Monday, December 31, 2007

Here we stand

I got this from an account of The Marburg Colloquy over on Begars All:

Luther: We decline naming them [the Fathers who taught the Real Presence]. Augustine wrote the passage you have quoted in his youth, it is moreover very unintelligible. Besides, I do not concern myself as to what the Fathers teach on this head, but I abide by the words of Christ, (Here he pointed again to the words written in chalk upon the table, "This is my body.") See, so they run. You have not driven us out of this stronghold, as you proudly imagined you would do, and we concern ourselves no farther about proofs.

This occurs near the end of the Colloquy, so very soon afterwards the two camps departed, never to be united in doctrine again. The section I cited above is Luther's final argument, basically, and he says he will stand by Christ's words "This is my body", no matter how many logical arguments Zwingli and co. can come up with. This is, I think, the essence of Lutheran Sola Scriptura, in that what God has expressly revealed, we are to believe because it comes from God, not because logical arguments can be deduced. It also ties in with the ongoing micro-blogstorm regarding Luther's alleged statement that councils would be required to judge between Luther's and Zwingli's divergent interpretation of the Scriptures--an argument made by some RC apologists for centuries. I am not a Luther scholar, but doesn't it seem a little odd that the guy who simply said "I abide by the words of Christ" would suddenly have a change of heart about councils? I am not saying it is impossible, just that the possibility is becoming more remote the more I learn about the events around that time.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Faith in Christ precedes Trust in the Bible

Over on becominghinged, there is a discussion regarding whether or not the CCC contradicts Trent on sin and punishment. While I find that discussion interesting, I was challenged because I wrote that Trent and the CCC apparently contradict on the matter of temporal and eternal punishment. The challenge was

I’ve seen non-Christians use the same argument against the apparent contradictions in scripture. What do we say to them that won’t sound like the same kind of “nuancing” that you accuse the Catholic Church of?

My response was

Regarding what atheists say about the scriptures–I don’t think the Holy Scriptures are meant to be read as a strict history text, but as a proclamation through the writers by God of Jesus Christ. So, I start with Christ and then believe the Bible, I don’t start with the Bible and then extrapolate what it tells me of God. Or, the Bible is true because Christ is true, and Christ has known me, and I him, from my Baptism.

(Here is my stop loss-when I say the Bible should not be read as a strict history text, I meant that questions like how many women were present at Christ's tomb are of no interest to me, because the Gospels are not detailed histories of every event they record, but they are none the less true).

Dr. Liccione responded to this by saying

Your brand of Protestantism is quite problematic even by Protestant standards. You say: “I start with Christ and then believe the Bible, I don’t start with the Bible and then extrapolate what it tells me of God. Or, the Bible is true because Christ is true, and Christ has known me, and I him, from my Baptism.” Well, if your knowledge of and faith in Christ is thus epistemically prior to the Bible, then sola scriptura is out for you, and you claim knowledge of the deposit of faith through a Tradition that is epistemically, and presumably temporally, prior to the Bible. But by whose account of Tradition? Whatever the answer, what authority can they claim? Do you claim to know which ecclesial authority, if any, speaks with the infallible authority of Christ? If so, why? And if none does, at least according to you, then how can you distinguish your faith from mere personal opinion? Even apart from any specifically Catholic-Protestant issue, these are very serious questions for you.

Here is what I mean by "I start with Christ and then believe the Bible, I don’t start with the Bible and then extrapolate what it tells me of God." I believed Christ before I believed the Bible, it is as simple as that. Dr. Liccone says that therefore my knowledge of Christ is before the Bible. I never said anything about knowledge in an intellectual sense, I said I start with Christ before I believed in the Bible. And when I said that I do not then go forth and extrapolate doctrines, I mean that I did not read the Bible, decide it was true, and then decide to believe certain things about Christ--that is a Baptist/Evangelical way of doing things, I am Lutheran and we do not do things that way, we depend on the things Christ provided to the Church to make Christians, Baptism, Holy Communion and the verbal proclamation of the Gospel. So Dr. Liccione is jumping to conclusions here, giant leaps in fact. Sorry, but Sola Scriptura is not out for me, and I think Dr. Liccione's question has a misunderstanding embedded into it. Lutherans believe the Scriptures because they point to Christ, they have Christ as their center, not man. Traditions, infallible "ecclesial authority" or what ever else the RC apologist can throw at me has man at its center, not Christ. Just look at the arguments typically made, or look at Dr. Liccione's statement above; I am to see what authority the ecclesial authority I choose has based on my determination as to whether it speaks with Christ's infallible voice. I am at the center, not Christ, because I decide.

Instead of this, I proclaim that Christ himself baptized me and made me his own, so he knew me and I know him--though not intellectually--more like how an infant knows his mother and father. The "ecclesialogical authority" gives me Jesus' body and blood, and proclaims his love for me and what he did. It is infallible becausse Christ made promises, and he never lies, the infallibility is centered on Christ and not on man. If an "ecclesial authority" can provide people with the things Christ promised, it "works" as an "ecclesial authority", though it may sow tares of false traditions among the wheat of the Sacraments and Gospel preaching, and therefore may destroy trust in the promises of Christ. And we also therefore don't need detailed formulations about exactly when the infallible "ecclesiological authority" is infallible or not--because the Sacraments are infallible, because Christ himself made promised regarding what he does in and through them.

As for Sola Scriptura, I know this is true because God tells me so in his word, the Bible, which proclaims Christ, how he gives himself to us in Baptism and Holy Communion, and in the absolution I receive from the ordained minister in the Church I attend. I don't think it is too hard to grasp.

Now, I suppose Dr. Liccione or another RC apologist might say "How do you know what the Bible tells you about Christ without an infallible "ecclesial authority?" But I am not too interested in elaborate, abstract ideas of authority, in which one must make apologetic arguments to determine which part of what document under which circumstances constitutes an infallible statement. I want Christ where he promised to be, and he says where he will be in his word. I find him in Baptism, Holy Communion and the preaching of the Gospel. He does not lie, and I believe him.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Interesting Church History Papers

I have been browsing this site recently, and it has some good material. I especially interested in the period of the Western Schism, where there were two or three claimants to the papal office at any particular time. This caused a traumatic decline in the prestige of the papacy. This is important for Reformation history because a council, that of Constance, elected a new pope and deposed the other three popes, in other words, a council was in an important sense superior to the pope, because a council selected a pope after John XXIII abdicated. This adds a little context to what a "council" or "free" council is when Martin Luther mentions the need for a council. It is one not convened by the pope, but one in which the pope is a participant and not a judge, like Constance. Anyway, have a look, there is some interesting stuff there.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Binding the Strong Man

Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.

Today we celebrate Christmas, where God became flesh to bind the strong man and plunder his house.

God as plunderer! Well, he is plundering the house of a usurper, the devil, who holds us captive. In any case, the idea that a little baby begins the overthrow of the devil's kingdom is one of the best, and oddest from a purely rational standpoint, teachings of the Church. The idea that a baby, who depends on his mother and father for his life, is the savior of the world, born a King, Lord of Lords is something I keep coming back to. God is truly an awesome God.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Martin Luther--Justifying Faith and Union with Christ

Here is what the good Doctor said:

..[F]aith does not merely mean that the soul realizes that the divine word is full of grace, free and holy; it also unites the soul with Christ, as a bride is united with her bridegroom. From such a marriage, as St. Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul become one body, so that they hold all things in common, whether for better or worse. This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul; and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ. Thus Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul. The soul possesses lots of vice and sin; these now belong to Christ. Here we have a happy exchange and struggle. Christ is God and human being, who has never sinned and who's holiness is unconquerable, eternal and almighty. So he makes the sin of the living soul his own through its wedding ring, which is faith, and acts as if he had done it himself, so that sin could be swallowed up in him. For his unconquerable righteousness is too strong for all sin, so that it is made single and free from all its sins on account of its pledge, that is its faith, and can turn to the eternal righteousness of its bridegroom, Christ. Now is this not a happy business? Christ, the rich, noble, holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil, and bestows all his goodness upon her! It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ and is swallowed up by him, so that she possesses a rich righteousness in her bridegroom.
(The Christian Theology Reader--Alister McGrath, page 229, Cited Luther's Works 25.26-26.9)

I really like the images Luther uses here. The union between the believer and Christ swallows up sin, not only because Christ's righteousness is applied to the believer in the "happy exchange", but because Christ's omnipotent righteousness swallows up sin.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Choosing to Believe, can we even do such a thing?

I was reading an older post on metalutheran, and I thought it has something to say about people who say they believe something based on the authority of the person saying it, ala Cardinal Newman. To refresh, Cardinal Newman basically said that if we believe something because we weigh the evidence, we do not have faith. We only have faith when we believe based on the authority of the one teaching, otherwise we are engaging in private judgment.

