Monday, December 29, 2008

By their fruits.....

So, what does an atheist see in Christians while traveling in Africa?

"How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds - at the very moment of passing into the new - that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it's there,” he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation - that nobody else had climbed it - would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates. "

Read the whole thing!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Venerating Saints

I have been told that, by definition, worship is not given to saints in the RCC. It was easy, according to the RC apologists, to tell if worship was being given to a saint's relics or not--or even to a saint, or the Mother of God. If there is no sacrifice, no worship is given. That was actually a pretty good argument, because they are not beholden to a prot view of what worship is. No matter how similar the actions looked, or how similar the words sound to worship they could simply point to their doctrine that if one is not sacrificing, one is not worshiping; hence by definition saints are not worshiped.


I recently came across these two verses of Scripture in another discussion forum:

Ephes 5:5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Col 3:5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

While there may be a plausible explanation offered to explain why St. Paul is not really speaking about worship, I don't see it. I think it looks like the fine distinctions used to say that the saints are never worshiped in e.g. venerating bones is beginning to break down. The citations above show what amounts to "non-sacrificial worship", which should be a contradiction in terms, given the typical RC distinction made. The highlighted terms used in the passages cited above are EIDOLOLATRIS and EIDOLOLATREIA respectively, so St. Paul is plainly speaking abut worship, which is latreia. Maybe they could say that proper veneration of the saints is never latreia but proper dulia, but they cannot simply rule idolatry out of court simply because by nature nothing is latreia without a sacrifice. This means a lot more weight is given to what people actually say and do as opposed to a sort of objective yardstick to determine if worship is given.

The distinction seems to a notion one keeps in one's head because St. Paul blatantly called actions without sacrifice worship, and I think he has a lot of authority. And as we all know, it is very easy for us to rationalize what we think we are doing even if we are doing something wrong. That is why the "kinetic" and material parts of worship are important. One could think one has the proper distinction in one's head, but in reality one is actually giving idolatrous worship to something made with hands and is deceived because of what one does. If the definition or worship is more "kinetic" such that it by definition rules out a given set of acts actually being worship, this is not nearly as much of an issue. Absent the "kinetic" bulwark though, traditional prot critiques of e.g. bone venerating have a lot more force. It can be very easy to become an idolater--especially when the actions of adoration of an icon look so similar to worship.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Bible, God's Word

Perhaps we should allow God to speak for himself:

"Is not my word like fire", declares the LORD, "and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets", declares the LORD, "who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets", declares the LORD, "who use their tongues and declare, 'declares the LORD.' Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams", declares the LORD, "and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all", declares the LORD. [Jeremiah 23:29-32]

I think we would agree that these are the words of God, and that those prophets and Apostles who speak his word are speaking his word and not the word of another. Also, when they write his word down, it remains his word, just as much as when they spoke his word, and it does not lose its power or effect because it is written and not spoken.

So, it seems elementary that the Bible is the Word of God, so long as one accepts that the Bible is inspired.

Friday, June 20, 2008

"Nuking" Theology

"Nuking" Theology

A little background first.

When I was in the US Navy in the '80s, there was a shortage of nuclear technicians for the various submarine and surface vessels in the fleet. If you scored high enough on the ASVAB, and were a male, you would be encouraged to join the nuclear program. If you agreed, you would be called a "nuke" and receive faster advancement, more pay etc. "Nukes" had to have a rate besides being a nuclear technician. (A "rate" is like a job in the Navy, a rate would be cook, electronics technician, machinist's mate etc.) One of the rates a nuke could learn was Electronics Technician--my rate when I was in the Navy. So the "nukes" went to the same schools as the regular electronics Technicians (ETs) with a slightly modified curriculum.

Now, the "nukes" had a reputation of over analyzing things to such a degree that they would miss the obvious. Because of their often greater intelligence, they would bring irrelevant facts to bear on simple questions and come up with the wrong answer while "Charles the Simple" would look at the question, realize "b" made the most sense, answer the question and move on to the next question. It was considered great sport to listen to the grandiloquent explanations from the "nuke" as to why his answer--the product of his superior knowledge and intellectual acumen--is really the best answer while "Charles the Simple" was missing key nuances. This was known as "nuking" the question, and the instructor would often tell the "nuke" to keep it simple, and to pay attention to the question and not to over analyze it.

