First, I do not believe that my good works merit anything before God. Everything depends on His mercy. This is due to God's holiness and my sin. God is merciful and forgiving in Christ, forgiving through faith and repentance. On the other hand I do believe that there is such thing as "good" works and that God is pleased with someone who does such good works, even pleased with the works themselves. These works are done by God's grace through faith in Christ. I do not believe those who do good works by God's grace through faith in Christ ought to be labeled as seeking to merit anything. They ought to be free to do good works. Besides, only God knows the heart. Anti-nomianism seems to agree with the sinfulness of man and the mercy of God in Christ. After that, it seems anything and everything's game (literally) and this means that good works are suspect. That is, if anyone does any good work or works, even the believer, they are seeking to merit something or they have some secret desire to live under the law. This is a false understanding and can be called a mis-understanding.
Fortunately, this is not the only topic in Scripture or theology so one need not get defensive or dwell on it too long. Nor do I need to try and explain what my confirmation verse means, it seems clear enough:
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." - Galatians 2:20
Elsewhere Scripture adds that Christ does good works in us. Maybe the misunderstanding, where it exists in the minds of some, is not with good works per se but with Christ Himself. Christ is free to do whatever good works He pleases.
And yet, because of our sin, I am sure the hunt is not over . . .
Does Jesus need them to come between him and the people? Sounds like "religion" as we hear it criticized. The Apostle thinks and says otherwise. He says faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. How can they hear without a preacher? "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, of them that bring glad tidings of good things."
For the sake of faith priests and pastors preach and forgive our sins. After Jesus rose from the dead he approached the Apostles and sent them to forgive and retain the sins of people. Can priests and pastors forgive sins?
Can priests and pastors forgive sins? A different question may be, why did Jesus choose men to do his work? Did he use these men to get between him and the people? Jesus is indeed looked up to as a spiritual leader even by non-Christians. Believers and non-believers alike admit that he started a Church and a religion.
Baptized believers say the Our Father where we pray to receive God's forgiveness as we forgive others. If we can forgive the sins of others, how much more those who are called by Christ to do this work for the sake of His Church, who received His Holy Spirit. Visibly it appears that regular men are getting between us and Christ or God. Rather, this is forgiveness, the gospel of peace, glad tidings of good things. This is the word of Christ for us to hear.
The homily on November 4 briefly touched on the attention paid to the economy and then quickly switched to the "economy" of the saints. This economy is the communion God has created and given to man in Christ Jesus and His salvation, which is something of incarnation, cross, resurrection, ascension and altar. This communion is of one holy church in heaven and on earth. God is not only afar off awaiting the Final Judgement.
The economy is a real issue, there's no denying it. Still there is a point where both "CEO leadership" and "class warfare" end and neither side has the final say. Maybe this is why Sunday, November 4, was such a contrast this year to Tuesday, November 6.
I voted twice in the first week of November. First, in coming to the altar and then in coming to the poll booth in honor of national freedoms such as the freedom of religion and the right to life we enjoy. For sinners who are brought to holy things, Sunday puts the rest of the week in perspective no matter what lies ahead, in both the short term and in the long term. Sunday, and whenever God's Word and the Holy Supper are faithfully given, are when people receive the greatest benefits in the divine economy of things.
What is the significance of this and why am I sharing this? First of all, this development is surprising and not surprising. It is surprising, in part, because I am not involved on a daily basis in discussion of ecclesial matters as I once was. I considered that this might become a similar possibility with Lutherans in light of the developments of 2009. Then it is not surprising since there is always the impetus for Christian unity and, Lutherans, like others, continuously face pressures from both progressive and traditionalist directions, neither which offer fully satisfactory solutions to ecclesial questions.
(Parenthetically, some Lutherans have told me that we ought not speak of "church" or that there is no such thing. Oh well, how to answer that?!)
Among Lutherans, today is Reformation Day, so the timing of this development and the news coming out now is good. This possibility is not a final answer but it does not portray itself as one either.
In John 15, the Gospel reading for last Sunday, St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles, Jesus speaks to his disciples of the commandment to love one another even in the face of the world's hatred. In the Gospel reading for Reformation, John 8, Jesus speaks about the truth and freedom of abiding in His words.
When I was growing up bashing Catholics was a tradition (man-made?) The Creed is helpful in this regard. In confessing the Creed we remember that we are not the only Christians who believe, teach and confess the faith in the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that Jesus is the Son of God, true God, true Man. Since these teachings are the most important held in the faith, any impetus to attack fellow Christians is not consistent with what we jointly confess. Leave that to the world. We are not the arbiters of truth, God is. His Son, Jesus, gives us His words of truth. His words lead His disciples to the Sacrament of the Altar where there is true Communion between God and man.
Last week we heard the creation account, "And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made."
We measure time with the clock. Those who value time spend it wisely. We use up the time created for us. Even in a secular age, we recognize that there is time that is blessed and sanctified. There is a time for rest.
