Monday, August 24, 2009

Wenger on European Christians

Earlier this month I blogged about my new book (110 years old) Six months in Bible Lands by A. D. Wenger. Wengers are in my family tree, but I think he's a different branch. I've finished it now, and thoroughly enjoyed reliving the many places we visited this spring on our "Steps of Paul" tour. However, his trip is 14 months, so he sees many places and visits many different Christian churches, missionaries, and particularly Mennonites, when he can find them. Modern Jews and Arabs of Israel probably think Christian pilgrims make too much of "holy" sites (although we bring many tourist dollars), and miss the modern day political and social problems. However, an Iowan doesn't go to D.C. to see samples of corn, so I think it's quite logical to look for Biblical clues about archaeological sites in Israel, Turkey, Egypt and Italy. Wenger's book isn't exactly a travelogue, but more a 550 page evangelism tract. Nothing misses his magnifying glass of a premillenialist, American Mennonite evangelist who was on the cusp of many changes in his church and American society.

He provides some details both about Mennonites and Lutherans, or "evangelicals." After noting the various Mennonites he visited in Germany and Switzerland, he writes:
    "But how did we get to Germany and the adjoining countries from which we came to America? . . . According to history, many centuries before Christ the descendants of Japheth, the third son of Noah, reached central Europe. For many generations they had been pushing westward from their primitive home, thousands of miles away in Asia, to these favored lands (Germany) and had forgotten the God of their old father Noah and turned to be a horde of degraded savages clothed in the skins of animals. They worshipped wooden and metal images, hand-made gods, and offered up human sacrifices. We are not the descendants of the Jews, but of these Gentile barbarians. The early missionaries bore the Gospel of salvation westward and northward from the Holy Land until it reached our forefathers several centuries ago. . . Ever since as early as 150 AD when the Roman Church already began to grow corrupt, there have existed bodies of Christians independent of that church. . . in one continued line such as Marconite Christians, Paulician Christians, Catheroi Christians, Waldensian Christians and Mennonite Christians. . . The faith of the ancient Waldenses was not changed, but because of the prominence of the able minister, Menno Simon [former Catholic priest baptized by and united to Waldenses] others gave them the name Mennonists and later Mennonites. . .

    [Gives history of William Penn inviting Mennonites from Germany, Holland and Switzerland to settle in Pennsylvania, the first arriving in 1683] In our minds let us step back 200 years and take the position of our brethren ancestors in Europe. Three things stare us in the face, severe persecution, recantation of faith or flight to America. We choose the later. We are hundreds of miles from the sea. There are no railway trains to carry us to the vessel, none even in the world. By means of vehicles, horseback or on foot, we pass through many dangers and reach the shore. No great steamship awaits to carry us in safety in a week to Philadelphia or New York. We must take only the ru'e sail crafts of the time and be tossed for months on the merciless waves. At last we set our feet upon a strange land [notes problems with Indians]. . . Many clung to their faith and laid down their lives for Jesus that He might take them up to better realms. Others were too weak to stand the test of their faith. The longing eyes of some never reached our fruitful land. They rest in their deep graves until the sea shall give up its dead. Now, from five to eight generations on both shores await the Resurrection. Others continued to follow the little band that settled at Germantown. They are still coming to our most favored land, especially from Russia. . . The pressure by the European governments to bear arms and to violate other principles of the gospel of Christ has been greater than in our country, hence some of the most faithful and conscientious ones continue to come to enjoy our religious freedom.
He goes on to note how small the European congregations are now, with the two groups separated by a vast ocean are almost completely independent of each other. He is quite distressed at the higher criticism that has taken over many of the European Mennonites, and how the Germans see nothing wrong with vineyards that will turn to alcohol, and their pridefulness in their beautiful farms and livestock.

In almost every country he visits he notes the condition and fashion of women, always mentioning how much better American women live, because in so many societies women were little more than pack animals, and still wearing the family's wealth on their heads or clothing. He compares the deformed, tiny feet of the wealthy Chinese women to the stays in the corsets of high fashion western women deforming internal organs.
    The laboring classes [of Germany] are hard workers, especially the women. You can see them doing all kinds of slavish work, even hauling on the road with ox teams. Nothing appears too hard for the weaker sex. . . On the road I saw an old lady tottering beneath a heavy basket while beside her walked a large, strong man with his hands in his pockets. . . Women are not held in high esteem and as man's equal, especially in rural districts. While her position seems a little degraded and lower than in our country, it is not nearly as low as in Asiatic countries. Men take respectable places and women are pushed aside. . . The Germans are noted for their kindness and hospitality. . . When you retire for the night and again when you meet in the morning you must shake hands with every member of the family. Really I think there is not a friendlier people to be found or a people more ready to do you a favor than the Germans are. . .
He tells the story of Katrina, a child care worker and teacher of young children in Gelsheim. Here he puts in a plug for religious education outside the home, something not popular in many American Christian groups.
    "Her mission is to live for the good of others and for the Lord whom she loves. She appears to be a pious and heavenly-minded soul, fond of prayer and the Scriptures. . . She is a Lutheran, or rather Evangelical [notes she attends a pietist group movement]. . . She calls it "Kleine Kinder Schule." Though a school teacher, yet in one sense she is a farmer, for she allows many others to go to the field by keeping the children. While the parents and the larger children are engaged in household duties and in working in the fields she is taking care of the little ones of the village [50]. . . She entertains them with may beautiful pictures, especially Bible pictures; and with dolls, all kinds of toys, hobby horses, swings, trowels to play in the sand, lines to play driving the horse and apparatus to play post man and many other games. Katrina well knows that children are almost always busy at something. . . who knows how much these plastic minds are shaped and moulded for time and eternity by her teaching and influence. . . I am told 200 such sisters work in the province of Wurtemburg alone. Their work is highly necessary, especially in summer, when the women all work in the fields, and besides the children generally get better training under the care of a Sister than they would get at home. . .
Except for the part about each child having a spiritual spark that needed to be ignited, he could be a disciple of Friedrich Froebel, the German who started the kindergarten idea which was imported to the United States.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's time