Oftentimes, I will hear a RC or EO claim they believe something based on the authority of the Church, which sounds like they choose to believe based on authority. But can anyone really "choose to believe", or is belief something which happens outside of what we want? In other words, does the EO or RC, or anyone else, including Cardinal Newman, Lutherans, lawyers etc. really believe something based on an authority, or do they just behave like they do until later? This is important, because Lutherans believe faith, which is belief in the Gospel, trust in Christ etc., is a gift of God, we don't choose, we can't choose. When we are born, we cannot believe, like I cannot choose to believe something which seems not to be true to me--even if I act like I do believe. Belief is out of our hands, no matter what we may like.

So, this raises the issue of whether believing based on the authority of the Church, rather than just believing, is really belief. It also implicitly, if not explicitly, makes "belief" into a work we accomplish. All good Lutherans will no doubt sneeze now.

Now, perhaps one can say that behaving as if one believes trains the flesh in the faith, and then belief will follow. But that still means that at some point, it is likely one is only acting out the faith, rather than actually believing it. And if we only act and don't believe, don't we give only lip service? But if we believe, really believe by an act of the Holy Spirit, won't we give godly service?

Just wondering.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Still Unsatisfied with Temporal Punishment

Rusty responded to my post over on his blog, becoming hinged.

Rusty says I got Trent wrong, that it says what Fr. Kimel says, that temporal punishment is not an external inflicted punishment:

In other words, this ‘punishment’ should be understood in exactly the way that Fr. Kimel (and the Catechism) explicitly states: not external acts of divine vengeance. So how should it be understood? Well, remember that the Bible teaches that the Husbandman purges the branches in Christ. Also, that God chastises those whom he loves. Corrects those who need correction. So, if we, as Mark Shea advocates, understand ‘temporal punishment’ as the purging, correcting, chastising of God’s people - I think we are closer to the truth of what both Trent and Fr. Kimel are getting at.

Fr. Kimel says that the sin brings with it its own punishment--for instance a drunkard with cirrhosis of the liver (my example, not his). The "punishment" is an effect, and not a punishment in the sense of getting a traffic ticket for speeding. But I don't think that does justice to either Trent, or even Rusty's use of "chastizing" point above, because "chastizing" is another word for punishment, and if punishment is not because we have done something wrong, i.e. "vengence", or "[i]nfliction of punishment in return for a wrong committed; retribution" {American Heritage Dictionary,, what is it for? I simply don't see what the difference is between Rusty's point above is, and the idea that God inflicts actual punishments on the penitent. Trent seems to support my view. Here is Trent 14 9 again:

It [the council] teaches furthermore that the liberality of the divine munificence is so great that we are able through Jesus Christ to make satisfaction to God the Father not only by punishments voluntarily undertaken by ourselves to atone for sins, or by those imposed by the judgment of the priest according to the measure of our offense, but also, and this is the greatest proof of love, by the temporal afflictions imposed by God and borne patiently by us.

Remember, according to Trent 14 8, there is no forgiveness without this satisfaction: "And it is in keeping with divine clemency that sins be not thus pardoned us without any satisfaction, lest seizing the occasion and considering sins as trivial and offering insult and affront to the Holy Spirit, we should fall into graver ones." Now, "satisfaction" is a work of penance, which in turn, according to Trent 14 9, is imposed by an agent; God himself, or a priest, or ourselves. The mere fact it is imposed is enough to show that it is not something which is an effect or "sin that brings with it, by divine ordination, its own punishment". In the Middle Ages, when a priest told a penitent he had to go to Jerusalem for penance, this was not sin's own punishment, it was imposed, and it was meant to "restrain from sin, check as it were with a bit, and make penitents more cautious and vigilant in the future; they also remove remnants of sin, and by acts of the opposite virtues destroy habits acquired by evil living". By the same token, Trent specifically states that God also inflicts punishment on the penitent. So, I don't see how Fr. Kimel's "clarification" has much in common with Trent.

Rusty goes on to say:

UL spends the remainder of his post aghast that the Catholic “can have no confidence our sins are forgiven unless and until we have made enough “satisfaction” for our sins.” Of course, he neglects the most important part of the whole of Trent’s treatment of satisfaction, a part which is prominently quoted in the Catechism - that when we enter the very act of penitence, we unite ourselves with His suffering, His supreme satisfaction. That any acts of penance are done through his efficacy won on the Cross. Any purging, any correcting, any straightening is done because we have entered the realm of surrender to Him, He who strengthens us.

Well, if it is true that without satisfaction--good works done to remit the temporal punishment we deserve because of God's justice, our sins are not forgiven, then isn't it true the Catholic can have no real confidence his sins are forgiven? I mean, how much "satisfaction" or "purging" does one have to do before God forgives our sins? Maybe we could remit this punishment with something, say an indulgence. That will soothe the conscience. ;-) (I am only half joking here, because these issues are intimately tied in with the Reformation).

I don't think the "pruning" and "purging" really captures what Trent is saying.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Satisfaction" and Trent Session 14, section 8 and 9

Over on TWeb, I spotted a post which cited a post that says the doctrine of Purgatory is being "clarified". Now, since I don't subscribe to the RC dogma of papal or magisterial infallibility, I usually see "clarification" as a rewrite of a previous position held by the RCC which they no longer want to defend. In any case, what is being developed is what "temporal punishments" we have to make "satisfaction" for. Now, in RC theology, when the priest absolves you, the eternal consequences of your sin are done away with, but the temporal punishments remain. So, I may lie about my neighbor, repent and be forgiven, but I will still be punished for the sin I committed, maybe because I was cought lying, or my neighbor had his reputation damaged etc. But Fr. Kimel writes

The language of punishment is retained, yet note the insistence that this "must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin." It is sin that brings with it, by divine ordination, its own punishment.

Unfortunately, this seems to contradict Trent Session 14, section 8:

[T]he holy council declares that it is absolutely false and contrary to the word of God, that the guilt is never remitted by the Lord without the entire punishment being remitted also. For clear and outstanding examples are found in the sacred writings, by which, besides divine tradition, this error is refuted in the plainest manner. Indeed the nature of divine justice seems to demand that those who through ignorance have sinned before baptism be received into grace in one manner, and in another those who, after having been liberated from the servitude of sin and of the devil, and after having received the gift of the Holy Ghost, have not feared knowingly to violate the temple of God and to grieve the Holy Spirit. And it is in keeping with divine clemency that sins be not thus pardoned us without any satisfaction, lest seizing the occasion and considering sins as trivial and offering insult and affront to the Holy Spirit, we should fall into graver ones, For without doubt, these satisfactions greatly restrain from sin, check as it were with a bit, and make penitents more cautious and vigilant in the future; they also remove remnants of sin, and by acts of the opposite virtues destroy habits acquired by evil living. Neither was there ever in the Church of God any way held more certain to ward off impending chastisement by the Lord than that men perform with true sorrow of mind these works of penance. Add to this, that while we by making satisfaction suffer for our sins, we are made conformable to Christ Jesus who satisfied for our sins, from whom is all our sufficiency, having thence also a most certain pledge, that Neither is this satisfaction which we discharge for our sins so our own as not to be through Christ Jesus; for we who can do nothing of ourselves as of ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of Him who strengthens us....

It [the council] teaches furthermore that the liberality of the divine munificence is so great that we are able through Jesus Christ to make satisfaction to God the Father not only by punishments voluntarily undertaken by ourselves to atone for sins, or by those imposed by the judgment of the priest according to the measure of our offense, but also, and this is the greatest proof of love, by the temporal afflictions imposed by God and borne patiently by us
(Trent 14,8, 9--emph. added)

Now, at first I thought "Hey!, they are saying that God forgives the sin and the punishment! Well, tat is not so bad." But then I re-read the passage and realized it says just the opposite, it does not say God forgives our sins and our punishment, it says that unless we make satisfaction, i.e. are punished, our sins are not forgiven. Not only that, it seems to me that, contrary to Fr. Kimel's claims about the "development" of this doctrine, the council clearly calls the "effects" punishments. i.e. they are not "accidents of sin" as it were, but punishments inflicted by God, or ourselves. But the worst part of this is that we can have no confidence our sins are forgiven unless and until we have made enough "satisfaction" for our sins. Who can know when he has made enough satisfaction? Perhaps the RC will say that what ever the priest/bishop etc. say is satisfaction, satisfies. I, however, like when Pr. Nuss says "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen!" And it is so. The Roman system, even if "temporal punishment" has "developed" to mean the effects of sin, will tend to put our focus on ourselves or the satisfaction imposed by the priest. The Lutheran and Apostolic doctrine is that our sins are forgiven, because we cannot add to the satisfaction of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mixing the Two Kingdoms--Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee wants the US government to turn the other cheek in international relations. From the article:

He (Huckabee) wants to anthropomorphize international relations and bring a Christian commitment to the Golden Rule to our affairs with other nations. As he told the Des Moines Register the other day, “You treat others the way you’d like to be treated. That’s to me the fundamental issue that has to be re-established in our dealings with other countries.”

