quod pro nobis traditum est

Monday, February 20, 2012

Another look at "faith alone"

"Faith alone" is a theological delineation in the debates over salvation. Usually, the argument goes, faith saves and nothing else, especially good works, so that no one can boast. It is not hard to see how this approach may lead to apathy toward and possible attacks on good works (anti-nomianism). Among some I even sense a fear that if they do good works they will LOSE their salvation. This is the sin more so that grace may abound approach.

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.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Successors of the faith

One intriguing witness to the Christian faith and Christianity is its survival and continuation, especially in the early stages. When Jesus was crucified, there standing by the cross were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (John 19)

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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

He is faithful and He will do it

Last year, in the 50th year of my birth and the 20th anniversary year of ordination into the Holy Ministry, I underwent a Lutheran Inquisition. This is when Lutherans, who believe in salvation by God's grace through faith in Christ, find or assume that other Lutherans, who believe in salvation by God's grace through faith in Christ, in fact, do not.

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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Response to health plan mandate

Health plan mandate continues to make church 'deeply concerned'. Link is to recent statement by The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

on looking to others

The Gospel for Septuagesima Sunday was St. Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the householder sending laborers into his vineyard. I am struck by the words of St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) on this text. Here is an excerpt: ". . . For everywhere I can hear such talk as this: such a one owns so many and so many acres of land; this other one has great wealth: this other is putting up great houses. Why always, O Christian, must you look to what is outside? Why look to others? If you must look at others, look to those who are worthy of your regard; men that are just and upright whose whole life is lived according to the law of God, not to those who are breaking it, and live unworthily. For if you look to these last you will draw from them only much that is evil; and fall into indifference to good, and into vanity, and you will be critical of others. But if you turn your attention to those whose lives are worthy; towards humility, towards loving earnestness, to compunction, you will be preparing for yourself a multitude of good things. . . ". . . we shall become more humble, and more earnest, and reach at length to the joy of eternal happiness through the grace and mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ . . ." - Toal, I, p. 379

Monday, February 06, 2012

Christmas Message

It is never too late to share good news, or an excellent Christmas message. A journalist shares this favorable review of the Christmas message of the Queen of England. Check out the review here and be sure and watch the video of the Queen's message if you get the chance.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

anti-historical and anti-theological practice

Today, the labeling and mis-labeling of the doctrine antichristus to others, whether intentionally or not, is akin to theological cussing or fighting language with-in the Western Church and beyond. The polemics of the reformation and afterwards, well-documented on both sides, have clouded and deformed the primary thrust of the passages that specifically address this doctrine. Instead of teaching the faithful what is positively stated in Scripture, the use of this word conjures up all un-related antagonisms and history that may exist. For example, and I speak as a Lutheran, “anti-Catholicism” seems to be an entrenched philosophy or cultural ideology, an acceptable prejudice. This results in something worse than “a-theological thinking,” commonly associated with secularism. Among us, this rather becomes essentially “anti-theological” in practice, so that much more is lost than trying to prove that one is right and the other is wrong. In spite of theological differences, this labeling hurts more than the doctrine of antichristus, it damages the very task of theology. This brief essay will not attempt to address all the theological issues involved in the debate.

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.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Today is one of the Great Feasts of the Church celebrating the life of our Lord described in the Holy Gospel of St. Luke 2:22-32. This feast commemorates the presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple and the ever Virgin Mary fulfilling the customary Mosaic law of purification.

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.