Thursday, July 28, 2011

You are the Christ!

First we have this message from the angel of the Lord to Abraham on the mount where Isaac was to be offered up but God provided a ram as a substitutionary sacrifice.  Clearly this is a typological reference to Christ.  Pay particular attention to the promise [hearkening back to the Genesis 3:15 promise made to Eve] which is now made to Abraham:

"By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you [Abraham] have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.  In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice."
-Genesis 22:16-18

Clearly a Christological reference.  Now read here where Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ:

"He [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.  I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
-Matthew 16:15-19

...Just let that sink in for a little bit.

Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Deep stuff.  :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why are so many Lutherans Seemingly at odds with Good Works? Part 2

Question:  Why are so many Lutherans Seemingly at odds with Good Works?

Answer 2:  Because, as Lutherans, it is often fashionable to trash talk good works.

In any group, it is a goal of its members to conform to the group.  There have been studies that illustrate that this need to go with the flow is so great that individuals will override what they know to be true in order to go along with those that they are associating with.  Lutherans are not immune to this by any stretch of the imagination.

In most circles within Lutheranism that I have encountered, it is fashionable to bash good works.  Its a good way to earn points in Bible Class and appear pious in front of your friends.  After all, if someone trashes the idea of good works and claims that he doesn't do any good works ever, then he must be really pious... maybe even a theologian.  So the key to being a really popular Lutheran is to be a really hopeless case and make sure that everyone knows it.  This is where recognizing your own sinfulness and inadequacy kind of branches out and strays into reveling in your powerlessness to establish your Lutheran authenticity.  After all, Luther really slammed himself alot in public... that must be what it means to be Lutheran!

This is more of a psychological behavior than one informed by theology in many cases.  I think that if it was fashionable for Lutherans to sing badly, you would run across people in church who were intentionally singing off key... and choir practice would be absolutely unbearable.  So when some well-meaning brother is sitting in Bible Class (which is a good work btw) and remarks about how he doesn't ever do anything God pleasing or good, I start to wonder if he is just not paying attention to his actions or if he is trying to cement his Lutheran street cred.  After all, isn't the only true form of Lutheran humor the self-deprecating kind?

Of course talking about what a horrible sinner you are is true and appropriate... but a Christian is also a new creation in Christ that is redeemed and restored who will naturally do good works as a living tree naturally bears fruit.  As a believer, your sinful state does not render that second part impossible.  Yes, your Old Adam still clings to you and you still sin, but you are not JUST Old Adam anymore.  Half of the truth is not the whole truth.  Read St. Paul about the will of the Spirit set against the will of the Flesh.  There is an actual battle going on there... but listening to some well-meaning Lutherans you would think that there is no battle at all because sin and despair always win all the time.

Trust me, it is possible to despair of your own abilities as a poor miserable sinner while fully believing in Sola Fide (which is true) and still not take it to the point that you think that you perform absolutely no good works ever (which is false).

Why are so many Lutherans Seemingly at odds with Good Works? Part 1

Question:  Why are so many Lutherans Seemingly at odds with Good Works?

Answer 1:  Because the pietism expressed in American Evangelicalism causes Lutherans to flee to the opposite extreme (which is also wrong).

From rehashed social justice liberalism to Rick Warren to the charismatic movement to church growth to the Emergent Church, it is clear that many of the large movements within the modern American church all seem to be trending towards moralism and legalism.  It seems right and good to oppose these movements with a different stance and approach.  While this instinct is correct, the answer many Lutherans come up with is not the Biblical one and actually avoids the left ditch in the road by swerving to the opposite extreme and landing in the right (and equally incorrect) ditch of antinomianism.  If legalism is wrong then anti-legalism must be the answer to it.  This approach creates a false dichotomy which forces an either or choice where other alternatives exist.  The truth is that neither of these extremes are true.  The solution to both of these problems is the proper distinction between law and gospel as it is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