International relations to not work according to the precepts of the Gospel. The Gospel is about forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake, the president of the United States is not a minister of the Gospel to other nations, forgiving their sins and absolving them before the mercy seat of the Father. The president of the United States is there to enforce the laws enacted by Congress, and protect the Republic from its enemies, not turn the other cheek to those who would attack us.

As Lutherans, we believe in the "Two Kingdoms". The Kingdom of the right hand is the domain of the Church, where sin is condemned and forgiveness dispensed. The Kingdom of the left hand is the earthly government, it is primarily concerned with justice--rewarding good and punishing evil. When we mix the two, we may compromise one or the other, or both.

God humbled a proud convert

Let me tell you a personal story.

When I became Lutheran at about 27 years, I was filled with joy at what God offered me in Word and Sacrament. But as always, the devil is right behind with his lies.

I was reading the Bible several times a day, everything seemed to just "click" for me in my new church. My beliefs were constantly being reaffirmed in word and deed. Not only this, I became involved in online discussions, and I seemed to be doing well there too. In fact, I said to myself "You are pretty darn good Ed, you can destroy all these heterodox arguments with ease!" Things were perfect.

Then, it happened. Suddenly I couldn't believe anything. Not.A.Single.Thing. Not the Trinity, not the Atonement, not Holy Communion. Oh, I could read the Bible, see what it was saying, know what the truth is etc. But I couldn't believe a word of it. No matter what I read, who I spoke with, how often I went to service, I just couldn't believe anything. I began to despair, like someone who knows his habits will destroy him, yet he simply cannot take the elementary steps to stop his demise. I knew what was the fate of those who do not believe is, yet I could not believe even though I had knowledge of the truth. In this despair all I did is ask my Lord, like a child "Don't leave me!" And with that, I was able to believe again. This burned into my conscienceless that faith, i.e. trust and belief in God and his promises, really is his gift. I could not "choose to believe", I could not submit to God's command to believe the Gospel, I couldn't do any of these things. In my opinion, God humbled me to teach this to me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Peter the Rock

Regarding RC apologetics about Peter being the first pope, I wrote:

"'You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church' means that Peter can infallibly determine doctrine, he can dispense indulgences, and only those who are in fellowship with his direct successors can do this."

The RC (Who is a good guy, BTW) replied:

"Oh heck. This is too easy. So, you are saying that the entire doctrine of papal infallibility is a conclusion based on a low-probability meaning of this passage alone? There are no other supporting factors in the Catholic argument. It's this or nothing. ..."

Well, on Catholic Answers I found 17 "proofs" of Peter's origins as pope. Of the 17, 12 were direct citations of Matt 16:18, or direct allusions to it. So, I think it is fair to say that the RCC bases its interpretation of Matt 16:18 on a low probability meaning of the passage, because popes have all these powers, e.g. releasing peple from purgatory, anything which proves Petrer was pope means he has these powers. Hence, in RC apologetics (and the link I provided to Catholic Answers has a nihil obstat and an imprimature, it is pretty close to a done deal)it is indeed true that "You are Peter" really means he has the power of indulgences. It is this kind of thing, reading back onto a passage, whether of the Bible, or the Fathers, or anyone also, which I find objectionable in the way apologetics is done. Nothing is ever as it seems, I suppose.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

RC Apologists and semantic arguments

Well, I was really awfully busy the last few months, so there was no blogginf, and I only had limited time to do anything else besides work. But I should be posting more regularly now.

Anyway, there seems to be a lot of RC apologists who like "shock" quotes from Reformation figures. Here is one from Steve Ray's blog. It is just a bare quote:

Persons who persist in the superstitions of the Roman Antichrist [Catholicism] . . . deserve to be repressed by the sword.
Now, on Theology web, some RCs and at least one Orthodox too issue with James Swan's interpretation of this quote, that Ray's citation of Calvin was meant to imply that Calvin thought RCs should be put to death. The RC/EO claimed that being repressed by the sword does not necessarily mean the death penalty, and that to assert such is to read too much into Ray's citation. This is technically true--repress by the sword can mean any number of things besides death, it could mean pretty much any use of force. However, it seems to me that this is a weak counter argument. As one of the protestant posters pointed out, if a child said "he was molesting me", that carries a connotation different from "he was disturbing me". The same is true with "repressed by the sword". It is a purely semantic argument to claim we don't know Ray did not necessarily mean the death penalty, even though it is technically possible.

The problem is, that many RC apologists reply to critiques of RCism with just this type of argument, "it does not necessarily mean that". This happens with infused grace--something infused but it is not really a thing, even if it is described as a thing--e.g. it is God's life. You end up in an endless semantic loop, where nothing means what it actually says. I suppose that could serve the purpose of "proving" the need for an infallible interpreter.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mother Teresa said some Interesting Things, Lutheran Things

Before I begin, I want to point out that I do not believe Mother Teresa was a Lutheran during her life, she was a Roman catholic. however, this is the second time this year I have read of a prominent Roman Catholic with "Lutheran" difficulties, i.e. they look inside and see a pit of darkness, they despair and they have nothing left but Christ.

Here is an excerpt from the Fox News article:

Shortly after beginning her work in the slums of Calcutta, she wrote: “Where is my faith? Even deep down there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. If there be a God — please forgive me.”

“I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul,” she wrote at one point. “I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation.” On another occasion she wrote: “I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”

This, I dare say, quite Lutheran sounding. As Lutherans, we do not look into ourselves for salvation, for comfort, for assurance. Just like Mother Teresa, when we do look inside ourselves we do not see God, but death and despair. It is precisely at the point of despair that we see our helplessness, in the words of Mother Teresa "Even deep down there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. If there be a God — please forgive me." Here, after looking deep down, she did not find faith--a trust in what God promises in Jesus Christ, but nothingness. And at this point, she cried out for forgiveness. All the aesthetic discipline she endured in her life (and her works certainly dwarf mine, as I sit in my comfortable living room!) were not comfort. Her last refuge was Christ and his forgiveness.

That, in a nutshell, is Lutheranism.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

What authority does typology have?

Typology is a very common and useful way of reading the Scriptures. By typology, we usually mean an interpretation of a passage which, while not contradictory to the literal sense of the passage, is read to mean more than the bare words. Typology was used by the early Church, the Apostles and Jesus Christ himself. How much authority does a typological interpretation have though?

There is a difference between the authority of a typological interpretation of the Scriptures we make and ones contained in the Scriptures themselves. We are usually not dogmatically bound by a typological interpretation outside of the ones given in the Scriptures--but we read the Scriptures typologically. So, we should read the Scriptures typologically--in fact the whole Lutheran, and I would guess EO and RC approach to typology, is that the Scriptures typologically refer to Christ, even if they do not directly refer to him. The problem arises, though, when we see typology everywhere, like when Jacob was carrying wood, we see Christ carrying the cross. Dogma? I don't think so!

This is the kind of thing many an RC apologist does when he says St. Paul's Damascus road conversion is a type of prots, and I would guess EO, coming to realize that the RCC is the True Church ™. There is no Christological reason to read this passage typologically like that. And if St. Paul's experience can mean that, why can't it mean a host of other things--like the turning of Israel to Christ, or those who see will be made blind, as in John 9, or any other readings we can see in an event like that. These are not necessarily wrong interpretations or even a useless ones--they may be right and a very useful ones, but I would hardly base a dogma upon them. To do so comes off sounding a little trite.

Typology is the norm because a typological reading of the Scriptures is enjoined by Christ himself. But typology apart from the historical settings of God's recorded acts in history is Origenist, which I believe is dangerous. We need to be careful how we establish dogma--and if we can read the Scriptures typologically apart from their historical setting, why not allegorize the the Gospel itself? That is the road to Anglicanism,--a form of Gnosticism in my opinion as expressed in the ECUSA, where the only Church Tradition that matters is the one which says bishops cannot interfere in other bishops' diocese. (A similar thing happened in the Church of Sweden, a "Lutheran" Church, where the only requirement for being a minister is to receive communion from a women priest's hands, Trinity? Optional!).

So, we must not read the Scriptures as bare words, but we also must not give our imaginations free reign when we read the Scriptures. There is a continuum, and the guide, as always, is Christological and Incarnational. The dogma of the Incarnation, for one guards against the over spiritualization of Christianity. The idea of God becoming man throws all neo-gnostic ideas like "soul-mates" intothe garbage.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Blood of the Martyrs

Let's hope their blood is not spilled!