One practical question that arises from secularization especially from a pastoral perspective - if one listens too much to the world around us - might be, "Is it ethical for a pastor to be preaching and teaching the faith, that is the Word of God, baptizing and distributing the blessed Sacrament to those who believe?" This becomes a weighty question not only because of secularization of the church but also because of the multitude of tasks and ventures and priorities that push this work of God over to the sidelines.
Rather, this is why there will always be a need for the church and the liturgy in the world. Christ's holy bride, the Church, of which He is the head and cornerstone and the liturgy which leads people to Christ in the preached Word and blessed Eucharist. This divine work, flowing from the cross of Christ, reveals and blesses us with the real presence of the one true God, the Holy Trinity, our Savior from sin.
While the world becomes or attempts to become more and more divine the free choice of innocent babies is taken away and "freedom" of adults becomes a mandate to take away human life, especially that of weak and innocent pre-born children. "Freedom" becomes a mandate to create "new" relationships and "new" genders. These "freedoms" are not in reality a divinization of the world but a dismantling of our society and the world around us and, ultimately, self-destruction. In addition, we are called on to give up religious freedom to pay for what may appear to be "freedoms".
There will always be attempts at secularization of the church and divinization of the world. There will always be Christ and His Church, hidden as they may be. What might appear unethical to the world might be what is missing in the world, the source of true freedom. There is a taste of this freedom, life and salvation at the altar.
1) These social networks, while including many family and friends, are not "social" but seem to be more work related. That is, many or most of the people on these networks are people that have some association, whether directly or indirectly, to the work I am involved in. This means that not only do these networks elicit simple sharing of information between family and friends they also seem to demand some interaction in connection with work. If this is the case, then work is not only something at the office, but now it is also at home and whenever one is on the internet, etc. This may limit any social and enjoyable aspect one might expect to receive from the same networks. In other words, they may bring more stress than enjoyment. Taking work home is not the most relaxing proposition.
2) Related to number one is the almost daily invitation to events, apps and friendships. The last one becomes problematic in that it can become a daily exercise of decision making. In my case, almost all friendship requests are "work" related and more and more from people I do not know or people with whom I have only a slight association. This makes approving friendships harder and harder. I probably already have many friends on these networks who I have no real connection with otherwise.
On the one hand I enjoy the latest news from family and friends which I may probably not receive otherwise. On the other hand, the lines between "social" and "work" are being blurred. Is this workably social or socially workable? Whatever is going on I find myself not enjoying these networks as I would expect and am not as active as I might be expected to be. It's OK.
Take for instance the attempt to discuss the saints. Immediately, this topic, maybe like others, seems to draw us to a platform of anti-Catholicism and whatever errors there may be, real and perceived, of those who are not of our own particular tradition. The divine dimension to the question of the saints is dismissed, thus negating real and important questions about the saints in their relationship to God. Discussion becomes horizontal, anthropocentric and antagonistic while the vertical or divine dimension is ignored or rejected.
Discussing theology is more than "us vs. them". There is and ought to be a divine dimension to theological discussion. Looking at the saints, without the negative pretexts, we may appreciate other things about this reality:
1) Existence of saints pre-supposes a God who has power over sin, a God who has the power to forgive.
2) Existence of saints pre-supposes faith and the sanctifying work of a holy God.
3) Existence of saints pre-supposes life after death. That is, saints are together with God in heaven, an existence outside of time.
The word "saint" may bring us to suppose a great list of errors of others or lead to endless discussion of the limitless power of sin (and a limited power of God?). On the other hand, the saints may remind us and draw us to place God back in the picture, the God who is Creator of heaven and earth. This may lead us also to appreciate more the shared belief in the Holy Trinity and in our Lord Jesus Christ and help put to rest secular impulse in matters of theological discussion. These are matters of faith.
If for no other reason, the saints may remind us to appreciate that God has power over sin and death. There is something good to say about the saints, they do not exist for their own sake. They teach us something about Christ and God.
A danger would be to place too much emphasis on humility. Another danger would be to ignore it altogether. The latter is usually the natural (over-)reaction to the former. If humility is only another ball to be bounced back and forth in arguments over salvation, then it and almost any virtue divinely revealed and given might be thrown under the bus. What's the alternative? Narcissism?
Apart from placing all the weight of salvation on humility itself, it might be good to simply consider the humility of Christ, or Mary's humble reception of the Lord's Word leading to the incarnation, or the humble example of the saints. We might also consider another scenario in which we are saved by humility, Christ's humility, as described in the second chapter of the Apostle's letter to the Philippians.
In other words, maybe because we often lack it, humility is made out to be a bad thing, a burden, another weight of "religion" or of the law. Yet, if salvation is not dependent on our humility might we also consider humility a good thing and even a virtue? Scripture upholds humility and gives it praise.
