Archive for October, 2008

Unethical free-market economics

Monday, October 13th, 2008

From time to time it is good to expose yourself to ideas outside normal parameters. On Thursday we had an informal seminar with David Cowan, formerly on the staff of the World Bank. He gained his Master of Theology at Regent’s Park Baptist College in Oxford University and is now working on a doctorate at St. Andrew’s University. He has written a book on Economic Parables (Paternoster).

David expounded the view that free market capitalism is the only appropriate form of economic system given that, in his view, communism and socialism have both failed. He also asserted capitalism worked best with the minimum of regulation by the State. He further argued that Fairtrading initiatives are also counter the market and useless as a way of really assisting the poor in the two-thirds world. (more…)

On friends

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Easy at first, the language of friendship
Is, as we soon discover,
Very difficult to speak well, a tongue
With no cognates, no resemblance
To the galimatias of nursery and bedroom,
Court rhyme or shepherd’s prose,
And, unless often spoken, soon goes rusty.

(W.H. Auden, “For Friends Only,” Collected Poems)

This week our morning prayers have been led by Anna, our MTh student from Russia. For her theme, Anna chose to reflect on friendship. That seemed to reverberate with a number of us who sat in the circle. I guess especially in a place like IBTS, where most of us are away from families and familiar cultural contexts, we cannot help but be acutely aware of the importance of the practice of friendship, even though it is still often depreciated in Christian circles as a ‘lower’ type of relationship compared with the non-preferential love which the lovers of Greek often term as agape.

Knowing reciprocal love means being enabled to love those who won’t reciprocate it: strangers and enemies. It is a paradox similar to other paradoxes of the Kingdom: those who give away are enabled to give away even more.

Listening to the prayers this week, I was also reminded of Aelred of Rievaulx, that 12th century Northumbrian saint,  who longed for the days of fullness to come when “this friendship, to which here we admit but few, will be outpoured upon all and by all outpoured upon God, and God shall be all in all” (Spiritual Friendship, 3:134).

– Lina

More on the Moravians in Herrnhut

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

I would like to reflect a little bit more on the Church Hall of the Moravian Church congregation of Herrnhut, which was mentioned by Dima in the previous post.

What grasped my attention foremost was the fact that there was neither a pulpit nor an altar in the church but only a big green table. The reason for such a furnishing of the prayer hall points to the continuing emphasis on the origin of the Moravian Church organised on the basis of the priesthood of all believers. Raised or privileged places for clergy are therefore not part of the church furnishing. Many of the various services are held by laypersons. The cleric’s robe is only worn during the presentation of the sacraments. Furthermore, the green table is referred to as the liturgical table and serves as the location of the leader for the particular church gathering. The table is considered to be a worktable – as a reading table, as a surface for the lectern (for holding sermons, lectures, etc.), as a table for the Holy Communion service and as a location for baptism. Green is considered as the color of life.

In addition, everything in the church was painted in white because the Moravians considered it to be the color of happiness. I was impressed by the fact that they still hold on two important principles according to which there are no reserved seats for privileged members, and also no gaps can be left between individuals. In other words, the pews are filled by congregation, which opens the space for (small b baptist) theological reflection revolving around the phenomena of second and third row Baptists who for some reason prefer to be encircled by empty seats. Anyhow, I might say something more about it when I write my next blog entry.

– Dejan

Northumbria and IBTS – the dispersed communities

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

One of the first visits of Northumbria Community people at IBTS (2006)

One of the first visits of Northumbria Community people at IBTS (2006)

Janice and I enjoyed joining in last Friday night with a Northumbria Community group that meets once a month here in Cambridge, where we are now living. The invitation to the group had come from the couple hosting it, who were part of the Northumbria Community team at IBTS earlier this year. It was good to meet new people, to be led in a meditation based on readings from Henri Nouwen, and to finish with the Cuthbert Compline. The Northumbria Community has a Mother House but also an extensive ‘dispersed membership’, with some of these members able to meet in local groups. I realised during the evening that although IBTS does not use quite the same language about the wider circle of those connected with it, there are those (like us) who are ‘dispersed members’ of the IBTS community. There are many who are not resident at IBTS but who value greatly their relationship with the seminary and who take literally the words that Keith Jones quotes so often from his Scottish Granny, ‘Haste ye back’.