In Afghanistan, 23 S. Korean Hostages, missionaries in fact, are being held captive by followers of the Religion of Peace. Let us pray for the hostages, that they might be freed, and for their captors, that they will see the Truth in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. This is a terrible thing, and I think we will see more and more of it.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Do we have faith when we sin?

Do I still have faith, reflective faith when I sin? Am I still a child of God or not? And if I am a child of God, isn't it because I believe this despite my sin, and not because of my self reflection?

Faith does not always say "Amen!" Sometimes it says "Lord I believe, help my unbelief!" So faith is something we have even when we sin. In fact, it is faith which drives us to the foot of the cross for forgiveness-absent belief in Christ, we would fear God's righteous wrath against us.

That is the big difference between Lutheran and Reformed approaches to faith, and what having faith means. For Lutherans, Christ has objectively paid the price for all sins. It is by faith, i.e. believing the promise, what we break the cycle of self reflection and instead reflect upon the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

God's Wrath and the River of Fire

An "Orthodox" named Kalomiros wrote something called "The River of Fire", basically a polemic against "Western Christianity", claiming that we worship a vengeful, hateful god. His views are popular among converts to Orthodoxy. His views are not really orthodox, which is why I placed that word in scare quotes. In fact, he was not in fellowship with the "official" Orthodox jurisdictions. His views though, are also similar to many skeptics' and even "liberal" Christians' views of evil, and God's solution to it in Jesus Christ.

But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor. To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and a vengeful inquisitor.

You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose.

Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God's vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.

Do you perceive the devil's slander of our all-loving, all-kind, and absolutely good God? That is why in Greek the devil was given the name of διάβολος ;the slanderer."

We fear God because we know deep down our deeds are evil, and we know what we deserve and that his wrath is upon us because of our evil deeds. This does not, however mean we worship a god of wrath out of fear, as some say. I understand that he gave this speech at a youth gathering; if that is true he gave a very distorted view of Western Christianity. This is the same fear we would have of a policeman who pursues us if we commit a crime. So, in a sense we do "hate" God, before we are reborn, because we run from the light as our deeds are evil. But Dr. Kalomiros leaves it at that, and in whom we know that God does indeed love us. This is a perfect example of a one-sided critique, which he, and some skeptics and liberals, use.

But God's wrath is real, he is a God of love, but he is also judge, and he will prepay us for all pour sins.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:18-23, ESV)

We are in open rebellion against the King of the Universe, and we [b]know[/b] this, because we can perceive his power and divine nature. What would be the conclusion of rebellion against an omnipotent being? That he will set things aright, and we know we cannot stand against him.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (John 3:19-20, ESV)

IOW, we fear God's judgment [b]because[/b] we know what we deserve, because we realize our unrighteousness--they are not logically separate as Dr. Kallomiros makes them out to be. We "hate the light" [b]because[/b] we know our deeds are evil. God is not any more a menace than a police officer is a menace to a fugitive from justice. Depending on one's relationship to the law of the land a policeman is either a helper or a "menace". Suppose you are stranded on a dark and stormy night and a police car comes along--you will likely feel relief. Now suppose you have a dead body in your trunk and a police car comes along--now you feel terror, you may even curse the police and hate them because your deeds will be exposed and you will receive punishment—not because of any quality of the policeman but because you know a severe "judgment" is coming soon. And why shouldn’t you feel terror at the prospect? It is not unloving for a police officer to arrest or even kill a fugitive who endangers others--it is in fact his calling or vocation. In the same way, God is not "menacing" sinners, he is acting justly and we know what that justice entails. The sinner knows what is coming and in his sin curses God--even though he knows he deserves what he has coming. But is God's wrath a sinful type of wrath, e.g. "I didn’t get what I demand so I am angry”? No, his wrath is because of his justice, and God's justice seeks to set everything right. Justice rewards evil with punishment, but it also rewards good with glory. So, what is unjust is the subject of his wrath, and those who are unjust fear his wrath, as they should.

He also fails to see that we see God as our Savior only when we are enlightened by the Holy Spirit. If we look at nature alone, without the enlightening of our minds by God the Holy Spirit, we perceive God is powerful but we also see a lot of suffering along side beauty and love, and so once again we fear our Maker--all due to our sin. For example, it is only through faith we can see salvation in Jesus' work on the cross--the "Greek" cries foolishness! Also, we cannot be subject to God's will at birth and so we are all condemned as sinners. When we are terrified by our punishment for our sins we cling to the cross, where we see God giving his own life for us so that we may be with him in fellowship forever. There is sweet forgiveness, new life and rebirth. This is what Dr. Kollimiros always seems to miss. In Lutheran terms it is 100% law with no gospel at all. As I said, one sided.

You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose.

Where have we said God only loves himself? God gave his Son only out of unselfish love for us--he did not need to do that and he was within his rights to destroy the whole race. Instead he showed his love in Jesus Christ. I see a pattern here where Dr. Kalomiros talks only about the law and never the free gift in Jesus Christ. Without that balance he will never understand Lutheran (and I daresay Roman Catholic) theology--he will always be squinting at what he sees and drawing conclusions from his limited perspective. Without the forgiveness of sins God would punish us all for eternity; hence without that God is indeed someone to fear. however, at the foot of the cross we can see God's love for us. The Son condescended to come down and become flesh for our benefit, he shed his glory for us, soiled himself as a helpless child, subjected himself to being executed by the very people he came to save. That is love--an unselfish and perplexing love.

Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God's vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.

"Who can love a torturer?" This question can be turned around on the Dr. Kalomiros too--why does God allow people to be created if it is better for them that they were never born?

Regarding saving ourselves, no Lutheran says we can save ourselves; a complete misunderstanding of what and who he is speaking about! His psychoanalysis is also off--I don't only "love myself" and I approach my Savior in joy, and NO ONE HERE HAS EVER said that what we do in any way earns God's pleasure, we are all unprofitable servants, who actually fail quite often and so have to return to the foot of the cross, to our Baptism and receive his precious body and blood for renewal and refreshment.

What is evil? Is it not the estrangement from God Who is Life? Is it not death?

Evil arises from the privation of good. It does not have existence--it is always parasitic. This is the historic Western doctrine, as far as I know.

What does Western theology teach about death? All Roman Catholics and most Protestants consider death as a punishment from God.

Death arises from sin. God also punished people with death for sinning. As God himself said to our first parents "If you eat of the tree you will die".

God considered all men guilty of Adam’s sin and punished them by death, that is by cutting them away from Himself; depriving them of His live giving energy, and so killing them spiritually at first and later bodily, by some sort of spiritual starvation. Augustine interprets the passage in Genesis "If you eat of the fruit of this tree, you will die" as "If you eat of the fruit of this tree, I will kill you.

That God kills people is well attested to in Scripture, in the first place. But Lutherans certainly don't believe we are guilty of Adam's sin--we are guilty of our own sins. What we get from Adam is that separation from God, that will turned in on itself so that we do sin. So once again I think he betrays a woeful misunderstanding of Western Theology, and unfortunately these ideas are not limited to Orthodox converts, but are pretty common in our society. When I hear this, all I can do is say that the same God that is accused, became man to save us, and not because of any necessity, bit just because he loves us. no one can really say that such a God is merely a god of wrath who is to be feared. In fact, the gift of salvation is such a "surprise" that Jew and Greek stumble on the cross.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Our Bodies are not Shells

A question was posed:

If the dead are already in Heaven or Hell , what is the point in the Resurrection??
Why be dragged down from Heaven, stuck in a body, judged and then sent right back?

Interesting question.

My crack at an answer is that our bodies are an integral part of who we are--so if "I" am apart from my body, in an important sense "I" am not really there--"I" am incomplete. God saves persons, not just souls.

I have heard a lot of Christians refer to the body as a sort of shell. That is more of a Greek, and possibly Gnostic (Gnostics are the "knowing ones" who have access to hidden "knowledge" which is not apparent to the fleshly), way of looking at person hood.

We can see the idea of the body as a shell or incidental in the idea of two or more people who want to be spiritually united--two "soul mates", whether man-woman, man-man, woman-woman, or possibly man-man-woman-dog etc. All that matters is that the individual realizes his potential, his divine spark within, and can share that with another enlightened Gnostic. The concentration on "spiritual" union apart from the physical is, unfortunately, a characteristic of our age. The idea is we should not get hung up on the physical equipment because those don't define the person, it is as if we defined a person according to the socks he wares. This strikes me as very similar to the way Gnostics looked at the body as accidental to the divine "spark", which is awakened by the esoteric gnosis imparted to the individual through various means, such as aestheticism or libertinism. This knowledge is esoteric because it has little to nothing to do with what any words actually say--words are mere vehicles for the individual to awaken the spark inside.