"Nuking" is basically taking our reasoning a step or more too far, and thereby losing sight of the obvious. It is as if someone asked me directions to the Albany Academy and instead of saying "go down New Scotland and make a left at Academy Road" I begin to think that though a left turn is how he should get to the Albany Academy, he is currently facing East so Albany Acedemy is on his right, so I tell him to turn right--he subsequently gets lost.

I think a lot of "nuking" has gone on throughout Church history and I am growong more and more convinced that it is the source for all heresy.

So where do I see writers and theologians "nuking" a question? Chiefly in the Medeival Church.

The Scholastic theology of the West was one giant "nuking" of the Gospel in many ways. There were elaborate theories about how someone could be justified before God. There were those who asserted God accepts an arbitrarily minimum effort on our parts for him to justify us, AKA the "via moderna". The problem is, that God accepting the minimum we can do and justifying us because of that sort of leaves Christ out of the equation. If God chooses to accept a "minimum" why is the Incarnation necessary? Instead of accepting what the Scriptures and tradition say about justification before God, they brought Ciceronian concepts of "justice"--that justice is giving everyone what he or she deserves--and then claimed that God as sovereign simply chooses the minimum we are capable of as payment. What was missed is that God justifies sinners--something inherently contrary to Cicero's definition of justice because sinners don't get what they deserve, Christ gets what they deserve. Their philosophical understanding of "justice" trumped what was right before their eyes. This bit of nuking more or less lead to the Reformation: we are justified by grace through faith, not by what we deserve; i.e because of our works. The reformation overturned the reigning theological paradigm of the day.

I think it is dangerous to the Church when "nukes" are running theology. Just look at what the Arians did!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The real Presence and Discerning the Body and Blood

I don't think we can discern the actual Body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Alter. The question is, not whether we can discern the body of Christ physically, but whether we can discern the effects of the body of Christ. For instance, Medieval people could discern the effects of infection, but could not always discern the cause of infection. The only "empirical" evidence was the effects, not the cause. This did not cause them to deny the reality of infection, far from it. Through experience they even learned to mitigate the effects. Later in history, we learned more details about infection, that they are caused by bacteria or viruses. In other words, the cause of the infection was later "revealed" through investigation. So, in a like manner, the RP was revealed, not only in Christ's words of Institution, but by their effects on those who profaned the Sacrament. This is true even though, like bacteria and viruses, we cannot now see the Body and Blood of Christ with our senses. And like the "revelations" of science, God will reveal all things to us in his good time. But in the mean time, it is not correct to assert that we have no empirical evidence, what we have is enough evidence to believe, which should be sufficient this side of eternity.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Liberation Theology Run Amok

Apparently, I am supposed to feel ashamed and guilty because my ancestors "benefited" from the oppression of black people. Do we get a credit for blacks in the middle and upper classes, as well as poor white people? The whole racialist thing is rather disturbing to me, because it aloways focuses on the bottom line--the all mighty dollar.

I note that there is not a single reference to grace and forgiveness, it is all about guilt and shame.

Also, it is kind of funny to see a RC priest in his collar scream and flap his arm like a bird. It looks so--out of sync.

Via Powerline

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

LC-MS Priorities Upside Down

I am concerned, but not as much as a large portion of the Confessional Lutheran blogosphere is regarding Issues Etc. cancellation. I definitely have my concerns, but I want to wait for the synod leadership to address the questions--or not address them. Either way the answer will be forthcoming. There are also many more able bloggers than I am, who are on top of this issue.

Anyway, I saw this on

Again, we spend $25,000 on congregations in Missouri such as JeffersonHills Church that puts up signs purporting to come from Satan, but we don’t have funds to spread the Gospel in Togo?

