Reformation

October 31 is Halloween, a favorite holiday of children, when they get to go out trick or treating dressed as ghosts and goblins. I’ve always enjoyed Halloween. But October 31 can also be remembered for another reason. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted a list of 95 points on the church doors in Wittenberg, Germany. What happened to him and the church as a result changed the world. He had not been seeking a revolution. He merely wanted to debate the practice of “indulgences” in an academic forum.
What were indulgences?

In Roman Catholic theology of the time, an indulgence was a way for the Church to grant either the full or partial remission of “temporal punishment” from sins that had been committed. They were given after a sinner had confessed to his bad behavior and performed penance. Temporal punishments were punishments that a person endured either in this life or in Purgatory. They were temporary, rather than permanent and eternal like the flames of Hell. According to Roman Catholic theology, human beings by nature commit many sins of a non-serious nature called “venal” sins which usually go unconfessed. Though they don’t break communion with God, they do cause spiritual damage, and so these temporay punishments were the result. And such temporay punishments could be paid for by penance and by indulgence. Indulgences happened when the church, by virtue of its authority, applied existing merit from the church’s treasurey of good deeds to an individual. The idea was, that the saints had built up a storehouse of merit greater than they needed individually, and so this extra merit could be applied to those who were not so good.

The church had been trying to raise funds to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome for many years. Originally constructed during the time of Constantine over what was believed to be St. Peter’s tomb, by the fifteenth century the building was falling apart and so the church began the process of trying to rebuild it or replace it. By 1517, the Pope at this time, Leo X came up with what seemed a good idea: offering indulgences for those who gave alms for the rebuilding.

Johann Tetzel was a Dominican Friar whom the Pope had made the commissioner of indulgences for all Germany. Tetzel took his job seriously and promoted indulgences rather agressively in Germany. He apparently went so far as to create a chart that listed a price for each type of sin a person might need forgiveness for. He claimed that the indulgences he sold could even save a soul who had violated the Virgin Mary. According to Luther, as part of his marketing campaign, Tetzel had used the clever phrase, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”

In his list that he had nailed to the church door in Wittenberg, Luther wondered at the compassion of a church that had the ability to shorten the suffering of people in Purgatory but who would grant such relief only for those that coughed up the cash to pay for it. In the end, of course, Luther denied that the Pope or the church had any such power in the first place: he argued that pardon for sin was something only God could grant and that Jesus’ death on the cross had paid for all sins, so there was nothing left that needed forgiving by indulgences.

The pillars of what became the Protestant Reformation are three: first, only Scripture is authoritative for faith and practice in the church; it doesn’t matter what the traditions, church councils or the Pope might say. Second, all Christians stand equal before God, with no need of any human intermediary: all are priests. And finally, salvation is by grace, through faith alone: Jesus paid the entire penalty for sin. There is nothing left to do or not do, no penance to perform, no indulgence to purchase.

Luther’s list of questions is now known as the 95 Theses. They were not designed to provoke a rebellion against the church or the Pope. The church door was commonly used as a bulletin board for the purpose of making announcements. The 95 Theses were written in Latin and thus only addressed to academics. Luther was seeking a debate among the theologians of the church. However, his list was copied, translated, and spread across Europe, creating a controversy between Luther and the Pope over a variety of church doctrines and practices. Three years later, Luther and his supporters were excommunicated. Thus began the Reformation. All the Protestant churches, from the Lutheran to the Presbyterian, from the Baptist to the Methodist can trace their roots back to what Luther did that October day.

Were there any other results of the Reformation, besides the numberless denominations that exist within Christianity today? Between 1618 and 1648 there were a series of wars in Europe that came to be called the Thirty Years War. The Catholic Hapsburgs, who ruled Spain, Austria, the Spanish Netherlands and even most of Germany and Italy, fought against those princes in Germany who were Protestant. Denmark and Sweden supported the Protestant princes. France ultimately chose to ally itself against the Hapsburgs, swinging the tide away from the Hapsburgs. The Peace of Westphalia which followed asserted that each prince would have the right to determine the religion of his own state. Christians living in states where their denomination was not the official denomination would nevertheless be permitted to practice their religion publicly during certain designated hours and in private whenever they wished. The Peace of Westphalia also brought to an end the Pope’s political and secular power in Europe. As a consequence, Pope Innocent X declared the treaty “null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all times.” It didn’t matter, of course. The kings and princes of Europe, whether Catholic or Protestant, simply ignored him. The seeds of secularization and the separation of church and state had been planted. Also, significantly, the Peace of Westphalia established the modern concept of a nation-state and set up the still existing system of relationships between these nations that we so much take for granted.

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SpaceX Launches X-37B

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Latest SpaceX Launch and Landing for August 24, 2017

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SpaceX CRS12 Launch and Landing

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Website Updates

One of the things that took an enormous amount of time and energy was the moving of the www.theology.edu domain to a new hosting service. As if that weren’t enough, I also decided to get new domain names for our church, Quartz Hill Community Church, which had been using the URL www.theology.edu/QHCC. A rather cumbersome address. So, I bought the domain names www.quartzhillcommunitychurch.org, www.quartzhillchurch.org and www.littlebluechurch.org and pointed them all to the old location. And then I decided to completely redesign and revamp the church’s website. And, once that was done, I then completely revamped and redesigned the Quartz Hill School of Theology website as well. Both sites had not been updated in many, many years; they were essentially stuck in a timewarp at around the year 1998 (we’ve had the theology.edu domain since 1994).