To compound this problem, many converts to Lutheranism have been so hurt by being brought up in a brand of Christianity that seems to "take with one hand what was given with the other" where the gospel is offered and then it is taken away with works righteousness in the next sentence.  This also appears when the gospel is given as a conditional reward for past service or as a down payment on future service to God.  Neither of these are correct teachings of sanctification.  For those who have been hurt by these false teachings that the entire topic of sanctification has become a deadly third rail where many are made hypersensitive to works because of bad preaching and shoddy theology.  Anyone who begins talking about good works is instantly suspect.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why Changing God's Name is an Insult

Recently, the United Church of Christ modified its bylaws and constitution which weakened or removed Trinitarian language and references to the "Heavenly Father".  This is all part of a long standing trend in liberal denominations to eliminate the gender-specific references to the Triune God (i.e. "Father", "Son", etc).

You will find absurdity at the radical edge of this trend.  The feminist fringe will replace it with alternate language like "Mother" or "Daughter".  Most rational people can easily see why this move is simultaneously inaccurate, politically motivated, and offensive.  The problem is that in this modern age of compromise, we are tempted to strike a middle ground to please everyone.  A popular blending of this radical trend and historically Biblical references to God is to replace His name with the roles or attributes of the persons of the Trinity.  So instead of "Father" you say "Creator".  Instead of "Son" you say "Redeemer".  Instead of "Holy Spirit" you say "Sanctifier".

At this point, it is very easy to slide into Aristotelian philosophy in talking about natures, essences, and accidents... forms and modes... blah blah blah...  The truth is that most people don't care about philosophy and even fewer really understand it.  (And almost no one can remember how to spell "Aristotelian" off the top of their heads!)  So here is my attempt to plainly explain why "Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier" is unacceptable and insulting as an alternate Triune name.

1.  In every other aspect of life, replacing someone's name with their function is considered an impersonal insult.  You don't refer to your Mother as "The Cook".  You don't refer to your kid as "Potential Organ Donor Match".  If you are in court and you want to win you say "Your Honor" to the guy with the gavel and not "Hey Judge".  In the military, I can refer to an individual who is not in the military as "You there, Civilian."  All of these qualities may be true.  Your mom cooks.  Your kids might be able to give you a kidney some day.  The man who passes sentence is the judge.  Civilians are civilians.  There are cases where using the description is apprppriate in a given context, but to constantly use the function or role of a person as a name communicates a kind of impersonal distance which can also imply disrespect.  In some cases, you can get away with this... but a refusal to use personal names with those to which you have a personal relationship would indicate bizarre antisocial behavior.  Why do we want to treat God this way?

2.  The fact is that God has told His name to us.  It is the name by which we are saved.  It is clear and nonnegotiable.  He has said about Himself that He is "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" and that is the name in which we are baptized.  When someone introduces themselves and you call them by another name, you communicate an even greater disrespect than my first point.  It is such a culturally understood faux pas that comedy writers us as a standard tacitc the inability to get someone's name right as a way to show the audience that a given character is either a moron or an egotistical jerk.  If a girl says that her name is "Stacey", I suggest that you start calling her "Jane" from that point forward and see how far you get with her!

Better yet, when she says her name is "Stacey" tell her to her face: "I don't see you as a Stacey.  I will call you Jane.  You are more of a Jane to me."

...again... Why do we want to treat God that way?

Monday, July 18, 2011

There was the True Light Which, Coming into the World, Enlightens Every Man.

You know that you have finally communicated the gospel in its full sweetness when...
...the person you are talking to interrupts you and says:
"What? Wait... that's it? .......well then what is the point of trying to be good if everything has been done for me already by Jesus?"
Praise God who tears down barriers and the false edifices of fallen man through the power of His pefect and eternal Word!
...And what deeply profound conversations that question leads to! Great fun. Nothing encourages me more than to see the Spirit going about His profound and mysterious work.