We don’t have money problems. We have priority problems.

From the post, I would certainly say so! For some reason, the synod does not see evangelism in Africa as important as funding trendy churches with ridiculous signs which say for example "Boycott JeffersonHills Church, signed Satan". Given that Issues Etc. was canceled for financial reasons according to synod leadership, this is definitely a legitimate concern. If money is the issue, why are we wasting so much on such dreck as above?

I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the synod leadership, but the more I see what is actually happening, the more concerned I become. I mean, are we supposed to believe that the church will grow if we recall our missionaries and shut down a well regarded Christian radio program? What gives? If the purpose of the plan is to grow the church, then I would say it is a pretty wrong-headed plan since everything is going in the opposite way as far as I can see.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Throwing Babies

Apparently, there is a custom in India for parents to throw their infants from a building to be caught on a sheet.

I know it is ethnocentric, but some customs are just plain weird. At the link, you will see this is done for the "luck" of the child. The video may be disturbing to some, but no baby was hurt, and at least one was as tranquil as a warm summer evening. The video can be found here

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Imperial Cult and Martyrdom

Would early Christians find devotions to the saints akin to worship of the Roman Emperor? Is worship of the emperor akin to the worship of mary? (hyperdulia).

We should keep in mind that the RCC only considers an act to be worship if a sacrifice is made. So, for RCs, offering incense to the statue of the emperor would be worship. (Biblically though, worship can also be contrition, prayers etc.) I believe this is a distinction with no difference--many Christians were martyred for refusing to worship a being they certainly thought were lower than the Triune God.

For Lutherans, to worship is to receive the gifts God offers in the preaching of the word and in Holy Baptism, Holy Communion and absolution. So, for us any veneration in exchange for such blessings would be wrongful worship, which is due only to God.

Now, let us start with the Martyrdom of Polycarp.

Chapter 8
“What harm is there in saying, Lord Cæsar, and in sacrificing, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, and so make sure of safety?”

Sacrifice was specifically requested. Thus, as a Christian, he could not offer this worship toward the Emperor.

Chapter 9
“Have respect to your old age,” and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as], “Swear by the fortune of Cæsar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists. hen Polycarp with solemn countenance looked upon the whole multitude of lawless heathen that were in the stadium, and waved his hand to them; and groaning and looking up to heaven he said, 'Away with the atheists.'”

No sacrifice, but a specific request to renounce the Christians--“Away with the Atheists”. Polycarp adroitly turned the "Away with the atheists" statement around, but he did not do so with swearing by Caesar, because that would be worship.

Chapter 10
“Swear by the fortune of Cæsar,”

No sacrifice, no denunciation. In other words, no worship. It sounds like the proconsul was ready do compromise. For Lutherans, swearing by the fortune of Caesar constitutes worship, because to do so is to ask for a supernatural benefit from a mere man.

Now, though the emperors were called "gods", we should keep in mind that the actual term used was "divus" or "divine", a lesser state of deity, if you will. Hence, the emperor was not offered latraea. So, even the Roman Emperors were not worshiped in the same way a Christian would worship the Triune God, he was a lower order of being--similar to St. Mary and the other saints.

So, what does RC Marian devotion look like?

Another recommended Marian devotion is wearing the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There are many Scapulars, all valuable, but this one is eminent among them. There is a very ancient tradition that St. Simon Stock, Superior of the Carmelite Order in England in 1251, after imploring the help of Our Lady, was favored with a vision in which she gave him the Scapular, saying: "This will be a privilege for you and for all Carmelites, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire." The historical evidence for this vision is very impressive, and gives at least some degree of moral certitude that the vision really did take place. To gain this promise one must be enrolled in the Confraternity of the Scapular. Pope Pius XII, on the 700th anniversary of this vision, wrote to the Major Superiors of the Carmelites, clearly showing his belief in it: "For not with a light or passing matter are we here concerned, but with the obtaining of eternal life itself, which is the substance of the Promise of the Most Blessed Virgin which has been handed down to us."

