The Emperors’ treasures

National Palace Museum (Taipei, Taiwan)

In Chinese culture, the finest art was present and used in emperors’ palaces. Some art were used to depict gods and deities for thousands of years, from dynasty to dynasty.  I never knew how much I would enjoy Chinese art until I went to several museums in Taiwan like the National Palace Museum (NPM) in Taipei City (and a smaller local museum here in Changhua City).  I saw some of the national treasures in the NPM that were moved by Chang Kai-Shek when he relocated the democratic national government and officials to Taiwan. There is so much art and culture here in this small island nation that my short experience here has increased my appreciation for my Chinese heritage.

Most fascinating to me was an ivory puzzle ball.  Inside are over 20 individual layers that revolve. The amazing fact is that it was carved from a single piece of ivory with j-shaped knife.

I had the benefit of having a few English-speaking tour guides at the museums.  They have been gracious in sharing their background knowledge of many pieces of artwork, and why they are appreciated by connaisseurs and collectors of art.  The information they shared was what made my trip to the museum interesting.  This has whet my appetite to see more Chinese art. Some can date back to even before Old Testament times (5000 BCE).

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Religion in Taiwan

While visiting my spouse’s hometown in Changhua, Taiwan, I visited Bagua Mountain (actually a hill) where there is a huge statue of Buddha.  I climbed up its inner staircases within its inner sanctum where there are displays on each floor explaining the history of Buddhism in Taiwan. I found this to be a good learning experience as I was not raised in a Buddhist-Confucian culture.

Christianity had missed an early opportunity to evangelize China.  Buddhism was only introduced to China in the 3rd century BC but did not flourish until later even into the 3rd to 6th century AD.  There were a some early 5th c. evangelists in East Asia but they did not make any in-roads to evangelize China.

Taiwan’s major religion today is Buddhism.  Having 35% of its population as adherents, there are countless temples in Taiwan–as many as there are churches in the U.S. bible-belt. I’m not sure of the percentage of Christianity in Taiwan but my guess-timate according to various sources is anywhere between 5-10% of the population. Evangelism through the Presbyterian Church came in earlier and established many institutions like hospitals and schools. The local hospital in this city is Changhua Presbyterian (Christian) Hospital.  The local people greatly appreciate this major institution because it has benefited so many people.

Taiwan (R.O.C.) is a free nation and has freedom of religion, speech, assembly, elections, etc., but it is forced to play the political game of who has sovereign authority over the country.  Pray for political stability of Taiwan. The threat and intimidation tactics from mainland China (P.R.C.) is similar to that of North Korea vs South Korea.

 

Martin Luther’s Law and Gospel

Christianity Today’s, January/February 2017 edition, features Martin Luther, the 16th c. theologian/pastor who changed the church and the secular world 500 years ago by introducing a theological understanding that brought spiritual freedom through Law and Gospel. It’s a good article to read.  It’s one of my great life-altering theologies.

Poll: Authority of the Bible vs. the Church’s Teachings

Here’s a poll for you.  Have we gone too far in rejecting the authority in the church, or not far enough?  Find out where your church or congregation stands on authority–on the bible alone, or also on the teachings and traditions of the church?


It seems like the majority in the evangelical church today tend to understand the authority of the bible vs church tradition in this way:

Accepting the infallibility & inerrancy of the bible which is the only authority (to the exclusion of the authority of the church’s teachings)

while

Rejecting the authority of the church’s teachings/traditions based on the bible (but not to the exclusion of the bible as the only infallible authority)

Yes, seems like a small difference in wording but implications can be huge.  It comes down to this: Where upon which does the onus for infallibility lay?  1) Upon our individual congregation’s interpretation of the bible, or 2) Upon the Church’s historic, catholic, and apostolic interpretation of the bible?

What are the implications?  Many evangelicals are never taught anything about the historical meaning of the Church’s early traditions and confessions. As a result, have we evangelicals become individualistic and have a type of privatized inner spirituality where we see our faith as a kind of “me, God and my bible”?  I know it’s a tough question to answer because we need to dig really deep to examine our inner spirituality.

Historical background: The Reformation in the early 1500s carried a strong conviction lrose_stainedglass300that the Scriptures alone was the word of God.  Luther did not trust in the pope or councils alone because, in the past, they had spoken in error and contradicted themselves.  Therefore, reformers like Luther and Calvin rejected the pope’s official words as being the very words of God Himself, thus the phrase: “sola scriptura” and “word alone”.