Such ways of thinking are antithetical to the doctrine of the resurrection, because for Christians, the body does indeed define the person, along with the soul. Revelation is not esoteric, it is a matter of history--"suffered under Pontius Pilate", the Scriptures, a Church composed of actual people, flesh, bones and souls. So even someone with little or no "knowledge" can be a Christian when his body and soul are washed together in the waters of Baptism, because in the waters of Baptism we are washed with God's Word, made his own, justified and born as a new creature, one who obeys God out of love and not fear as we did before.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Some questions about the Rosary

I have some questions, and I think they are serious ones, regarding Marian dogmas. I came across this on the Internet and I found it, well, disturbing.

Quoth an RC apologist "You do know that the mysteries that you 'focus' on are the life of Christ as seen through the eyes of Mary?"

Now this is interesting. I find it difficult to focus on things seen through the eyes of another, because I cannot really see things through the eyes of another. I may be able to empathize, but I will always be one space removed from the one through whose eyes I try to see. Such a mystery has no promise associated with it, and is a bit Gnostic feel to it.

What I can focus on is the objective, hard facts of what God did through St. Mary--the Incarnation and all that followed from it. This event is revealed to us and it is truly mind-bending to meditate on the Incarnation. As Luther wrote:

All praise to Jesus' Hallowed name

He whom the world could not enclose
Doth in Mary's lap repose,
He is become an infant small,
Who by His might upholdeth all.

I can also focus in the mystery of Holy Communion--in Holy Communion I hear the words of Christ, that his body and blood are given to me for the forgiveness of my sins. I contrast this with attempting to see the through the eyes of another, and that promises are connected to this. I submit that these promises are pure speculation at best, and blasphemous at worst, and as a Lutheran I contrast this with the more tangible, explicit mysteries of the Gospel and the Sacraments.

Having spoken with several Roman Catholics about this, and thus having heard their explanations, it is still true that I find these things disturbing--not out of any anti-Catholic animus, but because these things simply sound wrong and they sound like they place our attention on someone besides Christ himself, who we receive in the Sacraments. I offer the following in the hope that a coherent explanation can be given, for the life of me, I cannot see how one can be given. The following is so foreign to a Jesus-centric approach to theology that I just cannot seem to bridge the two:

The Fifteen Promises of the Virgin Mary to those who recite the Rosary

(Revealed to St. Dominic and Blessed Alan):

1) Whoever shall faithfully serve me by the recitation of the Rosary, shall receive signal graces.

When I pray the Rosary, I serve the Virgin Mary? I know that Mary is supposed to lead us to Christ in Roman Catholic doctrine, but isn't it better to trust things that actually lead us to Christ, like his words in the Scriptures, like his Sacraments? So much of Roman dogma and practice regarding the Virgin seems to operate like this, St. Mary does something which we normally would say Go does..

2) I promise my special protection and the greatest graces to all those who shall recite the Rosary.

The Virgin offers protection? Isn't Christ our refuge? Maybe a RC will say that she intercedes for us and so we will be protected. I, however, cannot see how this is an orthodox promise, as once again we are entreated to seek Mary's protection and not Christ's. And if she was interceding, why couldn't she say that?

3) The Rosary shall be a powerful armor against hell, it will destroy vice, decrease sin, and defeat heresies.

I suppose this could be construed as the prayers of the Rosary to God will accomplish this--except most of the prayers are to St. Mary--10 Hail Mary's to one Our Father. So it seems that somehow Mary accomplishes this, but I don't see how one may say that these prayers accomplish this given the structure of the Rosary.

4) It will cause virtue and good works to flourish; it will obtain for souls the abundant mercy of God; it will withdraw the hearts of people from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire of eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means.

God's word sanctifies, the indwelling of the Holy Ghost sanctifies. Given that, as above, most of the prayers are to St. Mary, this implies that St. Mary sanctifies too. Again, I find this disturbing and blasphemous.

5) The soul which recommends itself to me by the recitation of the Rosary, shall not perish.

Again, this seems to place St. Mary in the place of God. Eternal life is given to those who are in Christ--even if they never heard of the Virgin Mary.

6) Whoever shall recite the Rosary devoutly, applying themselves to the consideration of its Sacred Mysteries shall never be conquered by misfortune. God will not chastise them in His justice, they shall not perish by an unprovided death; if they be just, they shall remain in the grace of God, and become worthy of eternal life.

7) Whoever shall have a true devotion for the Rosary shall not die without the Sacraments of the Church.

8) Those who are faithful to recite the Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plentitude of His graces; at the moment of death they shall participate in the merits of the Saints in Paradise.

6 sounds a little like "Name it and Claim it". 7 and 8 are not objectionable on their face, except that it still seems the agent is St. Mary and not god.

9) I shall deliver from purgatory those who have been devoted to the Rosary.

10) The faithful children of the Rosary shall merit a high degree of glory in Heaven.

11) You shall obtain all you ask of me by the recitation of the Rosary.

12) All those who propagate the Holy Rosary shall be aided by me in their necessities.

13) I have obtained from my Divine Son that all the advocates of the Rosary shall have for intercessors the entire celestial court during their life and at the hour of death.

14) All who recite the Rosary are my children, and brothers and sisters of my only Son, Jesus Christ.

I do not believe the Virgin Mary can deliver from purgatory (accepting arguendo that it exists), that if we pray the rosary and ask things of her that she can give things to us, or tat we should propagate the Rosary in lieu of the Gospel of Jesus Christ--the two are not the same because the Gospel has as its center the person and work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, while the Rosary mixes in devotion to St. Mary, who to all intents and purposes seems to be able to do things God alone can do. Furthermore, as above, if this is intercession by St. mary, why didn't she say that?

15) Devotion of my Rosary is a great sign of predestination.
What about free will? :-)

Friday, June 8, 2007

A Zwinglian sees the light

Here is an excerpt from one man's account of his journey from a Reformed view of the Sacrament of the Altar to an Apostolic view. As a matter of fact, the doctrine of the Real Presence was key to his conversion to the Lutheran Church:

I never would have guessed that I would end up as an adult convert to Lutheranism. And I further would not have imagined how central the doctrine of the Lord's Supper would be to my conversion. My conception of denominations was typically evangelical. My understanding of Lutheranism was very vague. I respected the Lutheran church as the church of the Reformation, but I thought that my Presbyterian church had probably reformed things a little more completely.

The Presbyterian church of my childhood was the perfect setting in which to become a convinced Zwinglian (follower of the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli who held that Communion was merely symbolic) without knowing it. I had no knowledge of the ritual until my early school years. I remember sitting in church and seeing a table up front on which were engraved the words "Do this in Remembrance of Me." This was like "Jeopardy!" on a deeper level, begging the question, "What is this that we do in remembrance of Jesus?" The answer was, Communion. Instead of the more usual case where a person is aware of Communion and later asks, "What does this mean?", I was told what this action meant without knowing what this action was.

I was blissfully unaware that anybody denied this interpretation, except for Roman Catholics. Then, in college, I remember hearing Sunday morning radio where Catholic Mass was followed by a Lutheran service. Both the priest and the pastor preached from John chapter six. From that passage the priest taught that the bread and wine were the body and blood of Christ. Then I discovered that that Lutheran pastor was to preach on the same text. I couldn't wait until he provided the correct symbolical interpretation of the passage. But it never came. To my chagrin, the Lutheran pastor taught that in Communion we receive the body and blood of Christ. I was shocked!

I had never been told that only a minority of the early Protestants held to a purely symbolic view of Communion. I had probably heard that the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation was invented in the year 1215, as if before that everyone believed it was a symbolic memorial. Then I thought that all Protestants rejected the Catholic view in favor of the memorial view. It was only later that I realized that while Transubstantiation was a recent invention (as far as church history goes), almost everyone—Lutheran, Calvinist, Roman Catholic—held to some kind of belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament. Many of the early Protestants rejected Transubstantiation without rejecting the Real Presence.......

In a way that may not be understood by those who were not born evangelical, one fear occasioned by the Lutheran teaching on the Lord's Supper is the fear that to receive the Lord's Supper for the forgiveness of sins is to be saved by works. We perform an action and receive salvation in response. This is how I first understood the teaching. In one discussion, a Lutheran woman spoke of how we bring our sins to the Lord's Table and return forgiven. I thought this was odd. What would happen if you died on the way up there? (I know, this is the same question I asked of the Disciples of Christ view of Baptism. But it is a good question!) The difference is that in this case there is an answer. The woman knew her teaching. She assured me that my sins would be forgiven even then.