However, the Pope warned that the mere physical wearing of the Scapular is not enough: "May it be to them a sign of their Consecration to the Most Sacred Heart of the Immaculate Virgin, which in recent times we have so strongly recommended." If one then uses the Scapular as the outward sign of living such a Marian consecration, then faith in the fulfillment of the promise is well justified. In fact, Pope Pius XI said (Explorata res. Feb. 2, 1923): "Nor would he incur eternal death whom the Most Blessed virgin assists, especially at his last hour. This opinion of the Doctors of the Church, in harmony with the sentiments of the Christian people, and supported by the experience of all times, depends especially on this reason: the fact that the Sorrowful Virgin shared in the work of the Redemption with Jesus Christ." In other words, a solid Marian devotion is certain to bring one close to Jesus Christ, and so will assure one of reaching salvation, even if the vision to St. Simon Stock might not be authentic. Also, when Vatican II said that all things recommended by the Magisterium of the Church towards her should still be considered matters of great importance, the Scapular was clearly included, for numerous Popes have recommended it strongly.
From a Lutheran standpoint, this is worship--performing pilgrimage to carry out a change within us.

Clearly, one consecrates one's self to St. Mary, and receives a guarantee of salvation so long as one's devotion is true. Of course, I am aware that RCs believe this salvation actually comes from Jesus. My concern here though, is do discern how the RCs differentiate between the devotion to the vergin via the scapular, and merely swearing by the genius of one's ruler. Clearly neither is "worship" in the RC sense--nothing is sacrificed. However, Christians were willing to die in order to avoid a simple act of obeisance to the emperor, while similar devotion to St. Mary is encouraged. What, in the Imperial cult, made throwing incense in the name of the Emperor’s “genius” idolatry, while invoking Our Lady Mary to save us is not?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Finnish Lutheran blog

I received this link from Dr. Tighe. I highly recommend it. It is really meaty and interesting to boot.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Confessional Church in Germany has some cool videos

This video is from our sister church in Germany, the SELK. it is about the new Luther Center in Wittenberg. Have a look:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Luther, Apologists and the Canon

Very often, RC apologists will claim that Luther wanted to remove books from the Bible, usually the Epistle of St. James is used as an example. Luther supposedly, on his own authority, wanted to remove the Epistle of St. James from the canon. I think this argument, like the 20,000-denominations-from-Sola-Scriptura argument belongs on the trash heap of apologetics.

First, regarding the questioning of the authenticity and authority of the antilegomana (books spoken against, i.e. challenged as to their authenticity) being something Luther invented. I will point out that the category of antilegomena is a very old one, and questioning the authority of the antilegomena has an ancient pedigree, going back to Jerome and even further. More than that, Cajetan (the Cardinal by whom Luther was examined for heresy) and Erasmus both questioned the authenticity of the antilegomena, and they were Luther's contemporaries.

Regarding Erasmus, the Catholic Encyclopedia states:

In these publications the attitude of Erasmus towards the text of the New Testament is an extremely radical one, even if he did not follow out all its logical consequences. In his opinion the Epistle of St. James shows few signs of the Apostolic spirit; the Epistle to the Ephesians has not the diction of St. Paul, and the Epistle to the Hebrews he assigns with some hesitation to Clement of Rome. In exegesis he favoured a cold rationalism and treated the Biblical narratives just as he did ancient classical myths, and interpreted them in a subjective and figurative, or, as he called it, allegorical, sense.
(The Catholic Encyclopedia

In a similar way to Luther, Erasmus thought that the Epistle of St. James did not have the "apostolic spirit". Yet somehow Erasmus escapes the wrath of RC apologists for "editing" the Bible.

Bruce Metzger wrote regarding Cajetan:

Even Cardinal Cajetan, Luther's opponent at Augsburg in 1518, gave an unhesitating approval to the Hebrew canon in his Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, which he dedicated in 1532 to pope Clement VII. He expressly called attention to Jerome's separation of the canonical from the uncanonical books, and maintained that the latter must not be relied upon to establish points of faith, but used only for the edification of the faithful.
(Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, p. 180)

Once again, we find a RC theologian saying something Luther more or less said, yet he too escapes the wrath of RC apologists.

