Did St. Nicholas slap Arius?

Happy belated St. Nicholas Day yesterday.  A piece I wrote for WORLD a few years ago has been going around again, in which I take up the account of jolly old St. Nicholas slapping Arius at the Council of Nicaea for denying Christ’s divinity.

Many historians dispute that this ever happened, and they may be right.  Still, legends have a meaning of their own, even if they leave history behind.   (Then again, it might have happened.  The alleged incident is better attested than the claim that the Bishop of Myra is currently living at the North Pole running a gift-manufacturing and delivery service.)

The point is, I have written a more thorough article on St. Nicholas for the latest Lutheran Witness, though it won’t show up online for a few months.  I discuss that article on Issues, Etc.

 

Courthouse Christmas displays gone mad

Christmas time is here, so it must be time for controversies over Christmas displays at the county courthouse.  Every year we have one here in Loudon County, Virginia.  Having a Nativity Scene, including one that had been donated by a local family and that had become a tradition, would seem to violate the separation of church and state.  Even Christmas trees have a Christian association.  So surely if the courthouse displays Christian symbols, it would be appropriate to display a Jewish menorah, since Hannukah takes place in the same season.  And we had better display an Islamic Crescent, even though no Muslim holidays are really at issue.  But now the imperative of being “interfaith” has given way to the imperative of including no-faith and anti-faith displays.

What the county officials did, to solve the annual controversy, was to agree to put up symbols of the first 10 people or groups to apply for a space.  So here is what we ended up with:

- The Welsh family nativity scene

- A sign calling Christian figures “myths” and promoting the Loudoun Atheists submitted by a Leesburg resident

- A banner promoting the separation of church and state by American Atheists and NOVA Atheists, submitted by a Leesburg resident

- A banner calling for “reason in the holiday season” submitted by a Lansdowne resident

- A holiday display possibly including the Tree of Knowledge from a Sterling resident

- A letter from Jesus submitted by a Middleburg resident

- A Santa Claus on a cross to depict the materialistic nature of the holiday, submitted by a Middleburg resident

- Two signs from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, one from a Leesburg resident and the other from a Reston resident

The tenth application, which may or may not be allowed to present a display, is Christmas-themed and submitted by Potomac Falls Anglican Church.

via WMAL 105.9 FM/AM 630: Stimulating Talk – Breaking News.

So in this Christmas display, there will be at most three Christian symbols (depending on what the “letter from Jesus” says, and depending on whether the Anglicans get their display accepted).  Maybe just one, the traditional Nativity scene.   The others will be signs from atheists, either directly attacking Christianity (saying that Jesus is a myth), or mocking God (“the flying spaghetti monster,” which atheists pretend to argue for, as just as valid as the arguments for the existence of God), or just being blasphemous (Santa Claus crucified on a Cross).

If the county is indeed advocating Christianity by allowing displays of its symbols to mark a Christian holiday, then by the same logic  the county is now advocating atheism.

Wouldn’t it be better not to have anything?  Is there some other solution, such as allowing different religious groups to have displays, but not groups that are, by definition, not religious?  Or just leave it to churches to celebrate the birth of Christ, cutting the government out of it, even though that, of course, is what the atheists are trying to achieve?

The marvel of Christ’s service to us

In his All Saints Day sermon that is worth reading in itself, our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, read a great quotation from Luther:

“There is no greater bondage than that of sin; and there is no greater service than that displayed by the Son of God, who becomes the servant of all, no matter how poor, wretched, or despised [we] may be, and bears [our] sins. It would be spectacular and amazing, prompting all the world to open ears and eyes, mouth and nose in uncomprehending wonderment, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent. But what is a king or an emperor compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred thousand times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital? And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us, the more He cleanses us, relieving us of all our misery and of the burden of all our sins and placing them upon His own back. All the holiness of the [world] stinks in comparison with this service of Christ, the fact that the beloved Lamb, the great Man, yes, the Son of the Exalted Majesty, descends from heaven to serve me” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 22, p. 166).

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: All Saints Sermon.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

I’ve had some posts about Tullian Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson and the successor to D. James Kennedy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.  He is a significant evangelical pastor who credits Lutherans (e.g., Bo Giertz; Harold Senkbeil; Rod Rosenbladt) for helping him to understand the full magnitude of the Gospel.  He has written a book about all of this–including how it impacted him as he went through some difficult times in his ministry–entitled  Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

I was asked to write a blurb for it, as were many others, including other evangelicals who resonate with what he has written.  They are all worth reading in themselves.  (Read them on the Amazon site that this post links to.)  I will just quote myself and Dr. Rosenbladt, whose work I also blogged about recently:

“Many Christians today assume that the gospel just has to do with conversion, for way back when they first came to faith. They have lost the sense, well known to Christians of the past, that the gospel is for every moment of their lives. As a result, they often fall into a moralism that can be, as this book shows, just as idolatrous, self-focused, and godless as immorality. This book shows how the good news of free forgiveness in the cross of Jesus Christ is the driving energy that makes the Christian life possible. Pastor Tchividjian tells about how he himself discovered the full magnitude of God’s grace in the midst of difficult times in his own ministry. He does so in a way that will bring relief, exhilaration, and freedom to struggling Christians.”
Gene Edward Veith Jr., provost, professor of Literature, Patrick Henry College; director, Cranach Institute, Concordia Theological Seminary; columnist; author

