24 February 2017

Balkan Tensions: A Generation After the Wars of the 1990's

This story points to two realities. One the situation in the Balkans has never fully been resolved. The tensions still exist and with Brussels' hand growing weak, NATO is attempting to step in and fill the gap. The NATO diplomatic intervention indicates something of a brewing crisis. With the exception of Slovenia and Croatia, the countries of Former Yugoslavia have not joined the EU and so it represents this pocket within Europe wherein Brussels cannot wield full control and has limited influence.

They pay attention to Brussels because there's been the move toward the EU, that is until recent years. Many of the Western-connected technocrats are still pushing for EU membership but many nationalists (especially within Serbia) are against it. Kosovo it must be said aspires to EU membership for two reasons... security and the possibility of an open border. The latter will create a situation in which Kosovars can go abroad and send home remittances.
To use a cliché the situation is becoming the proverbial power-keg and like a century ago the international and geopolitical ramifications also represent a danger to the world order.
In the 1990s when the United States through NATO smashed all opposition within the region and sought to fully incorporate it within the Western European dominated spectrum, Russia was broken and could not intervene.
Today the situation is different. Russia sees itself very much in its historic role as the defender of the smaller Slavic and Orthodox nations. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the threat came from the Ottomans and the Habsburgs. Today it's Washington and Brussels. The tensions in Eastern Europe and certainly the intrigues of both sides have created a dangerous situation. The Serbs in particular are villainised within the West but to be fair from their perspective they have lost the most.
The grievances are not limited to the conflicts of the 1990s. These issues between the various nations of the Balkans extend back to World War II and even into the Middle Ages. This is an irredentist culture-clash, a story of vengeance and bottled up frustration that has quite literally percolated for centuries.
Once again to understand this region in terms of the categories of Classical Liberalism and its values is to completely miss the context. This region had no Renaissance and no Enlightenment. Its break from Ottoman and Habsburg domination was born of nationalism to be sure but under a republican veneer at best. The Balkans are still dominated by raw tribalism and the potential for Great Power proxy war is tremendous. The Balkans Wars of the 1990s would have taken on a very different hue if the Serbs had been backed by a powerful benefactor flooding them with logistical support and weapons.

There are small but vibrant Christian communities throughout the region living within Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim contexts. They stand to suffer if conflict breaks out and they need to be remembered. I pray they are not succumbing to the temptation to join in with Western machinations. They will bring ruin to their society and decimate their testimony. I'm afraid this sort of thing has already occurred in the Ukraine and elsewhere.


  1. "There are small but vibrant Christian communities throughout the region living within Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim contexts"

    Can you further explain what this means? What groups are these and how did they get there? Sometimes I struggle to understand how you define Christian as opposed to other groups. I'm not looking to challenge you on this, it's just unclear to me.

  2. I'm speaking of Protestantism in a broad sense.

    The analogy I use with regard to Rome and Constantinople is that of Judah v. Israel.

    Israel is still within the orbit of the Covenant but is basically reckoned apostate. There are 'remnants' within that larger context, those not worshiping at Dan and Bethel as well as refusing to bow the knee to Baal. For that matter if I want to stretch charity I can say there may even be some genuine albeit terribly confused people who worship at Dan and Bethel but they are wrong to do so and need to be rebuked.

    Thus to answer your question I'm speaking of the small groups of Brethren, Evangelical and Confessional type congregations. When I'm speaking of Roman Catholics and Orthodox, I call them by those names... which are after all the names they prefer.

    Usually when I talk to RC's or Orthodox and I ask if they're Christians, they look confused. They'll usually say, "Well, I'm Catholic."

    At which point I usually reply, "Me too.... just not Roman Catholic." (smile)

    1. Alright, that's helpful. It sounded antagonistic (and is, at a typological level), which is fine. I just wondered how you distinguished in other contexts. I can imagine you saying that there are Christians living in Anglican/Presbyterian context in England/Scotland, in part because mainline Protestantisms are pretty corroded theologically. But would you use the same language in, say, 19th century Prussia or 16th century Switzerland (i.e. that there are Christian communities in a Lutheran/Reformed context)?

      What is Dan and Bethel? Does any form of Sacralism (even Protestant sacralism) result in ecclesiastical innovations, changing worship?

  3. With regard to Prussia and Switzerland, that gets even trickier. In terms of doctrinal orthodoxy, there were indeed viable Christian communities in those settings, even, I must begrudgingly admit, among the mainstream established churches and I would probably leave it at that. They're Protestant so they (to some degree) meet my definitions. And yet obviously the Pietists of the 17th century and after questioned that to a degree.
    There are always exceptions aren't there?

    With reference to the Balkans.... to put it another way I'm using 'Christian' in theological terms based on NT parameters. Obviously the term has a separate historical and cultural definition but of course it is those definitions and the concepts behind them that I reject. It's at the heart of what I write about.

    Dan and Bethel are the high places initiated by Jeroboam after the kingdom split. They were rival YHWH altars to the true altar at Jerusalem. Jeroboam invented a new copy-cat priesthood, calendar etc... In addition there were calves at Dan and Bethel, idols which may have been worshipped directly in the name of Jehovah or perhaps were symbolic as steeds or mounts upon which Jehovah would ride... borrowing from common Canaanite iconography. They represent degenerate and apostate Jehovah worship. The Covenant is still operative in a sense and yet it's clearly denounced by the prophets. When the nation is carried away, the point of reference is the covenant. It still to some degree had a pertinence to them.

    If I understand your last question right, does Sacralism necessitate liturgical innovation? I think at the very least in the confusion of language and concept it does and certainly there are tangible changes and innovations that can be pointed to in every historical case. From busts of Constantine to national symbols, architecture, flags, hymns etc.... it has always developed in that direction. All the changes need not be overtly political, but Sacralism always opens the floodgates of syncretism. Cultural norms whether overtly tied to nation, race, tribe or not are baptised.