Returning to the filter of salvation (or justification), there is a tendency to rationalize away everything that is good and given, even that which is divine. That is, since humility does not save, it must be a bad thing or something unnecessary. The faith is not merely a salvation matrix and humility a matter of the law. Cannot salvation sometimes make us a bit narcissistic?
The faith is more than individual certainty, it is whole and catholic, holding on to the mysteries of Christ and God. Humility is one of the many good things to consider in the divine life we have been given. It is not just about me and my salvation, but this takes a lot of humility to consider.
Protestants are familiar with the "faith alone" statement arising from the Reformation. This statement in itself is of ongoing controversy but is especially focused on the doctrine of salvation, or justification. Many centuries prior to the Reformation, Anselm (d. 1109) wrote a number of theological and philosophical writings, some of which are Why God Became Man and The Virgin Conception and Original Sin. He also proposed the ontological argument for God.
Some Christians are vehemently opposed to philosophy. Others say we can only come to know God through reason or natural means. The difficulty with the latter approach is that we may never get to know God. Anselm, apparently following similar thinking of Augustine, wrote in his Proslogion:
"Non tento, Domine, penetrare altitudinem tuam, quia nullatenus comparo illi intellectum meum; sed desidero aliquatenus intelligere veritatem tuam, quam credit et amat cor meum. Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam. Nam et hoc credo: quia "nisi credidero, non intelligam [Is 7,9]."
Translation (not mine):
"I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, --that unless I believed, I should not understand."
It should be noted that the Proslogion or "Discourse," was written as a prayer and is not meant solely to be understood as a philosophical or theological treatise. What I appreciate about this quotation is that it supports the divine origin and priority of faith without denying the role of reason or understanding. In other words, reason does not undermine faith but is led by faith to greater understanding, all the while humbly realizing that perfect knowledge of God in this life is beyond us. In addition, faith does not mean an end to the use of our rational capacities, which are also gifts of God, nor does reason negate faith. Reason may be used in support of faith.
Finally, while this quotation does not bring any resolution to my understanding, or lack of, regarding realism and nominalism, it does help to resolve an understanding of the faith that undermines a polarization between faith as prayer (i.e., liturgy) and faith that permits learning (i.e., Christian education, catechesis, doctrine).
They listen to it on the radio or internet every day. They attend concerts on a regular basis. Their faith depends on it, so much so that Sunday can be no different than the other six days of the week. There is a concert or party on Saturday night. Let's have another on Sunday morning. Let's have a rock band in front of the altar and call it "Our" service. After all, isn't faith 24/7? "It's only Rock n' Roll, but I like it."
This "innovative" approach to Sunday morning is not solely a Lutheran phenomena but it goes against almost everything Christianity has understood and taught about worship throughout the ages. The difficulty comes when people no longer discern a difference between what entertains them in their daily lives and worship, between a Saturday night concert and a Sunday morning service. Worship becomes little more than what's in it for "Me". Faith becomes dependent on something's entertainment value and my feelings. Somewhere in all this the question arises, "Who, or what then, is "our" god?"
There is a time for everything under the sun. That means that some times are set apart for different (holy?) things and Sunday morning or the weeknight service ought to be unashamedly different than what I am used to at other times of the week.
As someone once said, "You are what you eat." That's what the altar is for.
- The Feast of the Annunciation is March 25. This year the feast falls on Sunday and is commemorated on the newer calendar even though this is traditionally Passion Sunday. Those who follow the traditional calendar will commemorate the Annunciation on the Monday following Easter. Either way, this is an important feast on the calendar not to overlook. As the psalmist says, "My heart hath uttered a good word . . ."Eructávit cor meum verum bonum . . .
- Traditionally, statues and crucifix are veiled beginning on Sunday.
- Advent, in preparation for the Incarnation of our Lord, and Lent, in preparation for the Resurrection of our Lord are not so much about somberness nor an over-compensating focus on joyousness. Rather, they are seasons that bring us deeper into a solemn hearing of God's Word and are perfect times for individual renewal in Christ.
- When I do not write on the blog it is not that there is anything to say. Rather, it is that there is too much to discuss and not the time to write. I mention this as Holy Week approaches. We'll see . . .
Unfortunately, in highly charged polemics, the invocation of the saints comes to the forefront and becomes one of many markers to test people's allegiances. It is one issue, for example, in which there are clear sides and orthodoxies. A couple of points should be made here. Firstly, this is quite unfortunate in that something of Scripture and Church degenerates into an us and them rather than an opportunity to learn about God and holiness. In other words, the debate becomes an anthropocentric concern (I'm right, you're wrong) and this leads to the second point. Secondly, the debate often denies opportunity for learning theology on the one hand by silencing much of it and thus de-theologizing the Church, what is commonly understood as secularism.