America – the movie

I just watched a great eye-opening documentary called America: Imagine the World Without Her (2014).  It’s a story that questions the shaming of the United States through revisionist history, lies and omissions by educational institutions, political organizations, Alinsky, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other progressives that may be unwittingly undermining America.

For those who have been educated by the left-leaning educators in our public school systems and universities, this lesser-told story would add an interesting perspective and facts that would shed new light and add balance. If you feel like a liberal but don’t know why, watch this movie. If you’re a conservative, this doesn’t paint a perfect and glorious picture of America either.  Seems balanced. A good watch.  Thanks, Dinesh D’Souza.

First use of “wall of separation” between Church and State

Roger-Williams-Edward-Coke-2
Depiction of Roger Williams while he was still a member of the Puritan clergy (his pre-Baptist days).

The first Baptist in America, Roger Williams, was actually the first to use the phrase “wall of separation”.  In his quote below, Williams compared the true church as a sort of garden of Eden, and he referred to this world’s secular realm as the “wilderness”.  He stated:

“[W]hen they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world, God hathe ever broke down the wall it selfe, removed the Candlestick, and made his Garden a Wildernesse.”

Roger-Williams-illustration-631
Depiction of Roger Williams after he was banished from the colonies by the State.

Williams was later to be banished from the colonies for his seemingly liberal and heretical views of a division between Church and State. Previous, such a secular approach to government had never existed because the Crown’s Head of State was ordained and was to dutifully and responsibly act as “Defender of the Faith”.  Williams realized that a state-run religion would create a spiritually void culture of Christendom (in borrowing a term from Soren Kierkegaard), rather than, encourage true and genuine faith that would save one’s soul.  Therefore, a joint State and Church was seen as an enemy of true and genuine faith. He believed  to mix religion with politics would result in politics; and that to mix church and state would corrupt the church.

To this day, Baptists and Evangelicals believe that true religion must be voluntary and arise from a free conscience (thus, the Baptist doctrine of “Soul Liberty”).

Keeping a “wall of separation” between Church and State

President Thomas Jefferson
President Thomas Jefferson

Baptists had a very important role in the formation of the idea of a “wall of separation between church and state”. Thomas Jefferson made this phrase famous, and in part, it was due to the influence from the Baptists. Jefferson had written two letters. The first of the two letters was addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut in 1802, in which he mentioned this concept of a “wall of separation between church and state”. This letter was written in response to alleviate concerns that Baptists may have had about any creation of an official State Church. Baptists were not anti-religion (as some secularists may prefer to portray). Baptist believers loved religion and their Christian faith. What they abhorred was one official state religion, for fear that the State’s politics would interfere with the church’s affairs and cause corruption.

President Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Baptist Association of Connecticut dated January 1, 1802.
President Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Baptist Association of Connecticut dated January 1, 1802. It was a letter in response to concerns raised about creating an official state church.

Today, some misinterpret the phrase “wall of separation” to mean that we are to keep all religious involvement outside of the public square for fear it might be perceived as it being sanctioned or approved by the state (example). However, this was not what Jefferson had intended; what he had intended was exactly the reverse. This revolutionary concept of having a “wall of separation” between church and state was made in response to the State’s intrusion upon the church’s right to determine its own affairs. It had over-stepped its bounds, as proven in the Crowns persecution of Baptist and Quaker believers. The one and only intent for this conceptual wall was to keep the government’s hands completely off how churches and what Christians believed and live out their faith.

After stating all of this, I would also opine that the State does have  place to maintain religious liberties and freedoms for its people. Today, our courts have done a disservice by deconstructing the precedent of an accommodationist approach historically established by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the framers.   The separationist approach will completely distance any concepts of religion from the public square; whereas, the accommodationist approach will not prohibit or inhibit religious ideas and speech from flowing freely in the public square (e.g., public prayer, reading of scripture, etc.). Personally, I prefer the accommodationist approach over the separationist approach.  Keeping religion actively flowing freely in the public square creates a healthy religious atmosphere in society, which I feel would still be a good thing for today’s seemingly over-secularized western society.

First Freedom–Fight for Religious Freedom on PBS

In my readings on religious liberty and freedom, I’ve come to appreciate that we are all endowed with certain inalienable rights by our Creator. In our pluralistic society where certain religious groups accuse people of blasphemy and seek to remove all religious expressions from the public square, I think there is still so much we can all learn about religious freedom.

FYI, I’ve found a documentary by PBS that gives a brief historical account of how America’s religious freedom came about. The 5-6 episodes are clips are only 4-5 minutes each but the DVD is 87 minutes long. The free preview and the link to purchase the DVD is here: http://video.pbs.org/program/first-freedom/ .