Rendering to Caesar and to God

Happy Independence Day! The birthday of our nation would be a good time to contemplate that great text on church and state, Matthew 22:21, in which our Lord charges us to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

What “things” are Caesar’s, and how do we render them to him? And what “things” are God’s, and how do we render them to Him?

Obviously, all things are God’s, but Jesus must have had a particular sense of this in mind. A pastor I heard on Sunday–I’m on the road, so it wasn’t our pastor–said that the Greek implies that we are giving back what we have received. So we might think of this in terms of “what do we receive from the state” and so what are we obliged to a giving back. Jesus’s example of money works here. What else? And how does this apply to the gifts of God?

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. . .

Some time ago on this blog, I sort of took issue with the “Common Table Prayer” commonly used by Lutherans, prayed in unison before a meal.   Remember that I did not grow up in this tradition, and I considered it more of a rhyming sing-song children’s prayer, favoring instead the prayer in the catechism with its use of the Psalm (“The eyes of all look to you, O Lord. . .”) or a spontaneous personal prayer.  How presumptuous I was in questioning a devotion hallowed by untold numbers of Christians for generations!

Since then I have come to appreciate and to use that prayer.  Above all, it is a prayer that focuses upon Christ’s presence–asking Him to come into our lives, into our vocations, into our family as everyone is seated around the table–and acknowledges Christ’s gifts, that the food we are about to eat comes from His hand and that ordinary life is the sphere of His blessings.

Along those lines and to go even deeper into the Biblical dimensions of this little prayer, you have got to read the piece by Dr. David Loy in the latest Lutheran Witness.  It deserves to become a classic.  You need to read the whole thing, but this is the summary:

“Come, Lord Jesus,” we cry with the Church, longing for our Lord to return in glory and set us and this entire sinful world right. “Be our guest,” we ask Him, knowing that the house that receives Jesus in faith receives His salvation. “Let Thy gifts to us be blessed,” we pray, trusting that the food on our tables will be sufficient to nourish us to do the work the Lord has given us in this world. It is such a simple prayer, and yet it gives voice to so many longings that our faith produces in us. We long for Jesus to come again, we long for the salvation He brings, and we long to be nourished to do the work He gives us.

via The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – The Lutheran Witness.

Jesus vs. Family

The New Testament reading at church last Sunday was Matthew 10:34- 39.  Pastor Douthwaite pointed out that if the reading had come one week earlier, we would be hearing it on Father’s Day :

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

First of all, I’m curious how you would apply this text.  We tend to associate Christianity with “family values.”  And yet, according to this passage, they are not always going to be the same.   Clearly, when one member of the family becomes a Christian and the others belong to some other religion or no religion, this passage applies.  But how else?  Are we are sometimes tempted to idolize our families?  Can we turn our family into a little cults?

Our pastor handled the text in a very helpful way, as is his wont, observing that of course God honors the family, an institution that He Himself established, protecting it in three of the Ten Commandments.  And yet, Jesus does bring a sword.  Read what he says in the sermon linked below.   I loved his conclusion, in which he develops the point that “water is thicker than blood”:

By virtue of your baptism into Christ, there’s a new family to which you belong. A new family that transcends the bounds of time and space. A new family that will not last just for a time, but for eternity.

So even though the world will tell you that blood is thicker than water – that our earthly family relationships create a kind of bond that should not be broken by the things of this world that, by comparison, are like water . . . but Jesus is teaching us that the truth is exactly the opposite. For in our new family, our new life, water is thicker than blood. The water and Word of Holy Baptism creates a bond that is greater than any other on earth – not just a bond that we have with each other, but the bond that we have with each other by virtue of our being united in Christ. It is Christ that holds us together, Christ who gives us hope, Christ who by His blood gave power to this water, Christ who makes us all brothers and sisters and children of our heavenly Father, in Him.

And so in Christ we have a family and life that we cannot lose. Not because we’re so great, or because there won’t be any strife and disagreements in the church – there will be! We’re still sinners. But because we are united in the One who is greater than our sin, who gave His life to give us life. And so it is exactly in losing your life in baptism, losing your life in repentance, losing your life in service, losing your life in Christ – you find a life that is even greater. A life that will have no end.