Last Sunday I heard a reading from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians in which he encourages the brethren to "be imitators of God." He goes on to say, "but fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints . . ." Although Paul is talking about something else I could not help but immediately think about how we are not supposed to invoke the saints, as is so clearly spelled out in the Lutheran Confessions. In other words, it was hard to take Paul at his words because of an undue emphasis on just one aspect of the teaching regarding the saints. Here Paul is saying that saints are those who imitate God, who walk in love, "as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us." There is a saintliness to our lives on earth, whether or not one considers it as God's gift or something someone strives for or both.
The invocation of the saints is a large topic theologically, one which cannot be fully addressed here. Invocation is prayer and the saints who are invoked are in heaven. The argument often goes that since Christ is our Savior and Mediator there is no need to pray to Mary and the saints or that such prayers are forbidden and even idolatry. The spirit of the argument is clear enough.
In 1521, the year that Luther was excommunicated, he wrote a commentary on the Magnificat in which he ended it with an intercession to Mary. Scholars may be able to show that Luther later on would have rejected such a prayer and practice (i.e., "early Luther", "later Luther"). What is interesting is that this is four years following his writing of the 95 Theses, which is commonly celebrated at Reformation Anniversaries.
I do not deny that debate and controversy exist on this or any other theological matter. I do argue that they cannot be solved simply by citing the right passages for doctrines like this are so rich and manifold that a one-sided polemic eliminates the possibility of appreciating the fulness of the teaching. Or am I simply addressing a secular Church? Theology, and a theological mindset, is much more than citing the right passages.
Logically, we can admit, for example, that Lutherans do not invoke the saints. But this tells us more about the Lutherans than it does about God. Theology, as apparent in its name, connects saints and saintliness to God. In other words, saints are those who imitate God and lead others to God and not to themselves. Even more succinctly, saints are saints because of God. They are saints because of God's love in Christ and how this has changed them to live in love toward God and one's neighbor.
Knowing that a practice is or may be wrong is not enough without looking first at what those who follow a practice base their practice on (doctrine and practice go together, lex orandi, lex credendi). This is not a matter of connecting too many dots. This is a great opportunity to learn.
In the Catholic Catechism, under a section entitled "The Communion of the Church of Heaven and Earth" the Catechism addresses the intercession of the saints, "Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness . . . [T]hey do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped." (#956)
In another section entitled "Guides for Prayer" under "A cloud of witnesses," the Catechism states, "The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were 'put in charge of many things.' Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world." (#2683)
I share these quotes as is without further comment. Church teaching helps us to discern a difference between what the Church actually teaches and practices that may be popular but that do not always reflect what the Church teaches. We often react first to those practices which we see without considering what the Church teaches.
Without delving further into the divide, for example, between Lutheran and Catholic teaching on the intercession of the saints I would like to address three related issues to the whole question of the saints. This post does not pretend to be a textbook or a final answer but an avenue of some reflections on theological issues.
In considering the saints we usually first think of holiness and how we could never be saints. Some even drop out of Church because they think that it is all too holy for them. This brings up my first point. Saints are not saints because of themselves but because of God. Everything they thought, said and did that was good they attributed to Christ and God. It is just like Mary who says, "Let it be to me according to Your word." Her Magnificat is in praise of the Lord and not of herself. The saints strive to imitate God and follow Him ( this is a great emphasis of Lent). Saints are saints because of God - it is not about them. They reflect God's love in Christ to others so that people may see their good deeds and glorify the Father who is in heaven.
Secondly, we are sinners, something far away from holiness. Does this mean that God is powerless against our sin? Is He unable to work good in us or unable to conquer sin and the devil? What about the forgiveness of sins? We need to re-think our own ability to focus on and hold on to our sin and the sin of others. Holiness is possible in this life.
Finally, one aspect that needs to be highlighted with the reality of the saints is the unity of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Specifically, with regard to the saints, there is a unity between the one holy Church in heaven and on earth that exists even now. The Church on earth is united with the Church in heaven in worshipping God in the fulness of His glory. There is a transcendent reality and unity that is beyond space and time. We confess this reality in the Creed. We live in this reality when we receive the blessed Eucharist.
These are some aspects I like to consider in dealing with the question of the saints, not whether or not someone invokes or does not invoke them. There is something more to this and any other theological question than showing we are right and you are wrong. Consider that even those who invoke the saints do so recognizing that there is only "one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus." Thanks be to God.
"In the modern era, Gregory is often depicted as a man at the border, poised between the Roman and Germanic worlds, between East and West, and above all, perhaps, between the ancient and medieval epochs." This quote from an online encyclopedia is probably a good summary of today's understanding of Gregory. To learn more about Gregory and his many works find an encyclopedia or pick up a biography.
This question has been answered many times before and in many ways so this is just a brief comment. The Lutheran Church baptizes at any age meaning that age is not the focus of or the requirement for baptism. Scripture nowhere mandates an age for baptism. It is how we understand baptism that gives us an understanding why baptizing infants is a good practice.