The issue was settled for RCs by Trent, but Trent settled this after Luther had died. In other words, Luther's questioning of the antilegomena fell within the range of RC orthodoxy during his lifetime. For this reason, among others, the charge Luther on his own authority simply decided to remove some books is simply wrong--Luther was not behaving any differently from some of the ECFs as well as contemporary scholarship, when he challenged the anilegomena. He also included the disputed books in his edition of the Bible, so if Luther wanted to remove the antilegomena he sure missed the opportunity!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Not every Christian is a Lutheran--Until they are at death's door!

I believe Luther said somewhere that at the end, when we are about to die, all vanities are stripped away and we will only have Christ left. I have come across this before, and I always find it interesting when e.g. St, Therese says something very Lutheran sounding--yet remains a doctor of the Church.

Jack Fowler, a RC on National Review Online wrote:

So the Church errs in some matters. So teachings change. So traditions change. So, ultimately, what? When the time comes, the One Truth that is supreme is all that matters. Friday abstinence, the Pythagorean Theorem, Darwinism, the boiling blood of St. Januarius (coming this Saturday at the Cathedral of San Gennaro in Naples) – all of this evaporates in meaning and relevance when one engages Christ’s presence. So says WFB. I agree.

I think that is about right--at the end most if not all our theologies, apologetic arguments, epistemology will be swallowed up in Christ, the God-Man, Truth in the flesh. I believe that most if not all Christians will experience something like this at death's door. And this type of focus on the mercy and love Jesus is one of the hallmarks of Lutheran theology. I do not mean this as a dig towards other Christians, I just think that where they end up is more or less where we start.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pro "Choice" Pols insist on receiving Communion at papal Mass

It appears that some Pro "choice" pols think they have a right to commune with the pope, and in the process may make the pope's pronouncements to look, well, ineffectual:

"Catholic members of Congress who publicly support the right to abortion will trek to Nationals Park Thursday for a Mass celebrated by a pope who has said such lawmakers should not receive Communion.

Leading these lawmakers, some of whom have repeatedly complained about remarks by Pope Benedict XVI and a few bishops on the subject, will be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the government's highest-ranking Catholic and a supporter of abortion rights. Nowhere in her remarks or her actions this week has she referred to strains with the new pontiff....

... And yes, her spokesman said, she intends to receive Communion from one of the 300 priests and lay ministers who will offer it to the gathered flock of 45,000."

The pope is supposed to be the infallible Vicar of Christ when teaching about faith and morals. RC apologists claim he is a sort firewall for false teaching. If the pope says a politician, or anyone else, should not receive--they should not receive.

If Pelosi does commune in the face of papal pronouncements though, who will listen to a papal pronouncement in the future? It is as if a Lutheran pastor gave a sermon stating the obvious--Mormons cannot receive communion, and then proceeded to commune some Mormon visitors. It completely undermines the authority of the pastor and makes him look like a wind bag. The same thing here. The pope, the guy who is supposed to put a stop to heresy, cannot even stop a legislator from receiving Communion at his own Mass.

And then there is this too:

"If Catholic legislators are scorned and held out for ridicule by Church leaders on the basis of a single issue, the Church will lose strong advocates on a wide range of issues that relate to the core of important Catholic social teaching," they wrote. "Moreover, criticism of us on a matter that is essentially one of personal morality will deter other Catholics from entering politics, and in the long run the Church will suffer."

Notice the implicit threat--let us commune or else there will be consequences! This only increases the problem though, because not only will these pols disregard a clear teaching of the RCC, but they threaten the Church that if it deigns to try and live by its own pronouncements, it had better watch out! In other words, this is even more reason not to commune a flagrant sinner--he insists there will be consequences if his wishes are not fulfilled.