– Ian 

Stay at the cloister in Erfurt

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Ruslan, our Magister student from Kyrgyzstan, sent in his impressions from the Bible, Community and Context students’ trip to Germany in the footsteps of Martin Luther:

Early morning. I wake up at 06:30 to have time for making pictures around the cloister. After 20 minutes I am ready to walk and experience something of the old Erfurt. Waking up in the monastery where Luther lived as a monk is a vivid impression itself, but my heart is craving for more. So I go out and my next experience is not so nice – a typical European cold rain. I try to find something interesting around, but can’t because of the rain.

I decide to visit the church again before we leave the cloister. I am surprised to find it isn’t empty – some twelve Lutheran nuns, as they call themselves, are having their morning service. One of them reads something from the Bible. As it is German, I can understand only a few words. The sister is saying something about Jesus’ death and eternal life and invites the nuns to worship. It is really great. The singing in German in the Gregorian style under the arch of the old church is really an unforgettable impression. It gives me a good opportunity to talk with my God. Seizing the opportunity, I pray, with joy.

In the exultant mood I go out and find that the rain has stopped. I walk around and explore the vicinity. The faces of the people are anxious and worried. The pictures of Erfurt and the cloister at that moment are quite different. That is impossible to preserve on camera, but it happens regularly, at least in my heart.

Even though your heart is anxious, look for a place where the peace of the Lord Christ is.

Anabaptists in Wartburg

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

IBTS group in front of the entrance to Wartburg castle where Luther was translating the Bible

It is well known that Wartburg castle, which the students visited two weeks ago, is famous due to many historical events that have happened there. For example, after Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Church in Wittenberg in 1517, he initiated the reformation period which led to the formation of the Protestant – Lutheran church. He was excommunicated by the Pope as a heretic and outlawed by the emperor after refusing to revoke his teachings at the imperial diet of Worms. He then found refuge behind the mighty walls of Wartburgh on May 4, 1521 and lived there for ten months. Most of the writers dealing with Luther’s life and work are well aware of the time he had spent in the castle and there is not much new to say about it.

However, as somebody who is passionate about and impressed by the Anabaptist studies, I was excited to find there the traces of the Anabaptist influence. While touring the castle, I found a board containing the information about a man whose name was Fritz Erbe. He was an Anabaptist who had been imprisoned in the dungeon of the southern tower of the castle for more than eight years.

The tower where Fritz Erbe was imprisoned for almost 15 years

Let me tell you something more about this man. In 1531 he was imprisoned with other Anabaptists living in Hausbreitenbach. In 1533 Fritz Erbe was imprisoned again because he refused to baptize his newborn child and had accepted a persecuted Anabaptist woman into his house. Between 1533-1540 Fritz Erbe was incarcerated in the Storchen Tower adjacent to the city wall of Eisenach. In 1537 two men, Hans Köhler from Heyerode and Hans Scheffer from Hastrungsfeld, were caught in a secret conversation with Fritz Erbe at the city wall. They were immediately imprisoned and executed in January 1538. In 1540, while expecting unrest and protests in the region,  the City Council of Eisenach made a decision to move Erbe to Wartburg and imprisoned him in the dungeon of the southern tower of the castle. In 1541, upon negotiations by Eberhart von der Thann, who served as an officer at the Wartburg, Erbe was again offered the last opportunity to renounce his faith. He was brought for four weeks to Eisenach Monastery for hearings but remained steadfast. In 1544, due to Erbe’s timely warning/alarm a fire in the castle was prevented. As a reward, his imprisonment conditions were improved, which meant that he got in his dungeon a wooden construction for bed. Eventually, in 1548 Erbe passed away after 15 years of imprisonment. He was buried below the castle.

While standing above his dungeon I finally understood what (McClendonian) convictions were all about! They are beliefs worthy to be lived out and even more, worthy to die for. Do we have such convictions?

– Dejan

Visit to Herrnhut

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

Our Bible, Community and Context students had another trip on Monday – this time to Herrnhut, where the persecuted Moravians of the 18th century settled in what was Count von Zinzendorf’s estate. Dmitry (Ukraine) reflects:

It was a great experience to visit the place which is well known because of the Moravian revival and their prayers, hymns and mission. We visited their white community house for gathering and the archive where we found some of the old documents with Zinzendorf’s own corrections. But it was more than books. Even though we were there for a short time only, we could feel the atmosphere and to talk to the people who are continuing the Christian life of the Moravian community. It was a very good practical lesson for our group.