For years our huge, evangelical congregation in suburban Columbus with 3 locations and 9 services on Sunday and many ministries has been told we would leave if this happened. Let’s see if promises are kept. In April 2008 I wrote about the "Social Statement on Human Sexuality" at Digging for the Pony.
    This ELCA draft does violence to our English language--verbal abuse, noun abuse, adverb abuse and adjective abuse, to say nothing of abusing our Christian faith. It is Scripture twisting and gymnastics! This draft criticizes "Lutheran historical teachings concerning homosexuality" with no footnotes (Book of Concord? Luther? Lutheran Brethren? Missouri-Synod Lutheran? Wisconsin Synod? the old ALC?). It does not analyze or reference any teaching, research or biblical criticism by known Christian homosexuals, theologians or Lutheran pastors who promote ordination and marriage for gays. It does find space to comment on and condemn children's clothing, playground bullying, consumerism, date rape, dangers of the internet, early sex education, grandparents raising grandchildren and inappropriate touching of female pastors. If you throw in the kitchen sink maybe no one will notice there is no Biblical foundation?
I checked the website today, and found out the temperature in Columbus is 63, but didn't see anything about this issue. Nor did I really expect to. ELCA (our synod) has been spiritually wandering in the wilderness and losing members ever since it was created in 1988 out of a liberal and a moderate synod whose ethnic differences had blurred over the years.
    From Episcopal Life online: The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on August 21 approved opening the ministry of the church to pastors and other professional workers living in committed same-gender relationships.

    The resolution passed by a vote of 559 to 451 and overturns previous church policy that prohibited participation of gays and lesbians in church ministries unless they were celibate.

    Discussions about human sexuality have dominated the August 17-23 assembly in Minneapolis, the chief legislative authority of the 4.6 million-member denomination. More than half, or about 1,045, of the 2,000 participants are voting members at the gathering, themed "God's work. Our hands."

    The assembly also approved a resolution committing the church to find ways for congregations that choose to do so to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships." It did not use the word "marriage." It also approved, by a vote of 771-230, a resolution committing the church to respect the differences of opinions on the matter and honor the "bound consciences" of those who disagree.
In 2008 I concluded with, "I don't know what our congregation (UALC) is waiting for--it took this sexuality task force seven years to write a mish-mash and hodge podge and submit it to the people of God as a serious work. Every paragraph looks like the sentences were drawn from a hat of former reports and pasted to a page. It is an insult to our common sense and a travesty of our faith. It's time to go. It really is. These people will not back down; they'll just wear us out."

Monday, August 03, 2009

Six months in Bible lands

Yesterday I bought a "bag of books" for one dollar at the Women's Club book sale here in Lakeside, Ohio. There wasn't much left when I got there and I just picked some up randomly. When I got home and went through the bag I found some real treasures, including a first edition of Edna St. Vincent Millay's letters. However, I also found a delightful book with a very long title,
    Six Months in Bible Lands and Around the World in Fourteen Months; observations and notes of travel in England, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, Constantinople, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, India, Ceylon, China and Japan. With fifty illustrations. Moral, practical and religious subjects are treated in harmony with the Bible. Wenger, A. D. Joseph B. Steiner, Mennonite Publisher, Doylestown, PA. 1902.

    Book Description from an internet used book site: Hard Cover. Book Condition: Good. Dark green cover, some light spots. cover slightly frayed at spine ends and corners. clean and tight. 550 pp. $14.00 (what the dealer wanted, plus shipping)
Wengers are in my family tree, so I first looked up Amos Daniel Wenger, and learned through a genealogy that he is a descendant of Christian Wenger, not Hans and Hannah Wenger, my guys. But they all arrived in the U.S. around the same time, the 1730s. Also in looking through internet genealogies, I learned that his wife of one year had died in 1898 and in January 1899 he began this around-the-world trip, returning in 1900, to recover from his grief. This is not mentioned in the passages I've read. He later married his second wife with whom he had 8 children all of whom either became ministers, missionaries or spouses of same. He edited his notes with research about the areas, and published the book in 1902.

He says in the introduction that no orthodox Mennonite had ever written a travel book of this type and it would fill a place in the church literature. Often I have a problem with the flowery purple prose of 100 years ago, but he is a delightful, easy read, and sounds like he went on our trips of the last few years. Before he even gets out of the U.S. he lets us know on page 3 that foolish claims of materialism and the worldly culture are claiming even Mennonites. He stopped in Brooklyn to visit an Amish-Mennonite family--or a used-to-be in the faith--in their too well funished home with costly furniture and adornments.
    "The widowed mother is from an humble Amish Mennonite family in Pennsylvania. Like too many thoughtless young men and women, she arranged her conjugal relations first and the church relations received an after consideration. Now she finds herself a member of a denomination too proud and avaricious to give her a pew in her nearest church-house."
So he went off with the family some distance to find a church that was within their reach, although the son, a well-off lawyer, has his membership at the nearest place of worship and rents a pew there. Wenger has little use for magnificient buildings and would prefer to see the money go to feed the poor. More about that when he gets to Europe!