First, it is given by divine revelation. In addition, the practice is followed by the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, from the earliest of times. Lutherans do not view baptism as symbolic or as a work of man but as a gift of God and His mercy. For children born in sin there is no greater gift than God's mercy and forgiveness. Also, God puts His holy Name on them and makes them His children. The water combined with God's Word brings God's Spirit to us in baptism. Being baptized means putting on Christ and being clothed with Him and His righteousness. In baptism we are buried with Christ into His death and raised with Him in His resurrection to new life. We can call it a gift of God's Spirit, a gift of His grace, a means of grace, a sacrament. Those who are connected to God in Christ are rescued from death and the devil. They are given the forgiveness of sins. Or as the Apostle writes in his letter to Titus, "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."
There is no greater gift to give to helpless infants, our own children. Also, this gift is not limited to the few minutes it takes to baptize but it is a gift with a promise to eternal life. Baptism is not dependent on our age but on God's grace and mercy. Baptism is a focus on Christ and His salvation poured out on us. Baptism is not a work of men but a gift from God that the Church freely shares as she has graciously received from the Lord.
Ironically, applying this "slogan", for lack of a better word, might put my confirmation verse in jeopardy. Galatians 2:20 not only says I, or the person in Christ, do good works but those works are Christ's works, Him living in the believer. Is it possible that an attack on good works might also be an attack on the believer and/or Christ or both? (an anti-Christ?). In defense of "faith alone" the emphasis is meant to be on Christ and His salvation as a gift which is received through faith. In other words, Christ saves and faith receives His salvation.
Still the "alone" part gives pause. The readings for Quinquagesima draw this to light. For example, the Apostle writes, "if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." In the Gospel the blind man cries out to Jesus, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." When Jesus heals him he says to him, ""Receive your sight; your faith has made you well."
On the one hand one may move mountains with faith and still turn out to be nothing. The blind man has faith and is healed. Yet this faith is not "alone". In the Epistle, love makes the one who can move mountains who is nothing into something or somebody. In the Gospel, Jesus gives sight to the blind man who has faith.
There is no dichotomy between Christ and His works or between faith and good works. They all may be summed up in that which is the greatest of the virtues. This is not a sentimental sort of thing. He is the one who makes something out of nothing, our life and salvation. With Him our faith is never alone and those who do good are not boasting in themselves.
History records that James, the "brother of the Lord," had been chosen as the episcopal head of the Church of Jerusalem by the Apostles. Yet his tenure ended in martyrdom. Eusebius writes that after the martyrdom of James the apostles and disciples of the Lord came together with those related to the Lord in order to choose a successor to James. They chose Symeon, son of Clopas "to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was, as they say, a cousin of the Saviour." (Bk. 3, Ch. 11)
This Symeon then became the Second Bishop of Jerusalem (62-107) and he too was martyred ("crucified"), under Trajan. He is said to have been 120 years old. In the West, he is remembered this Saturday.
All I can say is, if it ever happens to you, there really is not much you can or should do. Just do not be surprised. It is certainly memorable. I think about it often, such as last Sunday (Sexagesima), when the church prayed the Collect of the Day saying, "O God, who seest that we put not our trust in any thing that we do . . ."
Of course, Christian faith does not encourage revenge or hating one's enemies, even those you did not know you had. Time helps to change one's mind from writing an unusually long apologia that may only result in further alienation and confusion and focus instead on the well-worn theological maxim and consolation - "whatever" (this has to be in Scripture somewhere). It helps bring solace also to consider the possibility that one may be ethnically challenged, or not Reformed enough, to be a good Lutheran. Ironically, while justification may be considered forensic, castigation may be experiential.
Do not be surprised if and when the time comes. Yet neither be afraid. Each day has enough trouble of its own and the Lord who called you is faithful.
It is no surprise that the reformation resulted in extreme positions on both sides as it did. There was nothing less than excommunication and threats of death at play. This was now more than simple theological disagreement. The reformers repeatedly referred to the pope and the papacy as antichristus. Likewise, similar anathemas came from Rome. The Western Church was divided and the anathemas and differences made their way into official church documents and confessions.
After five centuries these teachings remain and there are well-reasoned and well-documented arguments on all sides. Nevertheless, outside of the recent presidential campaign, this dogma is not taken as seriously as it may have been many years, or decades, or centuries before.
If we look at the Scriptural references this may cause us to question arguments formulated and held over the last five centuries. In other words, these passages clarify specific teachings related to that of the antichristus and open up the possibility of application outside of the parameters created at the reformation divide, thus limiting anti-theological practice.
Antichristus in both its singular and plural forms appears only four times, in 1 John 2:18, 1 John 2:22, 1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7. The teachings related to this word are direct and focused. In 1 John 2 we see that the antichristus is already present. The antichristus denies that Jesus is the Christ, denying both the Father and the Son. In 1 John 4, again the antichristus is already in the world. He is the one who denies that Jesus comes in the flesh. In 2 John the antichristus again denies that Jesus is come in the flesh and is described additionally as a “seducer.” Etymologically, the antichristus is opposed to Christ or takes His place. Historically, 2 Thessalonians 2 is also included in the doctrinal formulations although it does not mention the word antichristus. Instead, the Apostle Paul refers to the “Man of Sin.”