Also, notice the post-modern habit of distilling everything down to "personal morality". I find this appalling. And on another level, what use is papal infallibility, and papal authority, if one can flout the pope on such an important issue and simply do what one pleases? It seems to me Luther was excommunicated and remains so for much, much less. I never thought murder was a private matter, neither does the pope. But apparently, the pope won't act on that conviction.

The principle is rather straight forward; if someone in our congregation is a thief, the pastor would not necessarily excommunicate him. But if he publicly advocates thievery, and persists in his own thievery in public and then demands communion, the pastor would rightly excommunicate him, basically saying "Until you repent, we turn you over to Satan" just a St. Paul did. It is the case, is it not, that flagrant public sin excludes one from the Lord's Table. The critique of the papacy would more or less write itself--the pope said they shouldn't receive because they advocate the murder of the unborn, then he allowed them to at a mass over which he presided. So much for the "fiat currency" of what the pope says--especially these circumstances. In my opinion, this turns the pope's words to mere ink or recycled electrons, because they can obviously be ignored even when he presides over a mass.

What use is this infallibility, again?

Thursday, April 10, 2008


It seems there is an Eastern Orthodox bishop believes God would not be so cruel as to condemn people to hell for eternity:

In a stunning ecumenical moment at the Catholic Church's first-ever World Congress on Divine Mercy, Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeye, bishop of Vienna and Austria, told a rapt audience of 8,000 that God's love places no limit on his mercy toward humanity, even to the point of imposing a temporal limit on hell.

Quoting St. Isaac the Syrian, a 7th-century holy man revered in Russian Orthodoxy as "famous among saints," Bishop Hilarion noted that "God does nothing out of retribution. Even to think that way about God would be blasphemous. Even worse is the opinion that God allows people to lead a sinful life on earth in order to punish them eternally after death. This is a blasphemous and perverted understanding of God, a calumny of God."

I think that much of the OT is difficult for the more mystical strains of Orthodoxy to swallow. From the quote supplied "God does nothing out of retribution. Even to think that way about God would be blasphemous. Even worse is the opinion that God allows people to lead a sinful life on earth in order to punish them eternally after death. This is a blasphemous and perverted understanding of God, a calumny of God."

The problem is that there are a lot of readings in the Scriptures which state explicitly that God does take vengeance on the sinner, repays, he repays Israel for her sins, he is pitiless (Ezekiel 7) etc. If my theology asserts something else despite these repeated examples, well, I suppose I have to re-evaluate my theology instead of re-imagining the deposit of faith to fit into my notions of what is or is not a calumny towards God.

I am honestly at a loss as to how a bishop--someone educated in godliness, can come to the conclusion that hell is temporary--unless the Scriptures simply don't mean much to him despite traditional Orthodoxy's claims to the contrary that the Scriptures are quite important indeed. The fact is that we have it on good authority that the damned will go away to eternal punishment. If that makes someone squeamish because it sounds mean, or unjust, or violates their sense of what God ought to be like, so be it. Just admit you are not apophatic, and that theology trumps the Scriptures, Tradition, and everything else.

Eternal damnation is what our Lord has taught by his own words, and throughout the Scriptures. It is in the Old and New Testaments, it is supported by the great majority of the Fathers, it has pretty much been widely believed throughout the centuries--except perhaps among speculative theologians. If "Scriptures+Tradition" or "Holy Tradition" do not establish this, they pretty much do not establish anything at all, including other basic tenets of the faith.

(Via TheologyWeb)


I found this other article from Bp. Hilarion. In it he states:

"On the one hand, it is impossible for one to actively repent in hell; it is impossible to rectify the evil deeds one committed by appropriate good works. However, it may be possible for one to repent through a ‘change of heart’, a review of one’s values. One of the testimonies to this is the rich man of the Gospel we have already mentioned. He realized the gravity of his situation as soon as found himself in hell. Indeed, if in his lifetime he was focused on earthly pursuits and forgot God, once in hell he realized that his only hope for salvation was God[76] . Besides, according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, the fate of a person after death can be changed through the prayer of the Church. Thus, existence after death has its own dynamics. On the basis of what has been said above, we may say that after death the development of the human person does not cease, for existence after death is not a transfer from a dynamic into a static being, but rather continuation on a new level of that road which a person followed in his lifetime."

