The political implications of Ascension Day

Ascension Day, May 5, commemorating Christ’s taking His place in the Godhead at the right hand of God the Father, is an important holiday.  Because of His Ascension, Christ fills all things.  Thus, He can be present in the Lord’s Supper; thus, He is present with His church; thus, He rules over all things.  After the jump, read what St. Paul says about the Ascension and read two more striking essays on the holiday, including what Douglas Farrow says about the political implications (so to speak) of Christ’s ascension. (more…)

The importance of Christ’s Ascension

Yesterday was Ascension Day, marking the resurrected Christ’s return to His Father.  Pastor Reeder quotes the classic Bible scholar Paul E. Kretzmann on what the Ascension means:

“By His exaltation and ascension the Son of Man, also according to His human body, has entered into the full and unlimited use of His divine omnipresence. His gracious presence is therefore assured to His congregation on earth. He is now nearer to His believers than He was to His disciples in the days of His flesh.

He is now sitting at the right hand of His heavenly Father. As our Brother He has assumed the full use of the divine power and majesty. He reigns with omnipotence over all things, but especially also over His Church. God has put all things under His feet, and has given Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all, Eph. 1, 22. 23.

By His Word and Sacrament He gathers unto Himself a congregation and Church upon earth. He works in and with His servants; He governs in the midst of His enemies. He preserves and protects His Church against all the enmity of the hostile world and against the very portals of hell. And His intercession before His heavenly Father makes our salvation a certainty, Rom. 8, 34.”

via On the Lord’s Ascension « Pastor Reeder’s Blog.

Strangely, the Reformed use the Ascension as an argument against the presence of Christ in the sacrament.  (“Jesus isn’t here any more.  He’s in Heaven.”)  But Lutherans use the Ascension as an argument for the Real Presence, since now the Son of God, having taken His place in the Godhead, is omnipresent.

Happy belated Ascension Day

That was yesterday.  Sorry I missed it.  Ascension Day marks an important event, but it is odd the way Protestants interpret it in two opposite ways.  For the Reformed, that Christ ascended into Heaven means that this is where His body is, so it can’t be on the altars of churches celebrating Holy Communion.  But Lutherans say that the taking up of the man Jesus into the Godhead makes the doctrine of the Real Presence possible, since now this flesh and blood human being shares the attributes of the Trinity, including omnipresence.

Happy Ascension Day

Today is Ascension Day, the 40th day after Easter, commemorating the day on which our Risen Lord ascended into Heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father Almighty.

It’s odd that the significance of Christ’s ascension is taken in two opposite ways: The Reformed say that it means Christ is ABSENT, no longer on earth, so that His real presence in the sacrament is impossible. Lutherans say that it means Christ, at the right hand of Power, His human nature assumed into the Holy Trinity, can now be omnipresent, so that He CAN be on every altar.

Ascension Day used to be a hugely important day in the church year. How can we bring it back?

Which Doctrines Must Be “Reasonable”?

Weimar_Herderkirche_-_Cranach-Altar_Mittelteil_4d

“Lord God, anybody who can’t believe that Christ is in the bread [of Communion], in the grain of wheat, will believe the creation even less!  That all of creation was made from nothing is a higher article of faith.  Much less will he believe that God became man, and least of all that there are three persons in one substance.  Reason lets this be.”  (Martin Luther, Table Talk, AE 54: 471)

Pastor Moerbe shared this quote from Luther in our Bible study last Sunday.  At the time, Luther was marveling that his opponents such as Zwingli were rejecting the doctrine of Christ’s real presence in the bread and wine of Holy Communion largely on the grounds that this teaching violates human reason.  (“The finite is not capable of the infinite!”)

And yet, those who strain at the historic doctrine of the Sacrament have no problem believing that God created the universe from nothing.  (What about the logical maxim “nothing comes from nothing”?)  Or the Incarnation.  (But what about “the finite is not capable of the infinite”?)  Or the Trinity.  (But how can three be one?)

If your authority is human reason, you would need to reject all of those things.  If your authority is God’s Word, then you believe them all by faith and trust in the God who revealed them.

Our discussion took an interesting turn.  Some of us know Lutherans who believe in the Real Presence, the Incarnation, and the Trinity.   But they strain at the doctrine of Creation!  They accept Darwin’s theory of evolution on the grounds of its alleged scientific rationality and reject–or interpret past all recognition–what the Word of God says on the subject.