Throughout Christian history there has been emphasis on any given time period as being the time of the last days. This was true also at the time of the reformation and explains how this doctrine would receive so much emphasis. However, the heat of the reformation and counter-reformation make it difficult to apply these passages to the times of the inspired writers and just prior to the Last Day. In other words, with this doctrine, too much emphasis on this doctrine has been made in connection to the reformation and the subsequent divide rather than on other historical periods and events, including those brought up in Scripture. The doctrine needs to be looked at in its own light and not necessarily as that belonging solely to, or shaped solely by, the reformation.
The closest reformation argument to tying these passages to the pope or papacy may be the etymological argument, that of taking the place of Christ. This becomes a major debate, including 500 years of history, which is too big a topic for this post. Nowadays, the pope makes no such claim and this can be found in official Catholic teaching. Furthermore, distinction is made between the times the pope is speaking official Catholic teaching and when he is not.
Look again at the epistles of John. To the more substantial teachings of the Apostle that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh and that He is the Son of God there is no division. The Catholic Church and most Protestants hold to the basic teachings of the faith, that is, the Holy Trinity and that Jesus is the Son of God, come in the flesh, born of the Virgin Mary. These teachings are clearly spelled out and confessed in the Creed and believed in and taught in the churches, whether of the Great Schism of 1054 or of the Western Schism of the reformation. Without denying theological differences in other areas it is a stretch to find a division among orthodox churches on the meaning of these passages that describe the antichristus. All orthodox Christians today deny the error of Docetism addressed here.
The application of antichristus to those we disagree with may or will continue to the Last Day. Unfortunately, it will continue to cloud, deform and distract the focus away from discussion of matters of theological substance. Nevertheless, and maybe because of this, these four passages in the epistles of John remain as a simple and clear witness and testimony to the reality that the opposition of the antichristus to Christ Jesus is a denial that He is come in the flesh and that He comes, the only-begotten of the Father. In other words, the antichristus seduces us away from Christ and does not draw us toward Him. As Scripture shows elsewhere, Christ comes in the flesh to draw all men to the Father, which He does on the cross for our salvation. He is risen in the flesh, ascended and coming again. Even today He comes to us in His Body and Blood in the blessed Eucharist. With the particular teaching of the antichristus, our biggest enemy may be simply in forgetting to return to the clear admonition of the Apostle, which is an application toward a right knowledge and understanding of the Lord, "the only-begotten Son of God," the same Lord of us all.
In the traditional liturgy candles are blessed, hence a traditional name given to this day is Candlemas Day. This is one of 3 blessings during the year, other times being the blessing of the palms and blessing of the ashes. (The blessing of the water during the sacred Triduum may also be included.) Other names of this feast are "'Feast of Light' ('Lichtmess' in German) or 'Feast of the Candles' ('Candelaria' in Spanish, and 'La Fête de la Chandeleur' in French)"(1)
A connection between the historic liturgy and the daily, or weekly, celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar among the Lutherans is found in this feast in the Nunc Dimittis.
"During the Distribution, the Nunc Dimittis -- the Canticle of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32) -- is sung:
Now dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, In peace, according to Thy word: For mine own eyes hath seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared in the sight of all the peoples, A light to reveal Thee to the nations And the glory of Thy people Israel.
Latin Version: Nunc Dimittis Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine Secundum verbum tuum in pace: Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum: Lumen ad revelationem gentium, Et gloriam plebis tuae Israel."(2)
Receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord we are dismissed in God's peace according to His word. Jesus is light given to reveal God.
Popular Christianity emphasizes faith in connection with health, wealth, success and prosperity. Although now another extreme in the opposite direction seems to have captured the imagination and occupied the hearts of some. Jumping beyond these materialistic answers to faith, this text relates faith to worship and a right worship involves faith in Christ. Faith and worship go together. As the Introit says, "Adore God, all you His Angels."
Since worship is tied to religion and religious practice this all gets tossed about with the popular notion of being "spiritual" without being "religious." In other words, we can be "spiritual" without the trappings of "religion" and, lately, Jesus is "spiritual" but not "religious". There is a lot packed into why people may feel obligated to make this distinction. Certainly, faith is every day and not just attendance at worship. Yet there is also the consideration that if faith is every day then coming to God in worship is included in that daily faith. That is, faith does not pit worship against life or vice versa. Neither, it may be argued, would faith pit being spiritual and being religious against each other, or Jesus against religion.