So, if you’d like to see the pretty results of several hundred hours of labor on my part:

Quartz Hill Community Church

Quartz Hill School of Theology

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Being Busy

It’s been a long while since I last posted to this blog, primarily because I’ve been abnormally busy with other things. First, there was a lot of time taken in caring for my youngest daughter and her mental illness. Thankfully, she has not only stabilized, but has also entered what might be termed “recovery”: in the sense that she is finally starting to mature and make better choices in her life. Her first psychotic break happened when she was barely 13 and her development sort of stalled at that level; in the over two years that she has been stable, we are finally starting to witness a growth in her and more maturity so that she is gradually moving now toward her actual, chronological age which will be 21 come September.

On top of that, I’ve been the interim pastor at my church now for–well, it will be two years now come August 23. I’ve gotten accustomed to the new position and duties. On top of all of that, the church has been undergoing a variety of changes: we are finally doing the repairs and renovations on the physical building that in many cases had been put off by twenty years. The changes we are seeing, both in the building and among the people are very positive.

So, I’ve been busy, and distracted, and just couldn’t, or chose not, to spend the time here that I should have. I may be able to return to a more normal schedule here once again, posting something at least once a week. I’d like to get back to once a day if I can, but we shall see how it goes.

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SpaceX Launch and Landing January 14, 2017

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Blogging is Hard Sometimes

Blogging is hard sometimes, as is any sort of writing. When my foster son died of SIDS, now nearly twenty years ago, I found it impossible to write for nearly three years. I occupied myself by throwing myself into other work–like cataloging all the books in the library at Quartz Hill School of Theology; that and teaching classes in theology, Bible, and Hebrew. Now, after being thrown into becoming the interim pastor of my church (now moving into my fifteenth month) I’ve been increasingly consumed with doing that and other writing than preparing a sermon for each Sunday has fallen by the wayside to a large extent. My youngest daughter, who suffers from a serious mental illness (she’s bipolar), is thankfully in recovery and stable (and med compliant) so she requires much less attention now than she did for the six years from initial diagnosis until she was finally stabilized, now about two years ago. Nevertheless, my head really has not been in my writing for awhile, whether it is books or doing blogs here or at the Jerusalem Post. I’m lucky now if I get a post up even once a month, which is terrible, I know. I have two science fiction novels and one historical fiction novel that I am in the middle of trying to rewrite, another novel that I’m trying to peddle, and three novels that I’m somewhere in the first drafts of. Plus, I’ve got three non-fiction books that I’m trying to rewrite. But it’s been now nearly five years (shortly after my youngest daughter’s initial diagnosis with her mental illness, when she was becoming increasingly uncontrollable and violent–I still suffer from some PTSD from that)–five years it’s been since my last book contract. I’ve got several indie-published novels that I’ve put up at Amazon since then, thanks to encouragement from Sarah A. Hoyt, and I’m making a bit of income from them, which is nice and much better than I’d make off them if they were just sitting on my hard drive. But my writing has really fallen off from what it used to be with how life has gotten in the way, as it were.

Sometimes life is like that. But you need to not let it discourage you. Just keep plugging along. The droughts don’t last forever. The rains will come.

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SpaceX Is Going to Mars

The actual presentation begins at about the 20 minute mark, so fast forward to that point.

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Facebook Posts

What passes through my head upon reading far too many posts on Facebook:(this isn’t original; I got it from Jerry Pournelle’s blog several years ago): “I cannot believe how incredibly stupid you are. I mean rock-hard stupid. Dehydrated-rock-hard stupid. Stupid, so stupid that it goes way beyond the stupid we know into a whole different dimension of stupid. You are Trans-stupid stupid. Meta-stupid. Stupid collapsed on itself so far that even the neutrons have collapsed. Stupid gotten so dense that no intellect can escape. Singularity stupid. Blazing hot mid-day sun on Mercury stupid. You emit more stupid in one second than our entire galaxy emits in a year. Quasar stupid. Your writing has to be a troll. Nothing in our universe can really be this stupid. Perhaps this is some primordial fragment from the original big bang of stupid. Some pure essence of a stupid so uncontaminated by anything else as to be beyond the laws of physics that we know.”

I have become increasingly reluctant to react to stupid stuff that I see posted (though admittedly, against my better judgment, I do on occasion react and almost always end up regretting doing so). Too often the people that post things that are untrue (on the level of claiming two and two are seventy-three) simply double down and become abusive, make accusations, insist that they are right and I am evil. It’s hardly worth it anymore. I present evidence, people react by kicking it out of the way and poking me in the eye with their lies, accusing me of perfidy, and in general preferring not to be confused by the facts. In my experience, an awful lot of people enjoy their stupidity. They’d rather believe tasty lies than face painful truth; they’d rather accept simplistic explanations that soothe and reinforce their comforting point of view instead of struggling through a more complicated reality. They reject documentation, claim bias, and offer no evidence beyond a simple dismissal of what you present. Their lives seem governed by a rejection of logic, reason, and science. They think in cliches and catch phrases; those who don’t agree with their cliches and catch phrases, or question them, are automatically evil. Virtue attaches to cheering for the right team, using the right words in the right ways, being mad at those who don’t wear the team colors. They’d rather embrace logical fallacies, conspiracy theories, undocumented blathering and made up stuff devoid of evidence and truth. They are quick to accept what matches what they already believe and hate you if you demonstrate that while such and such may sound great, it simply never happened or is just not true. Just because I tell you that what you think a politician you hate did never really happened doesn’t mean I like that politician. I just think the truth matters, whether I like the truth or not, whether I agree with a politician or not. Just because I tell you that the story of an archaeological discovery never happened or has been misinterpreted and that it does not prove the Bible does not mean I hate the Bible. I just think that the truth matters and I’m genuinely puzzled that you’d rather embrace a lie instead of the truth. People go “Oh, this sounds good and matches what I think” or “Oh, this makes me mad and sounds just like the sort of thing that the people I hate would do or say” and post it without bothering to do any research. Since when did passing on gossip become a positive good?

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