Archive for the ‘Donatism’ Tag

Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After the Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Elisha and the Shunamite Woman

Above:  Elisha and the Shumanite Woman, by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Image in the Public Domain

Grace, Outsiders, and Theological Humility

FEBRUARY 8 and 9, 2021


The Collect:

Everlasting God, you give strength to the weak and power to the faint.

Make us agents of your healing and wholeness,

that your good may be made known to the ends your creation,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 24


The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 4:8-17, 32-37 (Monday)

2 Kings 8:1-6 (Tuesday)

Psalm 102:12-28 (Both Days)

Acts 14:1-7 (Monday)

Acts 15:36-41 (Tuesday)


He will look with favor on the prayer of the homeless;

he will not despise their plea.

–Psalm 102:17, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


A childless woman bore shame during the time in which Elisha lived.  This was, of course, wrong, but it was her reality.  The story of one such woman, as we find it in 2 Kings 4 and 8, was one of repeated graces–a successful pregnancy, the raising of her dead son, advice to flee ahead of a seven-year-long drought, and, as a widow, restoration of property and income.  Her end, without help, would have been unfortunate.  For example, a widow was especially vulnerable in the Hebrew society of the time.

Widows and barren women were marginalized figures.  So were Gentiles, according to many Jews at the time of St. Paul the Apostle, who was always a Jew.  Christianity began as a Jewish sect.  Indeed, the separation from Judaism was incomplete until 135 C.E., during the Second Jewish War.  The parting of the ways was in progress by the late 60s and early-to-middle 70s C.E., the timeframe for the writing of the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the four canonical Gospels.  (Thus those religious politics influenced the telling of the stories of Jesus and the twelve Apostles.)  The inclusion of Gentiles and the terms of how that happened caused much controversy within Judaism, Christian and otherwise.  The pericope from Acts 15:36-41 glosses over a fact which St. Paul mentioned in Galatians 2:11-14:  St. Barnabas sided with those who insisted that Gentile converts become Jews first.  Such a position, St. Paul wrote, nullified the grace of God (Galatians 2:21).

Today we read accounts of help for the marginalized.  These people were among the marginalized because other people defined them as such.  This definition labeled people as either insiders or outsiders, for the benefit of the alleged insiders.  I suspect, however, that God’s definition of “insider” is broader than many human understandings have held and do hold.  We humans continue to label others as outsiders for the benefit of the “insiders,” as they define themselves.  Grace remains scandalous, does it not?  And, as Luke Timothy Johnson has said, the Gospel of Mark suggests that many of those who think of themselves as insiders are really outsiders.

I reject Universalism on the side of too-radical inclusion and a range of narrow definitions of who is pure on the opposite side.  The decision about who is inside and who is outside, of who is pure and who is impure, is one for God alone.  We mere mortals have partial answers regarding that question, for we are not totally lacking in received wisdom.  Yet we tend to use the matter as a way of making ourselves feel better about ourselves much of the time.  Often we lapse into a version of the Donatist heresy, in fact.  We ought to live more graciously and with theological humility instead, for we are all broken, weak, and inconstant.  Each of us depends entirely upon grace.  So who are we to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to do?











Devotion for Tuesday After the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Peter's Vison of the Sheet with Animals

Above:  Peter’s Vision of the Sheet with Animals

Image in the Public Domain

Purity, Inclusion, and Exclusion

DECEMBER 8, 2020


The Collect:

Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son.

By his coming strengthen us to serve you with purified lives;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 4:2-6

Psalm 27

Acts 11:1-18


One thing have I asked of the LORD;

one thing I seek;

that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life;

To behold the fair beauty of the LORD

and to seek him in his temple.

–Psalm 27:5-6, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


For the love of God is broader

than the measure of man’s minds

and the heart of the Eternal

is most wonderfully kind.


But we make his love too narrow

by false limits of our own;

and we magnify his strictness

with a zeal he will not own.

–Frederick William Faber, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (1854)


The vision of Jerusalem in Isaiah 4 is that of a city purified from moral corruption, such as economic exploitation (3:13-15).   The purified city, which the text describes in imagery reminiscent of the Exodus, will be a glorious place.

That is all very nice, but I become nervous when mere mortals become judges of purity.  Then, in the worst cases, people undertake inquisitions, Donatism, and allegedly holy wars in the name of God.  Less extreme cases also offend me greatly, for they violate the inclusive spirit of Acts 11:1-18.  Besides, I fail the purity tests which other people design.  I recall something which Philip Yancey wrote in a book.  He attended a Bible college in the 1960s.  That institution’s grooming standards for men would have excluded Jesus, as artists have depicted him traditionally.  And there was no emphasis on social justice, such as civil rights.

So may we strive, by grace, to love our neighbors as ourselves and to respect the dignity of every human being.  May we not be too afraid to act compassionately toward each other.  May mere human decency be a hallmark of our behavior.  And may we leave matters of purity to God.










Week of 5 Epiphany: Friday, Year 2   7 comments

Above:  The Divided Monarchy

Donatism of a Sort

FEBRUARY 11, 2022


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


1 Kings 11:29-32; 12:19 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

During that time Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem went out of Jerusalem and the prophet Ahijah of Shiloh met him on the way.  He had put on a new robe; and when the two were alone in the open country, Ahijah took hold of the new robe he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces.

Take ten pieces,

he said to Jeroboam.

For thus said the the LORD, the God of Israel:  I am about to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hands, and I will give you ten tribes.  But one tribe shall remain his–for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel….

Solomon dies and Rehoboam succeeds him and maintains and makes more severe his policies regarding “the harsh labor and the heavy yoke,” per 12:4 and 12:11

Thus Israel revolted against the House of David, as is still the case.