No religious person denies that Jesus is spiritual. While Jesus abhorred religious abuse and corruption he did not abolish religion or religious practice. This idea about Jesus is more a contemporary sentiment. Jesus, on the contrary, comes to "fulfill" the law. This fulfillment has a lot to do with our salvation, especially since we are sinners. How then is it that Jesus, who is "spiritual" is also "religious?" Take another look at the Gospel from last Sunday. The Evangelist records that after healing the leper of his leprosy, Jesus says to him, "...go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." Jesus leads the leper, a man of faith, to fulfill the religious requirements.
To those who study and hear the Scripture this is nothing new. Yet to the "spiritual" minded who may have drifted away from religion and religious practice this upholding of religious practice by Jesus may be something to consider, and consider seriously. For Jesus is certainly not interested in undermining the healed leper's faith. This would not be spiritually wise. Rather, faith sees the place where the material and immaterial, the invisible and visible, or the human and divine, come together. It is not as simple as rationalizing a distinction between what is spiritual from what is religious and creating a faith that I am comfortable with. Jesus is a religious man and by faith we meet him spiritually and religiously in worship.
"Adore God, all you His Angels."
It is easy for Lutherans to criticize the traditional Roman liturgy and/or the Orthodox liturgy. The main reason for this being, of course, that they are not Lutheran. Yet neither the traditional Roman liturgy nor the Orthodox liturgy even attempt to follow whatever the Lutheran liturgy is. Should they? I think not. If anything, we can learn some things from the historic liturgy even when it means going against the trends. Unfortunately, there are many factors involved in this learning that makes such learning difficult and it is certainly not for everyone. However, two factors in the liturgy may be recognized and upheld: continuity and organic form. We can do better to uphold any continuity with the historic liturgy than boast in experiments. Also, there is an organic form in the liturgy that even Lutherans recognize in the liturgies in the hymnal. There is liturgy and the parts of the liturgy work together and support each other in forming a greater whole. This is why, among Lutherans, the hymnal is preferred to ongoing miscellaneous and diverse changes. When there is a grasp of continuity and organic form, one can recognize and appreciate, also in the Lutheran hymnal, parts of the liturgy that are both catholic and orthodox.
Recently, I drove down a street where two church signs displayed their worship schedule. One church, evangelical protestant, calls its services, "Blended" and "Modern." The other church, Lutheran, calls its services, "Contemporary" and "Traditional." Something is lost here with descriptive labels of worship such as these. Likely, most people do not pay close attention to such things. This is a plea to take time and give it some thought. If worship is meant to bring people in contact and communion with God these labels seem to say more about appealing to people's tastes. They describe forms of worship but the emphasis on worship itself is lost. The historic liturgy is helpful in providing a different view. Even though it may be bucking the trends, give me a church that uses the time-worn and more universal understanding of what worship is. Take, for example, "Liturgy," "Divine Liturgy," "Divine Worship," "Divine Service," "Holy Communion," "Eucharist" or "Mass." While such terminology is not a certain guarantee that what goes on inside the church has not been altered greatly, the terminology offers at least a promise in substance, some continuity, organic form, universality or catholicity, and a hint that the church is consciously serious about worship.
In recent years we have passed through the evangelistic efforts of New Atheism. I understand generally the main arguments posed and although I do not agree with them my interests are elsewhere so I am not versed here. Probably the biggest concern I have is not differences of opinion and thought but the underlying theme of doing away with all religions, churches and faith. Not that this could ever really happen. My mentioning this here now is somewhat immaterial for the trend, like many religious trends also do, has pretty much come and gone except maybe on the university campuses. I can also learn more sometimes by reading about topics of interest to me in a quiet corner far away from the he said / he said debates which are necessary and also of benefit.
My perceptions of trends sometimes have a lot to do with the titles of books I see in bookstores and those things people talk about while in bookstores. One trend which is not new but which seems to be making a comeback on the Christian side of things is the idea of Jesus without "the Church" or Jesus without "religion." Two points to make here. First, Jesus is distinguished from both "the Church" and "religion" in the sense that He is good (which He is) and they are bad, for whatever the reason or reasons. Second, Jesus, apart from the Church and religion here is really saying something like I know my Jesus and He is mine and the Church, religion and anything else for that matter is not going to change this. This type of dissection of Jesus from the Church and religion is especially common in the American protestant, fundamentalist and/or evangelical thinking. This is not a new teaching and may be traced to before the reformation. Even the primary reformation churches would have difficulty with this thinking and some still do. In brief, Christianity has gone through many changes and this thinking is very individualistic, which is not surprising in America today.
Dissecting Jesus from the Church and/or religion may be an idealistic effort to teach a "pure" gospel to the unchurched or the atheist. But it fails, because we fail. Also, and more dangerously, it reflects, at the least, an embarrassment with the Church and/or religion. Because the Church and religion are not what they are without people in them they too are not perfect. There is only one Man who is holy and truly perfect. Is it more about me knowing Jesus better than anyone else or is it my inability to accept that others may share the same faith? There is no need to recite a plethora of Scripture passages to counter this thinking for, I believe, that the "me and my Jesus" thinking is as far removed from Scripture as the "me and my Bible" thinking.
