studies (UNISA University, RSA), has a Masters Degree in Philosophy, “College of Theology” (St. Alcuin’s Seminary, USA), and has an English Teachers Certificate from Cambridge University, UK (CELTA).

Tony is currently busy with his Doctorate Degree in “Early Church” studies (33-600 A.D), with a particular interest in the Community life of the early Celtic Church.

Emiliana also completed 3 years of Biblical Studies at the same Christian College (RBTC), and also holds a Cambridge English Teachers Certificate (CELTA). Together, Emiliana and Tony had the privilege of serving as Directors for Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, KCM RSA, and Tony served as Development Director at Acres of Love, providing homes for abandoned HIV/AIDS babies and children.“

My commentary in German on the day of Palmer’s death

Dies war der Kommentar, den ich direkt nach seinem Tod an das PRO-Magazin geschickt habe:

„Ein sehr guter Freund ist völlig überraschend bei einem Unfall gestorben. Eben waren wir noch beim Papst und diskutierten, unter welchen Umständen wir mit dem Papst erneut die Gemeinsame Erklärung zur Rechtfertigung unterzeichnen könnten, da ist er bei dem Herrn und Erlöser, über den wir die ganze Zeit gesprochen haben.

Anthony Palmer war im Herzen ein Missionar, der auf allen Kontinenten wirkte und auf dreien gelebt hat. Er war ein Brückenbauer zwischen den Konfessionen, nahm aber die tiefgreifenden theologischen Unterschiede dabei immer sehr ernst und blieb im Herzen immer ein Evangelikaler, der wahren Glauben nur in der persönlichen Begegnung mit Jesus und einem Leben mit ihm wiederfand. Das war es auch, was ihn mit dem Papst verband. Christliche Leiter in aller Welt werden eine Motor der Ökumene vermissen.“

In der Meldung zu Palmers Tod hieß es in der PRO dann:

„Noch im Juni hatte Thomas Schirrmacher, deutscher Theologe und Menschenrechtsexperte bei der Weltweiten Evangelischen Allianz, zusammen mit Tony Palmer und vier weiteren evangelikalen und charismatischen Leitern den Papst in einer Delegation zu einem privaten Gespräch besucht. Palmer hatte den Weg zu dem Treffen bereitet. Schirrmacher würdigte Palmer gegenüber dem Medienmagazin pro als einen «Missionar, der auf allen Kontinenten wirkte» und als «Brückenbauer zwischen den Konfessionen». Dabei habe Palmer die tiefgreifenden theologischen Unterschiede immer sehr ernst genommen, erklärte Schirrmacher. Palmer blieb «im Herzen immer ein Evangelikaler, der wahren Glauben nur in der persönlichen Begegnung mit Jesus und einem Leben mit ihm wiederfand», sagte Schirrmacher. «Christliche Leiter in aller Welt werden einen Motor der Ökumene vermissen».“ (Quelle)


In German:

Thomas Schirrmacher