This did alleviate my misgivings, but I was still uncertain. The view did not violate known true doctrines. What I came to see, though, was how many other aspects of my Christian life in evangelicalism functioned in a similar fashion to the Lord's Supper. When I was aware that I had sinned, I had been taught to pray and ask for forgiveness. I was assured by the promise in I John that Jesus forgave when I confessed my sins. But I was also taught that I was already forgiven before I prayed. (Hence if I died before I prayed...) Yet I could not erase the passages that spoke of forgiveness following confession. The two truths had to coexist. The Sacraments were the same. They offered a forgiveness that most people who partook of them already possessed....

It is a common question asked among evangelicals whether or not they are in the will of God. The Lutherans can answer that question from another angle. "Yes, you are in the will of God," we can confidently say. "You are in his last will and testament. Knowing that he was going to die, God decided to have you written into his will. The legacy he left was his body and blood, along with all of the honors, rights and privileges appertaining." If we were to say this to someone, he or she might first think that we were guilty of a trick. We speak narrowly of a last will. Yet if God does not change, was not this his will all along? We have not skirted the question, but answered the deeper question that lay beneath it. We cannot place ourselves in the will of God through perfect obedience, for we are imperfect. To the extent that we fail, we must not trick ourselves into believing that this is mostly a matter of ignorance—that if we only knew the will of God we would do it. No, the matter is out of our hands. But God has placed us in his will, so that unworthy heirs though we are, we might receive life and salvation through the body and blood of his Son. Not only so. We know where to receive this gift: at an altar of a church that confesses that it has come together to receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
Hoc est corpus meum! Read the whole thing.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Seven Things I have Learned in Life

Pr. Weedon, who's blog I really like, tagged me for Seven Things I Have learned. Well, here they are:

1) When I looked at other communions, I always found the same or worse problems than I find in the LC-MS. This is how God taught me that the Church is under the cross, and though she is his spotless bride today, we are likely only to see her warts if we look with fleshly eyes, and every confession has warts.

2) Watching Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox argue over the fathers looks a lot like Protestant arguments about the Scriptures. In both cases, it comes down to first principles, and a Lutheran's first principle is Christ--i.e. we do not seek to set up an elaborate epistemology to justify our beliefs after the fact: papal infallibility, apostolic succession, hermeneutic assumptions etc. The starting point is faith in Christ and his promises, and his promises are as clear as we can expect.

3) Having your child greet you with a big smile when you come home from work more than outweighs the difficulties.

4) When I sin and seek forgiveness, the Sacrament of the Alter is very, very comforting. I mean, it is Christ giving himself to me again, even though I rebel against him.

5) Arguing with atheists can be dangerous to my faith. Not because their arguments are so powerful, but because the sinner in me likes tidy arguments, and these can subtly encroach on simple faith in the promises of God. I can sometimes place reason above faith ans the Scriptures.

6) "Better to remain silent and have the world think you a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt" is a really good proverb. I should think before I speak, and read before I post. I get better at this all the time because I have learned from painful experiences.

7) When we moved and sought a local church, we learned that it is not always about our wants and needs, God sometimes has other ideas. The "best fit" for my life situation may not be where I am supposed to be.

So, who do I tag?

Chris Jones at

Pastor Fleischmann at

Monday, May 21, 2007

Papal Infallibility Raises more Questions than it Answers

Suppose papal infallibility is true as a theory. How can we use it?

A strictly theoretical infallibility is pretty useless, it is just an idea one keeps in one's head until one applies it. When we try to apply papal infallibility and development of doctrine, it seems they cannot go together. To wit, if I cannot know what the pope teaches infallibly, how can I really know what the pope teaches and hence what the truth is? A good example is Unam Sanctam and Lumen Gentium which seem contradictory on their face. I know there are harmonizations online, but I think even if the harmonizations are true there are still a lot of issues.

Unam Sanctam stated that unless one is in fellowship with the pope, one is outside the Church. Lumen Gentium states that e.g. Protestants are separated brethren, with defective fellowship with the pope. Now, assuming that these can be reconciled, I have the following questions:

1) Were all those RC theologians and believers wrong when they took Unam Sanctam as meaning what is says for 700 years, that those not in fellowship with the pope are outside the Church? If they were not wrong, where are the theologians from the middle ages who said those not in fellowship with the pope have a real though defective relationship with him, and were they widely accepted if they did say so?

2) If so many got this infallible document wrong because the pope really mean the e.g. EO are in the Church, but are "true particular churches" with a defective fellowship with the pope, and that the Prots are really "separated brethren", how can we be sure we really understand what the pope's teaching is now, that it will not "develop" into something quite the opposite of what we believe today based on his teaching tomorrow, given what Unam Sanctam states, to wit "herefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John 'there is one sheepfold and one shepherd."?

3) If certain parts of Unam Sanctam are infallible while others are not, how do we separate the infallible wheat from the fallible tares?

These are honest questions BTW.

If we try and pick out this or that particular tare, we will raise questions about other tares--whether they are really wheat or not. And if questions are raised more word chopping will occur, until we cannot be sure of what the words mean without an infallible interpreter. And I suppose we have come full circle. In a way, the justification for papal infallibility requires the same concept of an infallible interpreter it attempts to justify. If the words ""Therefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John 'there is one sheepfold and one shepherd'" really somehow mean the Greeks have only a defective fellowship with the pope, why couldn't an infallible interpreter simply say that?

I believe this is a real problem with how the RC presents itself as an authority, because ultimately the authority is not clear as to what it teaches, things can develop no matter how clearly worded. Just read Unam Sanctam and see what I mean. Its meaning seems clear, and the Medieval Church seemed to take the view that the pope really did have temporal authority over the princes, the spiritual sword over the profane sword--just ask the German Emperor who's vassals' vows were unilaterally revoked by the pope. If this was not the true Tradition of the RCC, were are the contrary views, and if they exist, why didn't a pope or two say "Yes, that is what we really meant!"?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Chi-coms try to restrict Bible because of sex and violence

"Residents" are calling for an indecent label to be placed on the Bible. A restricted label would mean that the Bible could not be sold to anyone under 18 years of age--just like pornography. This sounds a little like Julian the Apostate's campaigns against Christianity--you can believe, but don't teach. A subtle way to suppress Christianity without the bad publicity of police beating believers with truncheons.

In any case, it is typical for us to focus on the "negative"; in this case violence and sex which the Bible either is silent about, condemns or is of a piece with God's judgement, and leave out God's love for us, a love so great he gave himself and subjected himself to the violence of the unjust--so we might be reconciled to him. The violence counts--even if taken out of context (and there IS blood-curdling violence in the Bible), but the love never seems to make an appearance--unless we want a free ticket to sin.

Pray for China, that God may convert her.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mortal and venial sins

Some Lutherans sneeze whenever they hear anything that sounds like Roman Catholicism. Here is the Roman definitions of "mortal" and "venial" sins:

1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture,129 became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.

1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

Or, mortal sins destroys "charity", which is another word for grace, while venial sins are what we might call "ordinary, decent sins". This distinction does not seem at all to be wrong. It is even scriptural, in that some sins, e.g. causing a little one to sin, make it better if one was not even born. I do not believe I have distorted the Roman view in the slightest. can anyone tell me why a Lutheran would reject these ideas? It does not call into question anything in the Gospel--it is simply an elementary distinction between the one who dies while shooting innocent children in the back and the one who dies after saying "F--- you!" to the guy who cut him off just before he goes over the cliff. I was speaking with someone who tried to say that this distinction is not right, that it is "Roman" etc. No amount of persuasion could shake him from this conviction. It is my opinion that this is due solely to an aversion to things RC--things like confession, vestments, chanting, and even some useful concepts like mortal and venial sins. This is not what we Lutherans are about. We are about Christ and his gifts to mankind, about his giving himself to us in Baptism, Holy Communion, about our sharing this unmerited love he has with us with each other and with those who do not know him. We should not define ourselves as "Not the Roman Catholic Church" but as the stewards of the fullness of the grace of God given through the Church. One is a "negative" definition, the other is who we are, and what we should present ourselves as.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Poping, or Crossing the Tiber

It seems another Lutheran pastor has gone over to the Bishop of Rome. I am tired of reading stories like these, it is very saddening and demoralizing. Though Darel E. Paul is not LC-MS (though he was about 5 years ago), he has some stinging comments re: Lutheranism in general and the LC-MS in particular. His former Lutheran body, the ELCA, gets the brunt of his criticism, and I really cannot disagree with him. About the LC-MS, he says we are subject to the same problems only in a conservative culture. What pushed him out, so to speak, is the ultra-liberalism and ungodly doctrines of the ELCA. He writes:

...Particularly serious are the ELCA’s “full communion” agreements with several Reformed churches and The Episcopal Church (and soon with the United Methodist Church as well). The ELCA confesses through these agreements that the gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered among these non-Lutheran bodies. It thereby also confesses that Reformed doctrine is as true as Lutheran doctrine, and that the Evangelical Lutheran Church has no unique claim to be the visible Church of the Creeds. I do not believe what these agreements confess, particularly regarding the sacraments (viz. the Real Presence and baptismal regeneration) and the establishment of what is in effect a visible united ‘American Liberal Protestant Church’.