    1. What is the parameter of doctrinal orthodoxy viz. the NT? When is too much too much? I guess I just don't get a vague sense of Protestantism out of the Reformation. The five solas are hardly a rallying point, and have their own problems. Always exceptions, yes, but how do we know when they prove the rule or topple it? From my vantage, and my own wading into understanding the NT and the logics of Scripture, some Protestants are worse than what one finds in Rome. And it all leaves me dizzy.

      I know what Bethel and Dan are in the OT, I meant typologically. What are the Dans and Bethels of today? What is the limit-marker between worshiping in Judah or in Israel? I believe, as you, that the Scripture is sufficient for worship, but what this means is another thing.

      Which leads to the point of sacralism. If I'm in an Anglican Church and they sing God Save the Queen or I'm in a Baptist Church and they sing God Bless America, am I not among those singing for another city than Jerusalem? Am I not in Dan and Bethel? Or, at what point is a bad doctrine of God equivalent to Canaanite iconography of horses and syncretism? When is enough enough?

      On a personal note, all of this has been frustrating me a lot. It seems as this will always be a lonely journey.

    2. When is too much too much? I don't think there's any hard and fast checklist-type parameter than can be used. Each situtation is different and requires wisdom. No one said it would be easy.
      I believe the Protestant Reformation was a mixed bag. There was a lot of good, some of it an improvement on Rome to be sure, there were many things left uncorrected, as well as new ideas brought in and developed that were worse than what Rome had produced in the Middle Ages.

      That said, I'm arguing the 'mark' of the Church is the Word, the prophetic oracular presence. Without it there's no hope of a valid Church. Protestantism even with all its flaws, and they are many at least re-introduced the concept into the Mainstream. It paid lip-service to the idea even if within just a generation it began to move away from it on a de facto level.

      Nothing is ever static and so it shouldn't be too surprising.
      The examples you give of Dan and Bethel are accurate. I would go further and include things like Christmas and Praise Teams. These are also just cultural expressions, examples of syncretism.

      When is enough enough? It's the same thing again. It depends. As I've said before I am willing to be extra-charitable and put up with a lot and yet I draw the line when I'm compelled to participate. That said, there are times when the extra-Scriptural rubbish is so overwhelming that I just shut-down. I'm not worshipping. I'm just getting frustrated and that may signify that's it time to go. A few weeks back I was sitting in an Evangelical church listening to ex-Afghan War veteran, tell little stories about the war and weave them with Biblical concepts of integrity. This was after a entertainment-based worship service that was compromised of women giving sermonettes between ever silly song. The guy was also using the latest edition of the NIV and quoting Psalm 8 which in that version is so slaughtered as to become heretical. The whole thing just became overwhelming and we got up and left. I wasn't going to listen to noble war stories. The guy was a buffoon and the service was a mockery. I drew the line.

      Lonely? You bet it is. Read Hebrews 11 and be encouraged. I understand why people gravitate toward denominations. There's a real comfort in affiliating with a faction and saying, this is home, this where I belong. This is who I am. These are my people. And yet in reality the people to which we are a part... are a scattered remnant to be found here and there. Like Paul I think we will often find ourselves in congregations of brethren, only to find that they are false brethren.

    3. Thanks for all of this, it's helpful to merely bring these issues out into the open. I like your gloss on what can otherwise be a banal statement, the "Word as oracular prophetic presence", about the true mark of the Church. There's something about that which is more than a reductionistic constellation of doctrines, even though clearly it includes a doctrinal position. This is, perhaps, the difference between Martin Lloyd Jones and the run-of-the-mill PCA pastor. It's not subjective, though there's an element of it, something lost on many Revivalists. It's strange. It's the difference between ontology and emotion. It's not something that just goes on inside your head, which, sadly, seems to be how people talk about "being in the Spirit". Maybe that's why Charismatics are, in a way, quite dangerous.

      I can sympathize with your description of the Evangelical church. I too am in a place where I am just frustrated all the time that I can't even pay attention weeding out what might be good or edifying. I'm in a bind because, believe it or not, I am with you on the two-fold nature of the Church, the congregation and the, to put it crudely, extratemporal gestalt of angels and men (though I might go a little further to describe this reality as uncreate, but I digress). So, when it comes to leaving a congregation, I'm all torn up about it, I've been there for years.

      Again, thanks for your consolation.

    4. I just looked up the NIV's translation of Psalm 8 and compared it with the KJV. At first I thought you were just being a fussbudget. Then I noticed the difference. It was glaring. The NIV extirpates Christ right out of the passage. No longer is it He under whose subjection everything is placed; it is now merely humans in general.

      I have to ask: what were you doing there in the first place? Surely you knew what to expect before going in.

    5. Yeah and then consider what that means when the Psalm is quoted in the book of Hebrews.

      Just visiting. It was a Church we had attended years ago. It's gone severely down hill but that's true of almost every congregation I know of. It is remarkable when you live someplace for a couple of decades and you can watch the downgrade right before your eyes.

      The older NIV wasn't as bad. It's based on a bad text and I don't care for the Dynamic Equivalence in translation... yet, it's not anywhere near as bad as the modern version which is committed to gender neutrality.

      I just remember sitting there and listening to the Psalm being read and being rather flustered. It sounded wrong... really wrong. I had a NKJV with me, and a KJV in the car. When I got home I figured out what was happening. This guy was reading off his phone or tablet or something and I doubt he was even aware of the issue... which itself is problematic.

  4. Commenting at 21.43? You weren't watching the Trump speech!?! (smile)

    Actually I watched it. My kids wanted to see it.

    Where to begin....