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.

Christless Christianity

On Sunday, Pastor Douthwaite at our church gave one of the best comments on the Harold Camping fiasco.  From his sermon on John 14:

Thomas and Philip didn’t quite understand all that Jesus was saying. They ask questions. Their knowledge isn’t quite right or complete. But don’t mock them or think less of them for this – for who among us understands all this? Especially the mystery of the Trinity which Jesus here is teaching. But give Thomas and Philip credit for this – though they didn’t fully understand, they looked to Jesus for the answers. They clung to Him tenaciously.

That’s not only a good example for us, it is what a certain Mr. Harold Camping missed this weekend. I’m certain that you’ve heard of him. The media has paid an unusual amount of attention to him and his prediction that the end of the world was going to begin yesterday. I don’t want to go into the details of all that he said. But you know what he missed? Christ. Not that he’s not a Christian. I’m not saying that. I don’t know what’s in his heart. But in all his study of the Bible, he looked for numbers and clues and codes and all sorts of things . . . but he missed Christ. And that’s what the Scriptures are all about. They’re not about hidden clues, secret teachings, mysterious numbers, and being able to calculate days and times. They’re all about Jesus. About his death and resurrection. That dying and rising with Jesus is the truth, and the way to eternal life.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church

Camping is not alone in spinning a Christless Christianity.  I have read “Christian” books going into all kinds of profound theology and teachings about Christian living that did not so much as mention Christ.  I have heard sermons, even evangelistic sermons, that left out Christ.   I have heard expositions of the Bible that said nothing about Christ.  I have heard personal testimonies and evangelistic witnesses that leave Jesus out of the picture.  I have looked at lots of Sunday school curriculum and “Christian” children’s books that are pure moralism, without a shred of Jesus and His gospel.  Since the root of “Christianity” is, you know, “Christ,” how is this possible?  Don’t you have a different religion if you leave Jesus out of your Christianity?

P.S.:  This is the reason to discuss Camping and not just to ignore him, as some of you were recommending:  To discern how his particular spirit may be manifesting itself in other contexts closer to home.   That’s the theme of this post and the one below.

Who was left behind?

I’m writing this on Saturday morning, but I’ve set it up so that the post appears on Monday.  So I MIGHT be raptured by the end of the day.  I don’t know yet.  Right now I’m either in Heaven or Texas.

So who is left?  We need to hear from you.  Are the Lutherans all gone?  Where are the Calvinists?  Did the Baptists get taken?  Are the non-denominational Christians gone, or did they need to belong to a denomination after all?

We need to hear from the individuals who are always getting in theological arguments so that we can see if you have been right or not.  Roll call:  Grace?  Porcell?  Todd?  DonS?

Does anyone know if Mr. Camping is still here?  If so, what is he saying?  Just because we might not have noticed large groups of people disappearing doesn’t mean the rapture didn’t happen.  Maybe the gate is so narrow that only a handful of true Christians exist.  Maybe some homeless people, some New Guinea tribesmen, and some persecuted Christian Arabs–individuals no one would notice–got raptured.

So now let’s get ready for the Tribulation!  And the End of the World on October 21!

What do we learn from all of this?

Will you vanish on Saturday at 6:00 p.m.?

Tomorrow, May 21, in the year of our Lord 2011, the rapture will occur.  According to the calculations of radio preacher Harold Camping, all true Christians will be taken up into Heaven at 6:00 p.m., when that hour comes in all time zones.  I suppose if we hear about strange disappearances in other parts of the world earlier in the day, we will know that this is happening and we can prepare ourselves when our time comes.  (The earlier version of this post said 3:00 p.m., but I have learned, as some of you have said, that it’s 6:00 p.m.  You’ll have three more hours.)

Tomorrow will not be the End of the World.  That will happen, according to Camping, six months later, on October 21.  You’ll want to put that down on your calendar too.  Tomorrow will be the rapture of the Church.  Then will come some pretty intense tribulations until Jesus shows up in October.

To see how Camping came up with these dates–including links to some of his own writings as well as those of his critics–see this post from Justin Taylor: Judgment Day: May 21, 2011? – Justin Taylor.

Now I don’t believe this will happen, but if it does, it will at least clear up some important questions.   We get into all kinds of theological discussions on this blog, and some of them get pretty intense and personal.  If Camping’s prediction comes to pass, at last we will have solid empirical evidence for who is right.