All of which is not to say our earthly families are not important – they are! But since we’ve just had two marriages here this past month, perhaps something that is said at many marriages can help us understand. For it is said that when two people get married, we’re not losing a son, we’re gaining a daughter.

Well by faith, that is what happens here. In Christ, we’re not losing our earthly families, but gaining a new family. And so we have not just an earthly Father, but now a heavenly Father and also many earthly fathers and mothers, and grandparents, and brothers and sisters, and children and grandchildren! Time may take away our earthly families, space may separate us, and the Word of God may divide – but look at how richly God has rewarded those who abide in the truth of His Word! With a family that does not compete against Him for love and loyalty, but which is created by those very things. With a family that does not depend on us to keep it together, but one which He keeps together. For that which God brings together, He will keep together. Together in Him. United through Baptism, bound together by the Word, strengthened in forgiveness, and fed by the body and blood of the very Son of God! The Son of God in whom we are all sons of God. . . .

That’s why we put this baptismal font front and center in the church. For it is the font and front and center of our lives. We put it here so that you can’t look at the altar or the cross without looking also at it. So that if you walk up to this altar, you must go by it. So that it remind you that this is why you’re here; that water is thicker than blood. That no matter what happens in this world, no matter the divisions and struggles, no matter the sin and death – nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He has claimed you as His own, and you are His. Born again into His family. Or as St. John would later proclaim: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are” (1 John 3:1).

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 2 Sermon.

“Is” vs. “Should”

Tom Gilson observes the shift that has taken place among those who reject the exclusive claims of the Christian faith:

The world has a big problem with Christian exclusivism—the belief that there is one God uniquely revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the one way, truth, and life for all people at all times. Theologians and apologists have defended exclusivism’s truth since time out of mind, but never so much as in these pluralistic and relativistic times. Recently I’ve come to wonder, though, whether we’re addressing the wrong question; for I am hearing less and less that exclusivism is false, and much more often that it is immoral. The difference is crucial.

I would never dispute the importance of the truth side of the question. I am convinced that Christ is indeed the one way to God. I am equally sure that the truth of this exclusive claim can be defended, and that when someone questions its truth, that’s exactly what we ought to focus on.

It’s just that this is not always the question; in fact in my (limited) experience, it’s no longer frontmost on many people’s minds. It used to be they said, “You believe that Jesus is the one way, but that’s not true.” Now more often they say, “You believe that Jesus is the one way, and there’s something wrong about you—evil, even—for thinking that.”

Or to put it another way: nowadays when people ask themselves, “Should I believe in Christianity?” it’s no longer primarily, “should I believe it on account of evidence or reasons that may support it?” (an epistemic should). Instead it is an ethical “should,” as in, “wouldn’t it be morally irresponsible for me to accept this belief?”

via The Morality of Christian Exclusivism (Part One) » Evangel | A First Things Blog.

Mr. Gilson promises to make a case for the morality of Christian exclusivism, which I hope to follow.

In the meantime, how would you answer those–including virtually all of the “new atheists”–who oppose Christianity on these moral grounds?  Doesn’t–or shouldn’t– “is” trump “should”?   Or is the alleged immorality of Christianity beside the point anyway, given  the theology of the Cross?

On baptizing infants

A good discussion about Baptism broke out at Internet Monk. Commenter Scott, as a Baptist, made some interesting points, as reposted at New Reformation Press:

While not precisely in line with any of the above confessions, there are three things that, over the past decade and a half and more as a Baptist, have struck me as wrong about the general credobaptist position.