If we want to hold up a separate Jesus we need to first take him at his words. He does not separate Himself from the Church or the religious life of His followers. Rather He creates and sustains the one holy Church. He begins His ministry by being baptized. He builds His Church in connection with Peter and Peter's confession of Who he is. Before He leaves His disciples He gives them an apostolic mandate to make disciples of all nations through baptism and teaching. Finally, before His death on the cross, He gives His Church the Holy Supper of His Body and Blood, a Holy Communion.
Religion is defined as the belief in and worship of something greater than what is human, especially a personal God or gods or a particular system of faith and worship. In Christianity, the Church plays this role as the very creation of the Lord who Himself is worshiped. In Christianity, that is, the Church, people are drawn together into the one true faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost/Spirit through the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Sacraments people receive the same Gifts and are made part of the same spiritual reality. This is a religious thing. This reality is not derived from or dependent on the sameness or differences among the people. In the end, within Christianity, a separation of Jesus from one's concept of what the Church and/or religion is (or should be), is at the least, unrealistic and, at the most, false. That is, Jesus does not want to be yours alone. Did He really leave His Church?
This is why we confess the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. This is why, even when there are atheists, there is religion in the world.
It is still the time of Christmas and this ends today with the "Twelfth Day," or, the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord. This feast originated early in the East and today is a celebration of both Jesus' birth and baptism. In the West the Gospel is the account of the visit of the Magi. The Baptism of Our Lord comes on the octave of this feast. Traditionally, the Western Church hears the Gospel of the boy Jesus in the Temple on the Sunday in the octave, though now it is common to find the Epiphany celebrated on the closest Sunday. These days of Epiphany are among the richest of the year, a celebration of divine "revelation" or "manifestation" combining the blessed Incarnation with the visit of the Magi, Jesus' boyhood visit to the Temple and later baptism. Epiphany leaves off where the Christ-Mass began.
In terms of origin Epiphany is one of the oldest feasts and, like Christmas, Epiphany replaced a pagan solstice festival. Here Christians come to know Mary's son as the Light in this world.
While we are on the pro-family topic, there is a stereo-type that following the historic liturgy of the Church is anti-family. This belies more a suspicion of the liturgy than any basis in fact. Historically, the family worshipped together. The text of the historic liturgy speaks to people of all ages and conditions.
Today, attempts at creating specialized services to appeal to different age groups and basing these services on musical tastes seems to result instead in dividing the family into separate worship units. The focus of worship is lost in the process. The primary focus of worship, being divine in nature, shifts to the musical tastes themselves, that is, reflecting man's nature.
Fortunately, this is not true everywhere. The historic liturgy of the Church, when and where it is found, continues to unite saints of all ages in the one true faith, while upholding the future of the family, a divine creation.
This year the traditions synched - New Years' Day on a Sunday, or the "Lord's Day," an ancient Christian tradition originating in the Lord's Resurrection. This year Sunday was also the Octave Day of the Nativity, a continuation of the celebration. Traditionally too, Sunday was the Feast of the Circumcision. Monday was the Holy Name of Jesus. All combined, New Year's Day this year became a happy coincidence, with the continuation of Christmas being recognized in a fulfillment of the Law (this means that the Law, coming from God, is a good thing) in Jesus' circumcision and his being given the Holy Name, the Savior's name. It is not hard to get from the blessed Incarnation to Mary, being the Mother of God, when God is with us.
Back to traditions. Nothing wrong with Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, gift-giving and having one's drink (in moderation) during the festive season. These are good traditions of family and friends. So too, the children of God recognize holiness for what it is and receive their gifts on the Lord's Day as part of the sacred Tradition. God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts. This year the Tradition re-vitalized as it synched itself with the new year.
When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son . . . In Him, the son of Mary, we are sons and heirs. Jesus was given His name by the angel before He was even conceived in the womb. At His circumcision he was so named. At our Baptism we received the Holy Spirit and the Name given us before we were born. There is something here about us too participating in the coming of the fullness of time.
We tend to lean against traditions as if they will bring us down, when really it is about picking and choosing. As sinners, we shy away from holy things. In a secular age we do not know what to think about holiness. Not so for the sons of God who from baptism have the Spirit of God's Son in our hearts. On this year's New Year's day, a Sunday, traditions synched for those who live in both the world and the Church. Holy tradition is a re-vitalizing thing. With the new year we recognize the holiness of God, as we are so given in hearing His Holy Word and in Christ's true Body and Blood in the blessed Eucharist. Holiness and forgiveness are connected.
There is something about the coming together of time and its holiness, the fullness of time, when eight days were completed. Let us enjoy the New Year and let us bask in the glory of this year's New Year's Day. As the psalmist says, "A sanctified day has shone upon us: come ye Gentiles and adore the Lord: for this day a great light hath descended upon the earth."