To be fair to the bishop, he does not claim this as a dogma of the Church.

So, it seems the bishop claims one can repent through a change of heart, in hell, after death. My only critique of his scriptural example of the Rich Man, is that we are told there is a wide gulf between the Bosom of Abraham and hell, and that his relatives have Moses and the Prophets. In other words, the "change of heart" didn't seem to work, and Christ did not say he had any hope.

Friday, February 29, 2008

What do white people like?

This is not really a Lutheran site, but it is hilarious!

Here is a sample:

It is imperative that you do not attempt to kick them out of their misery by saying things like “get over it,” “there are other people out there,” or “I don’t want to read your poem.” Implying that there things in the world more important to you than their breakup is considered one of the rudest actions possible.

I have seen nothing on the WWW that captures the banality of much of modern American life than this site.

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Lutheran Commercial?!

I may not have done it exactly like this, but I sure wish the Synod would come out with communications like this!

(Link Updated)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Relational Evangelism?

Should evangelism be almost completely relational these days? By “relational”, I mean the Christian already has some kind of relationship with the non-Christian. It is not a public proclamation of the Gospel, such as in Church. I am very sympathetic to the relationship angle. However, I am not sure that is how it always worked in the early Church, in a period similar to ours in that the general culture was not friendly to the Gospel message. Peter did not have a relationship with the crowd of people he preached to on Pentecost. What he did is use familiar language, and "fill in the blanks" after he got their attention. Now that I think of it, Paul did the same thing at the Aeropagus--he started from their "Unknown God", and went along pointing the Athenians to the real God, and the Resurrection of all flesh. He did not teach the Athenians Sin/Redemption--instead his "sermon" was one of "God is now calling you all, and he is the one you seek, you seek him because you have a place for the unknown God!" In other words, for non-believers, he did not use the Law/Gospel dialectic. It also seems to me St. Paul used a bit of “Christus Victor”.

I have been thinking about this lately.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Real Presence, the Incarnation and so called "Empirical Evidence"

The doctrine of the Incarnation teaches that Jesus is the God-Man. He is not the God-man like I am German-English-Irish though, his way of being God-man is different from your typical American mutt. Regarding my composition, each "group" contributed something to the whole person, me. It might even be possible to separate the different strands which come from each group--blood chemistry etc. In the case of Christ though, it is not as though he is part God and part man so that we can separate the man from God--which would be Nestorianism, but that the person of Jesus Christ is God, such that to shake hands with him is to shake God's hand, to eat with him is to eat with God etc. He is not 50/50, but one person who is God and Man at the same time, indivisible, yet not mixed.

Now, I see an analogy between this and the RP. The bread and body of Christ are united in such a way so the bread is the body of Christ, even if we cannot detect it, just like we can't detect the divinity of Jesus Christ if we eat with him, or shake his hand.

Now, some "Reformed" types claim that the Real Presence is empirically falsified, because if we look at the bread, taste the bread, chemically examone the bread we will find bead and no body. I think this is the wrong question, however. If we want to be empirical the question is, not whether we can discern the body of Christ physically, but whether we can discern the effects of the body of Christ. For instance, Medieval people could discern the effects of infection, but could not always discern the cause of infection. In other words, the only "empirical" evidence was the effects, not the cause. This did not cause them to deny the reality of infection, far from it. Through experience they even learned to mitigate the effects. Later in history, we learned more details about infection, that they are caused by bacteria or viruses. In other words, the cause of the infection was later "revealed" through investigation. So, in a like manner, the RP was revealed, not only in Christ's words of Institution, but by their effects on those who profaned the Sacrament. This is true even though, like bacteria and viruses, we cannot now see the cause with our senses, we don't know how his body is present, but sometimes we can see the effects, including sanctification and the increase of faith and godliness. And like the "revelations" of science, God will reveal all things to us in his good time. But in the mean time, it is not correct to assert that we have no empirical evidence, what we have is enough evidence to believe, which should be sufficient this side of eternity.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

What is Baptism?