Now Lutherans don’t believe in a rapture like this at all.  I don’t believe in it, though, is a pre-requisite for it happening to a person.  It may well be that all Lutherans will vanish on Saturday afternoon.  Or maybe Roman Catholics are right after all and they will be gone.   Or the Eastern Orthodox.   Or the Reformed.  Or Arminians.  Or Baptists.  Or Pentecostals.  Or non-denominationalists.   Or it may well be that there are true believers in all of these traditions.   Those who show up in Church this Sunday  may be the apostates, and those who don’t may have a good excuse.

Camping himself is a hyper-Calvinist, though not an orthodox Calvinist.   He says it won’t do any good to repent at the last minute and no one can really do anything about whether they are raptured or not.  God will take his elect and that’s that.   But Camping teaches his listeners that ALL churches today are apostate and that real Christians shouldn’t go to church at all anymore.  They should instead just listen to his radio program.   So if he is completely right, church services will go on as normal this Sunday, since church members of every denomination will get left behind.  Instead, the elect is to be found among those who do NOT go to church.   I wonder if the number of the elect may be so small that no one will notice whether they have been raptured or not.

At any rate, we will know some things for sure on Saturday afternoon, if only that Camping’s theology is disproven.  Be sure to tune into this blog on Monday if you are here and if I am here.  We will do a roll-call to see if anyone is missing.

So if the end is coming on Saturday evening, what should you do in the meantime?  Plant a tree?

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven”

The readings in church last Sunday included this passage from John 20:

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

We get into a lot of good theological discussions on this blog.  Some of them get heated–and I apologize when they cross the line of Christian charity–but I know I learn from them.   I’d like to ask the non-Lutheran readers of this blog, what do you do with this passage?   We Lutherans, as is our wont, take it literally:  We see the office of disciple in the office of pastors today, so we believe that pastors, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, can forgive sins.  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”   This happens individually, in private confession and absolution, and also every Sunday in corporate confession and absolution.   The whole congregation prays a prayer in which we confess our sins, and then the pastor says, “upon this your confession, as a called and ordained servant of the Lord, I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  This often freaks out non-Lutheran visitors.   But I’ve wondered, how do they get around this passage?  One could have a different theology of the ministry and apply that ability to ALL Christians (actually, Lutherans do say that laity too can forgive sins), but surely this passage clearly gives human beings who have the Holy Spirit the power to forgive sins.  This is as clear statement as I can imagine, and I can’t see how it could be interpreted any other way.

So I’m asking, what do you Reformed, Arminian, Baptist, Pentecostal, and adherents to other Protestant Bible-believing theologies do with this passage?

A dying church

A pejorative term directed against some congregations is that they are “a dying church.”  Either because most of their members are elderly or because they don’t get a lot of new members or because they don’t seem exciting enough.  I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say, since we have no idea about the true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians, however elderly or not-growing or unexciting they may be.  Then our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, preached this sermon on Palm Sunday:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. And we also prayed: Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience.

What does this mean? Do you know what this is saying? With these words we are really saying: Lord, help us to die. Help us be dying Christians. Help us be a dying church.

Ah, no. That doesn’t sound right! We don’t want to be a dying church! We don’t want to be dying Christians, do we? That sounds like failure. We want to be successful, we want to be admired, we want to be big, we want to be glorious. A dying church sounds . . . like . . . a story gone horribly wrong.

But this is exactly what it means to have the mind of Christ. We are to be a dying church, because we have a dying Saviour. For only by dying can we live. . . .

But what has Jesus done? What is this story we are hearing again today and will remember all this week? This story is not a story gone horribly wrong, but of our Saviour using suffering and death for life, for good. That what looks like defeat is really victory.And so we are a dying church because we have a dying Saviour. This is not our doing – our Saviour pulls us into His dying; for to die with Jesus is to live.

And so in baptism we are pulled into His death and resurrection.

We hear the preaching of Christ crucified and are pulled into the story of the cross.

We die in repentance and are raised in absolution.

The dying and rising body and blood of Jesus are put into your mouth, to pull you into that same dying and rising.

You see, that is what set the Apostles free to face death when they went out into all the world – they had already died with Christ! They had nothing to fear.

That is what set the early martyrs and the Reformers free to face death – they had already died with Christ! They had nothing to fear.

And this is what sets you free to face whatever this world and its evil prince may throw at you – you have already died with Christ! You have nothing to fear.

And so it is only by dying with Christ that can we then live. For dying with Christ, we live a life that suffering cannot take away, that the sins of others cannot take away, that the struggles of this world cannot take away, that disasters and tragedies cannot take away, that laying down our lives for others cannot take away, that not even death can take away.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church.


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