More recently I have become troubled by what I consider to be a pervasive and pernicious antinomianism (i.e. moral lawlessness) spreading throughout the ELCA and its full communion partners such as the Church of Sweden and The Episcopal Church. It is now common to hear (such as at the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly or the 2006 General Convention of The Episcopal Church) proclamations of the Gospel over against the Law, or teachings that the Gospel somehow abrogates the Law. What has been particularly troubling, however, is how this antinomianism is defended as an eminently Lutheran confession of salvation by faith alone, imputed righteousness and simul justus et peccator.

This testimony sounds familiar, unfortunately. In my opinion, what initially drives "converts" away from Lutheranism is usually a combination of liberal nuttiness and denial of Christian truth, which then engenders seeking an authority to simply stop the arguing and constant infighting between the "progressives" and the traditionalists. When I say "liberal nuttiness" I mean saying things like it is OK to be in communion with a church body which denies the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which has a like, modern, "relevant" "liturgy"--man, which ordains actively gay clergy, which is not a prophetic voice against the world, but which functionally parrots the party line of one political party or another, which indirectly pays for the murder of unborn children, which believes the only "tradition" which matters is the authority of liberals to impose their innovations upon traditionalists. In short, this happens when a church body places other agendas above that of the Gospel, and the Gospel becomes another word for the other agenda, whether that is feminism, being "relevant"--i.e. conforming to the spirit of the age, or any other number of ideologies which obscure the cross. And who can really blame someone for leaving a church like that? I do not believe many Lutherans wake up one day and say "Hey, the Confessions are just wrong, wrong, wrong!" and then go out to find the nearest RC/EO church. They usually have some sort of crisis (in the LC-MS it is usually caused by some "liturgical" innovation or power politics, which the "conservatives" introduced BTW). This crisis is caused by ungodly innovations according to the wisdom of this age instead of the wisdom of God.

So, what to do? Dr. Luther at says we should preach the pure Gospel. That is true, and as he says that is all our Lord asks. But I would go further, at the risk of adding to what our Lord has commanded us. I would ask all of our "progressives"--Anglican, Lutheran, even Roman Catholic, to look at that their innovations are doing to the Body of Christ, and whether things are better outside the particular obsessions they have--feminism, liturgical silliness, gay rights etc. How many people have left for the RCC or the EOC because we retained our liturgy, because we retained the teaching of the law AND the Gospel, because we remained true to our roots--not only back to the Reformation but all the way back to the Apostles! And please, don't tell me that the liturgy drives people away--the EOC is growing and it has a very "old" and "outdated" liturgy! Please don't tell me that when I approach the ultimate Judge of the Universe for the forgiveness of my sins that I have to be entertained if I am to receive his gifts--something no one expects from an earthly judge! Please don't tell me that we have evolved beyond God's law so that what was universally believed a sin is now something to celebrate--as if God's word is not eternal and has an expiration date! In other words, before we ask the Church to change according to our tastes, please make sure you are on firmer ground than modern fads like feminism. As for "conservatives", how about prayer and more prayer, and maybe a little more prayer--alone and together, and only THEN organizing for earthly political battles.

OK, I will end my rant.

In any case, I don't think the LC-MS is a gonner, nor am I attracted to the RC/EOC (though I flirted as recently as two years ago). But f the last major confessional Lutheran Church collapses in on itself, where can I go? Thankfully, I don't believe the Lord will put me in such a position.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Trail to Wittenburg

Over at confessingevangelical, I found a pretty good discussion about whether many prots who "swim the Tiber", i.e. join the Roman Catholic Church, are really looking for what we have in Lutheranism. In Lutheranism, we have the historic liturgy, sacramental theology, by which I mean assurance through objective means. This is contrasted with American Evangelicalism which has none of those. I think I have to agree. I have spoken with several converts to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy who seemed "Lutheran" in the way they saw things. Not every one, but a rather significant number.

So, why don't more of these "see the light"? I believe there are several reasons:

  • Historically, we don't try and convert people from other Christian Churches--one reason is that we believe other churches, like the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian etc. are churches because they still have the Gospel, though defectively. This is a barrier to evangelizing other Christians, even if there can be good justification for it.
  • Lutherans are basically Northern European, the "Frozen Chosen", inhabiting Scandinavia, Northern Germany, the Baltic States and little else. As an immigrant Church in the USA Lutherans were ethnic for a pretty long time. (This is not 100% true, I know) The LC-MS only moved to English in the last century!
  • It sounds like a cliche, but we don't tell people who we are and what we believe. We have a tendency to put our lamp under a basket and try to be like our protestant neighbors.
  • We are lumped into generic "protestantism", which implies we have things in common with other prots which we do not, for example a symbolic understanding of the Lord's Supper. This is actually a sore point with some Lutheran pastors I know. If may believe we are just another species of protestant, why even bother?
  • We are divided against ourselves. The ELCA is larger then the LC-MS and the WELS combined--that means if someone checks out a local Lutheran congregation the probability is that he will find an ELCA parish, which will very likely be very trendy and on the path to Anglicanism. This will likely turn away those who seek the historic Christian Church.

I don't really have any solutions to this. I suppose the best thing to do is tell everyone the reason we are joyful: we are baptized members of the Body of Christ, and because of his love we have forgiveness and eternal life. Or, in the words of Phillip in 1 John 46 "Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."

Substitute "Wittenburg" for "Nazareth" you may begin to see the outlines of a solution.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church

We have been attending here since we relocated to Albany in January. I am happy to say the worship is "liturgical" and we use the familiar (to us anyway) "Red Hymnal". The assistant pastor is a "traditionalist" in things liturgical. For instance, we chant the Psalms, the Introit, which we did not do at our previous parish. All in all, it was not too much of an adjustment. I have come to like it quite a bit. I believe the lirutgy is a valuable teaching tool--I can remember the first time I realized I could read: I was able to follow along with the Creed! Unfortuantely, the congregation is mostly compose dof elderly people--65 years plus. Tania and I felt called to be there though and so here we are! We hope and pray that God will use us to help this congregation, and no doubt we will grow in the process.

What touched Tania and I though, was an old couple, married for 65 years, who sit in front of us. They cannot stand or kneel when it is required, and sometimes they seem to be uncomfortable. Yet, they come just about every Sunday to praise their Lord for the life he gives them through his death and resurrection. I pray that we will have as much faith and desire to see our Lord when we are old as this couple do.

On a lighter note, here is a corny joke I actually used:

My wife asked me if she should make the check out to St. Matthew.

I replied that since he is in heaven, he might not be able to cash it.


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

This is a bit much, don't you think?

As is well documented, the Episcopal Church is a bit lacking in some essentials of the 'ancient customs of the Church"; how about women's ordination, bishop? How about former bishop Spong? How about a gay "bishop" who wants to "marry" his homosexual lover? The list could go on and on. While I am not an expert on all things Episcopalian, but aren't there more important "ancient customs of the Church" than bishops protecting their turf from dreaded traditionalists?


I saw this on the New York Post this morning:

May 3, 2007 -- Call him Father Jim.

Gay former Gov. Jim McGreevey is becoming an Episcopal priest and has been accepted to study at a seminary school in Chelsea.

The lapsed Catholic will enter a three-year master of divinity program at the General Theological Seminary in September, while undergoing the long process of ordination at St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue.

McGreevey, who sensationally announced that he was a "gay American" after former lover and aide Golan Cipel threatened to out him, went through the first step to becoming a priest on Sunday when he was received into the Episcopal church.

We Lutherans are not a works based people, to say the least. But there does come a time when the fruit of rebellion is there for all to see.

An adulterous man who engages in homosex? A candidate for bishop, or priest.

A traditionalist who wants to ordain in another diocese, which happens to approve of the heresies above? Beyond the pale. Anathema!

Sometimes I worry about the LC-MS. I can even see cracks in the RCC and to some degree the EOC. I pray to God he will preserve his Church, that there will always be a parish for our family to attend where we can hear, tase and feel the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For, how can we hear if there is not a preacher?


Quoth (well, sort of) Archbishop Anikola:

The American presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, condemned this poaching of souls on her turf as a violation of the "ancient customs of the church." To which the archbishop replied, in essence: Since when have you American liberals given a fig about the ancient customs of the church?