Psalm 81:8-16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

8 Hear, O my people, and I will admonish you:

O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

There shall be no strange god among you;

you shall not worship a foreign god.

10 I am the LORD your God,

who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said,

“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

11  And yet my people did not hear my voice,

and Israel would not obey me.

12  So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts,

to follow their own devices.

13  Oh, that my people would listen to me!

that Israel would walk in my ways!

14  I should soon subdue their enemies

and turn my hand against their foes.

15  Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him,

and their punishment would last for ever.

16  But Israel would I feed with the finest wheat

and satisfy him with honey from the rock.

Mark 7:31-37 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Once more Jesus left the neighbourhood of Tyre and passed through Sidon towards the Lake of Galilee, and crossed the Ten Towns territory.  They brought to him a man who was deaf and unable to speak intelligibly, and they implored him to put his hand upon him.  Jesus took him away from the crowd by himself. He put his fingers in the man’s ears and touched his tongue with his saliva.  Then, looking up to Heaven, he gave a deep  sigh and said to him in Aramaic,


And his ears were opened and immediately whatever had tied his tongue came loose and he spoke quite plainly.  Jesus gave instructions that they should tell no one about this happening, but the more he told them, the more they broadcast the news.  People were absolutely amazed, and kept saying,

How wonderfully he has done everything!  He even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.


The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Week of 5 Epiphany:  Friday, Year 1:

Matthew 15 (Parallel to Mark 7):


A Partial Chronology:

Reign of Solomon, a.k.a. Jedidiah or Yedidiah, King of (united) Israel = 968-928 B.C.E.

Reign of Rehoboam, King of Judah (southern kingdom) = 928-911 B.C.E.

Reign of Jeroboam I, King of Israel (northern kingdom) = 928-907 B.C.E.

Reign of Hoshea, last King of Israel = 732-722 B.C.E.

Reign of Zedekiah (Mattaniah), last King of Judah = 597-586 B.C.E.

–courtesy of The Jewish Study Bible, page 2111


“What,” [King Rehoboam] asked [the elders who had served his father Solomon], “do you advise that we reply to the people who said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father placed upon us’?”  And the young men who had grown up with him answered, “Speak thus to the people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, now make it lighter for us.’  Say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins.  My father imposed a heavy yoke on you, and I will add to your yoke; my father flogged you with whips, but I will flog  you with scorpions.'”

–1 Kings 12:9-11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

Rehoboam obeyed that advice, to the detriment of his kingdom, which sundered during a predictable and predicted rebellion.  The leader of that uprising was Jeroboam, a former underling (in charge of forced labor in the House of Joseph–1 Kings 11:28) of Solomon who had been living in exile in Egypt.  There was popular support for Jeroboam, soon to become King Jeroboam I, but there might also have been Pharonic support, for Egypt attacked Rehoboam’s Judah but not Jeroboam’s Israel.  And, during the dueling reigns of Rehoboam and Jeroboam I, the two Jewish kingdoms were openly hostile to each other, fighting a war.

The text lays much of the responsibility for this state of affairs upon Solomon, but does not let Rehoboam off the hook either.  The new monarch of the House of David could have done as his people asked of him, but he chose not to do so.  For the best explanation of what happened immediately after the death of Solomon I turn to Voltaire:

Injustice in the end produces independence.

And, with two Jewish kingdoms, where there used to be one, fighting among themselves off and on, it became easier for foreign and more powerful powers to play them off each other and subdue and conquer them.

None of this had to happen.  It occurred because people in positions of power made certain decisions, which had consequences.  As the Gospel of Mark quotes Jesus in a different context,

…If a kingdom is divided against itself, then that kingdom cannot last…. (Mark 3:24, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition, 1972)

There is an obvious lesson here for leaders of nations, regardless of geography, timeframe, or political persuasion.  But what ought the rest of us learn from it?  What can we take away from it and apply in our public lives?

I am a student of ecclesiastical history.  In ancient Church history I point to the Donatist controversy, which divided northern African Christianity from the time following the Diocletian persecution to the spread of Islam. Beginning in the early 300s, there was a raging and divisive question:  Should the Church have forgiven and readmitted to its fellowship those who had repented of buckling under the harsh Diocletian persecution?  They had managed to avoid suffering by renouncing their faith.  The Roman Church, being in the forgiveness business, accepted heartfelt confessions.  This did not satisfy the holier-than-thou Donatists, however, so they broke away.  The Donatist schism persisted long after the original cause, weakening Christianity in that part of the world.

Modern-day Donatists of various types are with us today.  Every time some group breaks away to the ideological right (Church schisms are usually to the right.), there is Donatism of a sort.  Every time an exclusionary message leads to a denominational or congregational split, one sees evidence of Donatism of a sort.  Donatism in any age is that message which says, “Those people are not pure enough to be part of my church, for they are too lax.”  In the context of the Civil Rights Era U.S. South, some white congregations chose to exclude African Americans from membership.  That was also Donatism.  “Those people are not pure enough to be part of my church, for they are not white.”  There should be standards in the church, of course, but there is no way for loving Christian discipline to coexist with a holier-than-thou attitude.  And there should never be room for racism in the Church.

The Church is stronger when it is relatively unified, maintaining a balanced discipline while remaining in the forgiveness business.  We Christians have much work to do:  people to visit, feed, clothe, convert, and disciple.  This work is more than sufficient to keep us busy.  So I must conclude that, when we find the time to argue about issues Jesus never addressed, we are falling down on our jobs.  When we become so concerned about being theologically correct that we choose not to accept sincere confessions of sin and to forgive others, we have gone wrong.  Did not Jesus associate in public with disreputable and repentant people?

Here are the probing questions with which I leave you, and which only you, O reader, can answer:  Are you a Donatist?  If yes, what will you do about that?