I am not a pastor or a trained theologian, just a layman with experience in theological polemics and somewhat well read. I attempted to answer a question regarding Baptism on the Witternberg Trail. This post is lightly modified from a Forum entry I wrote there.

What -- exactly -- happens when a person is baptized?

We are washed by God with the water and the Word. The Word, or the promises in the gospel, come with the Holy Spirit. This is a way God has of bringing us into Christ, of grafting us into the vine, so to speak. I want to add something, because many Protestants have a lot of problems with this idea. It is not water that washes us, but water with the Word that washes us. Water is good for washing away filth, water with the Word is good for washing away sin, death and our slavery to the devil. Baptism is God's promises, a spiritual thing, united with material, water. This is an important thing to understand, because if we miss this, we will miss a lot of what Lutheranism is about.

A good analogy for uniting spiritual things to material things is the Incarnation, where the Word became man, was born of a virgin, wet his shorts etc. It was not a mere man who saved us, but a man who is also God, united in the person of Christ. God and man in one person. In a similar way, God's promise, the Holy Spirit etc. are united with the water in Baptism. We believe this because we believe God's promises.

Does this answer change if the person is an infant?


How do you know this is true? What are the Biblical texts?

Eph 5:25-27
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

This passage is not directly referring to Baptism. But I hope you will notice that there is a washing of water with the word with the effects of cleansing, and leaving without blemish. As I said, water by itself cannot do this, but water with the Word can make us holy and without blemish.

Titus 3:4-7

4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

While the word "baptism" does not appear here, I believe this is a clear teaching that Baptism brings renewal and rebirth, because it washes away our filth, as the passage above says.

Of course, there is always this:

John 3

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." 3Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?" 5Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Again, we see Jesus uniting water with the Spirit, which is another way of saying water and the Word. And let's not forget St. Peter's "Baptism now saves us".

There are other allusions to Baptism throughout the NT, but I hope these will suffice for now.

So, that is my pocket sized justification for our doctrine of Baptism. Whole books have been writen abo tthe subject, but I hope this suffices at least for now.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Vengeance is mine, but I will not repay!

When God punishes sin, does he take vengeance upon the sinner? By vengeance, I do not mean a petulant rage, like a child who smashes his block building because of a flaw. I mean a righteous repayment for sin, either eternal or temporal.

I ask because I keep thinking about the discussion I had with Dr. Liccione, RC philosopher and expositor of the infallibility of the Majesterium. In this discussion I claimed that Trent Session 14 contradicted the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Here is the pertinent section of the CCC:

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.
(Emph. added)

Now, Dr. Liccione said that the CCC is clear, that when God is said to punish sin in Trent, we should take it to mean that God punishes us by allowing the effects of our sin take hold of us, he is not actively punishing, he is only willing that those effects take place, which is termed "vengeance".

I just don't see Trent, or the Scriptures, or anything else in prior Church history teaching any such thing. Are we really to believe that God is not active in inflicting (Trent's term BTW) punishment? Aren't there numerous passages in the Scriptures, in the writings of the Fathers, even in Church art which tell the story of a vengeful God punishing evil? I am not trying to score cheap debating points, but it seems there is more than a little tension between RC tradition before the CCC, and RC tradition post CCC. If "If any one saith, that satisfaction for sins, as to their temporal punishment, is nowise made to God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, by the punishments inflicted by Him..." really means something like "If any one saith, that satisfaction for sins, as to their temporal punishment, is nowise made to God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, by allowing the consequences of the sin to afflict the sinner..." then words really have no meaning, and we are at the extreme end of nominalism, which is not a good place to be, because it only causes confusion.

A for us Lutherans, when God says he inflicts, he inflicts, because if he wanted to say allow, or inspire a council to tell the truth, he would have said allow. That may be too simple for the learned, but it is much more graspable than constantly "clarifying", or in effect saying words have no meaning.

It is, in fact, a big reason I came over to Wittenburg all those years ago.