Great minds think alike. :-)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lutheran Sola Scriptura

The Unknown Lutheran writes:

The true Lutheran understanding of Sola Scriptura is nothing more than this: Scripture testifies to Christ and Christ is what we need to look for in Scripture because Christ is what we need. Christ is in His Word and in His Sacraments and the whole of Scripture points us in this direction. Doctrine derived from Scripture will always point to Christ, because Christ is what Scripture is centered on. Doctrine derived from outside of Scripture leads to error, because experience, reason and history do not have Christ as their center, they have fallen man as their center.
I think this is exactly right, and it is why Lutherans don't usually "proof text" our theology. it is also why, as is the case with EWTN, RC/EO polemicists miss the mark in much of their critique of Sola Scriptura when they try and shoehorn us into pop-Evangelical versions of this doctrine. Just like Sola Fide, we often end up expending a lot of energy trying to explain the difference between what we actually believe and what others say we do.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Partial Birth Abortion

Psalm 139:13 (English Standard Version)

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.

I think a more straight forward word, like infanticide, would be better.

I do wonder though, why it took 34 years for the courts to agree that crushing the skull of a baby half way out of the womb is a bridge too far, but only just.

In today's anti-Christian atmosphere we will take any victory we can, and this seems like an important one to me!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Interesting Article on Luther and Calvin

I found this through Pontifications. The gist if the article is that the "Reformed" (as defined by Lutherans, i.e. Not EO, not RC, not Lutheran, but Chalcedonian Christians) "faith" as a reflection on the point in time at which one was saved, and then going on to prove that one is really saved. This is defined as the Protestant view. Lutheran faith, however, is a reflection on the promises of God, and that since God does not and cannot lie, we believe the promises and so we are justified by faith.

Cary, the author of the article (or I should say the speaker) goes on to say that the Book of Concord is more protestant than Luther. I am not sure I agree, but it is very interesting none the less. Check it out.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Annulments are a bit of Sophistry

Now that Lent is over, I can continue my scurrilous attacks on heresy. :-)

1629 For this reason (or for other reasons that render the marriage null and void) the Church, after an examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the nullity of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never existed.132 In this case the contracting parties are free to marry, provided the natural obligations of a previous union are discharged
Catechism of the Catholic Church

Yup, I got into another discussion with a follower of the esteemed Bishop of Rome, this time about indulgences. As the link says, an annulment states not that the marriage is dissolved, but that there was never a real marriage in the first place. If the Church declares a marriage a nullity, it never really happened. This is true even if the couple had children, were together for decades etc. So, because there was no marriage, there is no divorce. In this way, RCs who, marry into a sacramental union, can have conjugal relations with their second.., I mean spouse. The key to a real marriage is a sacramental union--no sacramental union, no marriage. No marriage, no divorce. In this way, the RCs believe they avoid the prohibitions against divorce from Jesus' own teachings. However, i believe this bit of sophistry has an unintended consequence,undermining the trust the husband and wife have in their marriage.

Now, to be fair, we too have "annulments"--we do not recognize polygamous unions, "marriages" between those of the same sex, incestuous marriages etc. This is true, and my interlocutor brought this up to point out that it is not only the RCC which annuls improper "marriages". As I said, this is a fair point. But it also obscures my point. No Christian church wants to recognize polgamous marriages, for example. The problem I see with RC annulments is the after-the-fact declaration that a normal marriage was nothing of the kind. As a Lutheran, I believe sacraments should have an objective character, and absent that they are much less practical. (I know we do not cosider marriage a sacrament in the same way as Holy Baptism and Holy Communion). So, if the Church can declare a marriage a nullity decades later, how can the ones exchanging vows have any real confidence they are in fact in a Sacramental Union, and hence are in a real marriage? No one can really know, because if one partner fulfills one of the "requirements" for annulment--e.g. he or she did not really realize what marriage is, then the marriage is nullified. It appears that more than a few RCs left the Church because of annulments--probably because they saw the sophistry too.

In any case, it is word games like " we don't have divorce, we really believe marriage is for life...but maybe you weren't really married in the first place..." that make me glad I am a Lutheran, even though the philosophers laugh at us. :-) We are definitely less prone to fancy word play on issues like this, and I thank God for that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Justification, is it just forensic?

Pontificator has another thread on justification, and of course N.T. Wright makes another appearance. Over and over again, the issue is whether or not justification is only forensic, or if we are, in effect, transformed by justification in addition to its "forensic" dimension. Interestingly, Dr. Martin Luther but it most succinctly: "So what happens when we are justified? Better yet—what happens at baptism? We Lutherans retain and defend the ancient doctrine of baptismal regeneration."

That's right, justification is not "merely" forensic. It also means rebirth, since we believe we are reborn in Baptism. Along with our justification comes the Holy Ghost and a change of the person. Does this make justification "intrinsic" and therefore the Lutheran distinction between justification and sanctification becomes moot? Let's see:

Augsberg Confession IV:

"Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4. "

So, it seems we are justified when we believe we are justified before God for Christ's sake, and not because of our own efforts. That sounds extrinsic to me--we are received in favor because of something outside us. So, how can we receive this gift through faith?

Epitome II--Free Will

"With this Word the Holy Ghost is present, and opens hearts, so that they, as Lydia in Acts 16, 14, are attentive to it, and are thus converted alone through the grace and power of the Holy Ghost, whose 6] work alone the conversion of man is. For without His grace, and if He do not grant the increase, our willing and running, our planting, sowing, and watering, all are nothing, as Christ says John 15, 5: Without Me ye can do nothing. With these brief words He denies to the free will its powers, and ascribes everything to God's grace, in order that no one may boast before God. 1 Cor. 1, 29; 2 Cor. 12, 5; Jer. 9, 23."

So, the Holy Ghost opens hearts through the preached word of salvation in Jesus Christ. That sounds intrinsic.

We hear the word, we believe the word, we are justified, all by the free gift of God through the Holy Spirit. A baby is justified in his Baptism apart from any works he has done. Sometimes justification is mentioned as an occurrence in the past, as in 1 Cor 6:11. This makes no sense if we are also justified only when we cooperate with the Hoy Ghost. Nor does it mean that the Scriptures only speak of justification in the past tense, as we see in Romans 2:13 we may speak of justification as a future event too. In my opinion, this makes a lot of these types of discussions academic. If we can point to our Baptism as when we were justified, doesn't that necessitate a distinction between justification and sanctification? And if justification is a future event, doesn't that necessitate some change in the person from when he was not justified to when he is?

As I pointed out in my post about N.T. Wright, we really do mean that when we hear the Gospel and believe that we are justified by faith. We are reborn, as Dr. Luther says above. That is a change, a really big change.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Some thoughts on N.T. Wright

I am drawn to polemical discussions of doctrine, especially with the two big "traditional" churches, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. I have been posting recently in Fr. Kimmel's pontifications blog in the "Justification: declarative or transformative?" thread. In this thread, N.T. Wright, and by extension the "New Perspective on Paul" have been brought up to prove that the Reformation was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the Pauline epistles, traced back to St. Augustine.

I don't want to get into the details of the New Perspective on Paul, but I do want to point out that in at least one place, Bishop Wright has not understood the fullness of what Lutherans believe. In fact, he said something very Lutheran while denying that it is Lutheran.

Lutherans believe that we are justified by faith, forensically justified in fact. But this justification brings with it benefits, including victory over sin, death and the devil. In other words, Lutheran justification entails more than merely God's declaration we are just for Christ's sake. It is not simply a legal fiction, it is an active declaration, just like the declaration God made when he said "Let there be light..and there was light". There is no justification without works--though works are not the cause of our justification. When we are justified, we are transformed, because we are reborn. Any way, bishop Wright wrote:

When he (St. Paul) describes how persons, finding themselves confronted with the act of God in Christ, come to appropriate that act for themselves, hr has a clear train of thought, repeated at various points. The message about Jesus Christ and his cross and resurrection--the "gospel", in terms of our previous chapters--is announced to them; through this means, God works by his Spirit on their hearts; as a result, they come to believe the message; they join the Christian community through baptism, and begin to share in its common life and its common way of life. That is hoe people come into relationship with the living God.

If you say this is what you mean by justification by faith, I reply that we must take note of the fact that when Paul is setting out this train of thought, as he does (for instance) in 1 Thessalonians 1, he does not mention justification.
Again, leaving aside bishop Wright's broader critique of the Western/Augustinian/Lutheran reading of St. Paul, it is a fact that we believe faith comes by hearing the Gospel, or the cross and resurrection proclamation as bishop Wright says. When we believe that proclamation, we are justified before God. And interestingly, when we are justified, we are of the children of Abraham, or, the ones to whom the promises pertain. In other words, that is what we mean by "justification by faith".

This is a quibble to be sure, as Bishop Wright's teaching does not depend on this particular statement being true. None the less, it seems a lot of non-Lutherans try and place a template upon Lutheranism which does not fit.