“In a powerful, concise, and popular style, Tchividjian announces, explicates, defends, and contrasts the gratuitous gospel of Christ’s person and work with the oft-misheld conviction of us sinners that, if we are somehow to be justified, it will have to be a matter of ‘making up for’ our offenses and of inward improvement. Chapter-by-chapter he argues that God’s saving plan is one of grace and not one of improvement. Filled with illustrations from his life as a pastor, this is no unapproachable, academic tome. But neither, thank God, is it today’s ‘Evangelical silly!’ Tchividjian wrestles openly with demons and their central lie in order that we truly ‘get’ what the Bible is really about. From every point on the compass, he contrasts ‘moral renovation’ with a free, one-sided rescue drenched in the blood of Jesus. Good news for everyone—but especially for Christians who are worn out by trying the other way, believing the lie, somehow knowing renovation isn’t working but knowing nowhere else to turn. Tchividjian is out to convince his reader that justification before God really is pure gift, is free, is by grace and through faith in Christ. . . sola!”
Rod Rosenbladt, professor of theology, Concordia University

via Amazon.com: Jesus + Nothing = Everything (9781433507786): Tullian Tchividjian: Books.

Theologians of the Cross

Another non-Lutheran discovers a Lutheran insight.  Carl Trueman, professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, posts about theologians of the cross as opposed to theologians of glory.  He explains it pretty well, I think:

One of the things that is so striking about the current revival of interest in Reformation theology, broadly conceived, is the absence of perhaps the most glorious contribution of Martin Luther to theological discourse: the notion of the theologian of the cross. . . .

At the heart of this new theology was the notion that God reveals himself under his opposite; or, to express this another way, God achieves his intended purposes by doing the exact opposite of that which humans might expect. The supreme example of this is the cross itself: God triumphs over sin and evil by allowing sin and evil to triumph (apparently) over him. His real strength is demonstrated through apparent weakness. This was the way a theologian of the cross thought about God.

The opposite to this was the theologian of glory. In simple terms, the theologian of glory assumed that there was basic continuity between the way the world is and the way God is: if strength is demonstrated through raw power on earth, then God’s strength must be the same, only extended to infinity. To such a theologian, the cross is simply foolishness, a piece of nonsense.

Now, some will respond: But the theology of the cross has not been forgotten; it is often talked about and discussed and even preached. But here’s the rub: in the Heidelberg Disputation Luther actually refers not to a theology of the cross but to theologians of the cross, underscoring the idea that he is not talking about some abstract theological technique or process but rather a personal, existential, real way that real flesh-and-blood theologians thought about, and related to, God. A person’s theology, whether true or false, good or bad, is inseparable from the individual’s personal faith.

At this Reformation season, we should not reduce the insights of Luther simply to justification by grace through faith. In fact, this insight is itself inseparable from the notion of that of the theologians of the cross. Sad to say, it is often hard to discern where these theologians of the cross are to be found. Yes, many talk about the cross, but the cultural norms of many churches seem no different to the cultural norms of — well, the culture. They often indicate an attitude to power and influence that sees these things as directly related to size, market share, consumerist packaging, aesthetics, youth culture, media appearances, swagger and the all-round noise and pyrotechnics we associate with modern cinema rather than New Testament Christianity. These are surely more akin to what Luther would have regarded as symptomatic of the presence and influence of theologians of glory rather than the cross. An abstract theology of the cross can quite easily be packaged and marketed by a theologian of glory. And this is not to point the finger at `them’: in fact, if we are honest, most if not all of us feel the attraction of being theologians of glory. Not surprising, given that being a theologian of glory is the default position for fallen human nature.

The way to move from being a theologian of glory to a theologian of the cross is not an easy one, not simply a question of mastering techniques, reading books or learning a new vocabulary. It is repentance.

via The Forgotten Insight – Reformation21 Blog.

What are some other applications?  If there is no “basic continuity between the way the world is and the way God is,” what happens to natural law?  natural theology?  How would this factor into various theological controversies today?

HT:  Joe Carter

The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church–for free

Rod Rosenbladt, emeritus professor at Concordia-Irvine and a co-host at the White Horse Inn radio program, has a presentation that has become a classic, with tapes and transcripts passed from hand to hand like samizdat novels in the former Soviet Union.  It’s called “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church.”   Many, MANY have found it a lifesaver, indeed, a proclamation of the Gospel that is so powerful that they have come to faith.  Even long-time veterans–and casualties–of churches have come to understand through this presentation the full magnitude of the Gospel, with many embracing it for the first time.  It’s featured in a sidebar on this blog as being available from New Reformation Press.

Well, now New Reformation Press, with the support of South Orange County Outreach and Faith Lutheran Church in Capistrano, California, is making this this presentation available FOR FREE.   You can download it as an mp3 file, as a written transcript, or as a video!

I’ve heard Dr. Rosenbladt give this message in person and it blew me away, so hard-hitting and effective and pastoral it is, giving such comfort to troubled souls and making so real the full implications of Christ’s Gospel.  You want an example of evangelism?  Here it is.  It is addressed specifically to the casualties of American Christianity, to those who have become burnt out, disillusioned, and despairing due to the pressures, expectations, and culture of so many of our churches.

Listening to this presentation would be an excellent Reformation day observance.  In both its proclamation of the all-sufficient work of Christ and in its critique of churches that neglect that message, it captures what the Reformation was–and is–all about.

Get it or view the video here:   New Reformation Press » The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church.


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