1. Having raised some of my kids in the Baptist Church (and my youngest from birth) I’m struck that their is something almost schizophrenic about the way we treat kids. As toddlers, preschoolers, and young school age children, in Church and at home, we teach them that Jesus loves them and we raise them to love Jesus. At some point during elementary school, we change the story and we tell them that they have done wrong things and they need to tell Jesus that they are sorry and that they love him. For many of them, that’s a huge disconnect. Of course they love Jesus. They’ve always loved Jesus. Why is he suddenly angry with them and need them to tell him they are sorry? It’s a discontinuity that is not present in the churches that embrace children in Baptism from birth. Yes, the child needs to be raised in the faith and needs to make that faith their own one day. But there is no jump from you’re part of God’s family, now you’re not, and now you are again.

2. The view is far too centered or intellect, reason, and the capacity for verbal expression to feel like anything more than a mind game — and one that is easy to deconstruct. N.T. Wright did it well in one lecture I heard. He pointed out that we all know that we can relate to and love an infant. Moreover, that infant can relate back to us and can love us. Are we really going to say that the God who created and sustained that infant cannot relate to that infant, love that infant, and that the infant cannot relate to or be filled with love for God? Really? Because I’m not willing to say that. If anything God should be able to relate to and interact with that infant even more than I can. And every infant is a unique and fully human person. And as a person, they are no less capable of experiencing God than I am. Perhaps they are even more capable. Of course, that experience needs to grow and mature. There’s no magic in baptism. God will not coerce the will of the child as the child grows any more than God will coerce my will. But that makes the encounter and experience in Baptism no less real for an infant than for an adult.

3. If Baptism is an encounter with and experience of Christ, if it is a new birth of water and Spirit, if in it we are joined with Christ in his death, burial and Resurrection (all Scriptural statements) why would anyone deny their child that opportunity? Why would we leave our child open to the forces of darkness and evil who will not respect our child’s will like God will? In short, if Baptism actually does anything, if it’s more than just getting wet with water that has a reality independent of God, why would we deprive our children of it? On the other hand, if Baptism does nothing, if it just represents some interior reality, why do it at all? If it’s just a “symbol” in the modern, secular meaning of the term, then what’s the point? If Baptism actually accomplishes anything, then why deprive our children of it? If it accomplishes nothing, then what’s the point? The Baptist position is truly strange to me. They hold that it merely represents a spiritual truth and is otherwise meaningless. But it has to be done by immersion past the age of reason or it doesn’t count. And you have to have had a “valid” Baptism (with a lot of different variations in what makes a Baptism valid) to be a member of the Church. And that particular combination is just logically nuts. Baptism doesn’t “do” anything, but you have to have done it the “right” way.

via New Reformation Press » Blog Archive » An Interesting Discussion on Baptism

HT:  Larry

Cranach’s artistic confession of faith

We had been discussing Lucas Cranach’s seal of the winged serpent, crowned with a ring, and what it might mean.  Thanks to Tom Hering for digging up this scholarly article by Wayne Martin, professor of philosophy of the University of Essex, who offers a reading of the artist’s “Eden” in the Courtald Gallery in England.  As a reminder, art in Cranach’s day was charged with meaning, unlike the preoccupation with abstract forms of today, but  that meaning was rendered visually.  Prof. Martin points out that Cranach this time puts his signature seal not at the bottom in a corner, where it usually goes, but right on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  (You can just make it out below the snake.)  The squiggly curves of the stylized seal are echoed in the similar squiggly curves of the snake and in the curls of Eve’s hair.  Thus, the artist is identifying himself with temptation and with sin.  But those squiggles are also echoed in the vine, laden with grapes, a symbol of Christ (“I am the vine”): specifically, His sacrificial blood as given for us in Holy Communion (“This is my blood of the new testament, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins”).  In the painting, the vine covers Adam and Eve’s nakedness, just as Christ’s blood covers the sinfulness of Lucas Cranach and all of us.

Prof. Martin doesn’t quite understand the Gospel of the evangelical Reformation.  He professes “shock” that a pious Christian would “identify himself with evil.”  Like many people he assumes that being a Christian means being good, rather than facing up to one’s true sinfulness and receiving Christ’s forgiveness.  He is also confused about different covenants and the pre-lapsarian state.  Still, even despite himself,  he discerns Cranach’s ubiquitous theme of Law and Gospel.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X