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.