I have also noticed some Christians who believe in Creation, the Incarnation, the Trinity, and maybe even the Real Presence (I’m thinking of some Anglicans) who are now questioning Christ’s Atonement.  (How could one man bear the sins of the world?  God punishing his own son for what other people have done is cosmic child abuse!  [OK, those who say that are extremely weak on the Incarnation and the Trinity.])  But, again, what doctrines must you understand with your own limited intellect, and which ones are you willing to accept by God’s revelation?

There are also the liberal theologians who reject all of these doctrines and the other doctrines put forth by Scripture.  They don’t believe Christ’s Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, Ascension, or Second Coming.  They certainly don’t believe He is on the altar.  They reject the doctrine of the Creation and believe the Trinity is only symbolic.  Having rejected the authority of Scripture, they won’t accept anything unless they can understand it and unless they have historic evidence and scientific proof.  Which means they are left with very little of Christianity, and none of its mysteries at all.

Then again, these same theologians typically believe in other things that go against reason, science, and evidence.  Such as the perfectibility of human beings.  The inevitable progress of history.  The coming utopia.  Etc., etc.

I don’t think reason is necessarily in conflict with faith.  You can make a rational case for Christ’s resurrection, for the weaknesses of Darwinism, and for the truthfulness of the Bible.

But the question remains, which do you trust more, God’s Word or your own understanding?  In whom do you put your faith?  In God or in yourself?

And the answer of faith by no means shuts off the life of the mind.  As St. Anselm said, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand.”

 

Illustration:  Detail of Luther from the Weimar Altarpiece by Lucas Cranach the Younger, photo and cropping by Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Steve Jobs and the Trump Reformation

Indulgence

Can you connect these dots?:  Gutenberg, Martin Luther, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump.

In his column Steve Jobs gave us President Trump in the Washington PostDavid Von Drehle argues that just as Gutenberg’s printing press made possible Luther’s Reformation of the church, Steve Job’s smart phone made possible Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency and his new brand of politics.

Von Drehle’s reasoning goes like this:  Gutenberg created a new information medium, which allowed Luther to put the Bible into the hands of the people, by-passing the religious hierarchies and gatekeepers of his time.  Similarly, Steve Jobs created a new information medium that allows Trump to by-pass the political gatekeepers and political party gatekeepers of our time.

The ascension of Trump would have been impossible, he argues, without the new information and entertainment media.  Trump became a celebrity by means of television.  His use of social media, his dominance of the news media’s attention, and his constant tweeting on his cell phone to millions of his followers allowed him to work around the protocols of the Republican party.

Bernie Sanders did this to a certain extent, Von Drehle says, but the Democratic establishment reasserted itself by imposing the power of the old school political machine.  The Republican party, which strenuously opposed Trump, was unable to do so.  And the old school Democratic machine was unable to defeat the upstart celebrity and his cell-phone.

And now Trump is locked into mortal combat with his own party, contending with an old-school Republican congress.  Drehle portrays Mitch McConnell as the abbot of a Benedictine monastery, used to supervising his monks copying out the Bible by hand, swept up in the Gutenberg revolution and helpless to stop the influence of Martin Luther.

Von Drehle draws some interesting and amusing analogies.  But like most of today’s analysts of the “cultural influence” of Martin Luther and like most of today’s analysts of the “political influence” of Donald Trump, he neglects the content of what they stand for and thus why their message became so popular.

John Tetzel also used the printing press.  Gutenberg’s own press was used to print indulgences!  Defenders of the Pope responded to Luther pamphlet for pamphlet.

In Luther’s case, it was not just the medium, but more importantly the message that the medium transmitted:  Namely, the Gospel of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Christ crucified.

Similarly, Democrats probably use the information technology, social media, and cell-phones more than the alienated working class that propelled Trump to victory.  And certainly Steve Jobs was on the liberal side.  Today the liberals are burning up the social media in condemnation of Trump and all he stands for.  But enough voters bought into Trump’s crusade to “make America great again”–a rather old-fashioned pre-technological sentiment–to make him president.

 For better or worse, both politicians and theologians, reformers or revolutionaries, need more than technology.
Illustration:  A purported indulgence signed by Johann Tetzel, translated as follows:  “In warrant of all saints and in mercy, I absolve You from all sins and misdeeds and pardon you from all punishments for ten days.”  Public Domain.
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