Two meanings of “faith”

Thanks to FWS who pointed us to this post from LCMS president Matthew Harrison quoting the German theologian and enemy of Nazism Hermann Sasse (who quotes Werner Elert):

Werner Elert repeatedly drew our attention to the fundamental difference between the Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran understandings about ecclesiastical confessions of doctrine. It consists in this, that the Roman doctrinal confession has the form of an imperative, while the Lutheran has the form of an indicative. Roman dogma is a command of faith; the Lutheran an expression of faith. There, a credendum [something which must be believed] is presented with a command to accept it. Here is expressed, what the church [already] believes: “We believe, teach, and confess.” The difference is deeply-rooted in the concept of faith. Faith, in the Catholic sense, is the supernatural virtue, by the power of which I hold for true that which the church presents to be as the content of revelation. . . .

Thus the objectum fidei, the object of faith, is defined. Corresponding to the concept of faith as “holding something to be true,” the object of faith is, for a Catholic, always dogma, for example the dogma about Christ. Corresponding to the evangelical concept of faith as fiducia, as trusting the divine promise of grace in the gospel, is the fact that, for the Lutheran, the objectum fidei is not the dogma about Christ, but rather Christ Himself; not the dogma about the Trinity, but rather the Triune God; not the Bible as such, but rather God, Who speaks to us in each word of the Scripture.

This important distinction was mis-used, by Ritschl and his school in his time, but then by the entirety of modern liberalism, in order to get rid of dogma in general.

via Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison: “How far does the validity of the confession go?” Sasse.

Faith isn’t just believing that God exists.  It means trusting God.  Of course, God has to exist if we are going to trust Him–and the quotation goes on to show why “dogma” remains important–but just the truth claims are not sufficient.  This explains why atheists keep missing the point and have little impact on evangelical believers.   They keep belaboring the truth claims–”But there isn’t enough evidence!”  “We can never know for sure!”–while being oblivious to what faith actually is to those who have it.

Epiphanies

When I first became a Lutheran, it was Epiphany that taught me to really appreciate the church year. Not just the first day with the Wise Men on January 6 but the whole Epiphany season.

I’m a literature professor by trade, and the term “epiphany” is an important one in the analysis of literature, especially short stories (that being one of the many theological words, such as “inspiration,” “creativity,” “canon,” and “hermeneutics” that have been appropriated in secular fields). An epiphany in literature is a moment of recognition or realization, on the part of a character or the reader. “Aha! So that’s who committed the murder!” “Aha! So now she knows she married the wrong guy.” “Aha! So now he realizes what his life is all about.”

So then what I saw in the church calendar was a series of epiphanies about Jesus. The wise men worship Him. The prophets in the Temple recognize Him. He is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends and the voice from Heaven proclaims Him. The devil tempts Him and meets his match. The first miracle. The series of Sundays in Epiphany culminates in His most explicit revelation, the Transfiguration. Each Sunday gives us an epiphany: “Aha! So that’s who Jesus is!” And each Sunday reveals different things about Him: He is God’s Son. He is the promised Messiah. He has power over nature. He is our Savior. He is God in the flesh.

So happy Epiphany, everybody. And may you each experience a personal epiphany of Jesus in the weeks ahead.

Journey of the Magi

Consider this poem, Journey of the Magi, by T.S. Eliot:

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different: this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Go here to listen to a recording of Eliot himself reading his poem: Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot – Poetry Archive.  (And notice what happened to his St. Louis accent after going off to England!)

Now, class:  What is the meaning of these images in the second stanza: the three trees on the low sky; the vine leaves on the lintel; the hands dicing for pieces of silver; the empty wine-skins?

What is the meaning of this statement in the third stanza:  “I had seen birth and death,/But had thought they were different”?

The Name of Jesus

New Year’s Day marks the day the baby Jesus was circumcised and given His name.  The name of Jesus, at which every knee shall bow, confesses His identity and His purpose.  In fact, though some people claim Jesus is just a moral example, His very name confesses the Gospel.  Let’s let Rev. William Weedon tell you about the name of Jesus:

You can’t read very far along in the Sacred Scriptures before you notice what a big thing this “naming” is – Adam, naming the beasties in Eden; God changing people’s names – Abram to Abraham; God instructing His priests, as in today’s first reading, in how to put His name upon the people “and I will bless them.” Names in the Bible are anything but a distinguishing tag so you don’t get Johnny confused with Jimmy. They are revelatory – they disclose a person’s proper relation to God Himself or God’s own relation to people.

So the big deal of the name given THIS day, only name given under heaven by which we must be saved: Jesus. For this name is shared by God and Man – He who is one person in two natures bears this name and it discloses the innermost ache of the divine heart: to save. Jesus means Yahweh saves.

His desire is to save you, to rescue you, to deliver you from bondage to sin, from all that makes your life bitter and miserable by your own doing or from that of others. “Save” in Greek implies also “heal.” He wants to heal you, to restore you, to bring you into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

For, as St. Paul in today’s epistle points out: “before faith came we were held captive under the law.” Satan has us by rights. And the law – that immutable expression of the divine will for all human life – well, all it could do was inform us of what we were not – and thus accuse us for not living as we ought. The Law condemns – not because the Law is bad, but because the Law is good, and we sadly, by birth are not.

But good news! Yahweh saves.

via Weedon’s Blog.

In defense of Christmas “materialism”

[It's still Christmas. . . .]

I keep reading articles and posts complaining about Christmas being too materialistic, criticizing all of the shopping and gift-giving.  Many Christians are indignant that non-believers have the presumption to celebrate our holiday.  Some are saying that we should just have two separate holidays, a spiritual one for Christians marking Christ’s birth and a materialistic Winter holiday for everyone else.

I reject that!  I take the highest satisfaction when non-believers glorify Christ, even against their knowledge or their will, by celebrating His birthday.  They give gifts, which are the sign of the Gospel.  They force themselves to be benevolent.

The so-called commercialization of Christmas does great good, helping the economy considerably (this was apparently a very good year this season) and bringing happiness to millions of children and grownups alike.  People may not fully realize what it means to give and receive gifts, but that gives Christians an opportunity to explain.  God’s grace is a gift. Salvation is a gift, not something you have to earn.  Christ is the gift.  Usually, the person who has the birthday gets the gift.  But on Jesus’s birthday everybody gets a gift.  Because He is the gift.

My fellow Christians, we don’t need to Christianize everything.  Everything is already Christianized!   Christ already reigns.  The secular world itself unwittingly testifies to Him.

That atheists, secularists, followers of other religions, and others not in the fold celebrate Christmas is a profoundly good thing.  It is powerful evidence for the validity of Christianity.

Let’s not separate the spiritual and the material  out of an excess of piety or hyper-spirituality.  That’s the way of Gnosticism.  The very meaning of Christmas is about the spiritual and the material coming together.

The Christmas story in Revelation

[It's still Christmas. . . .]

Ray Hartwig, who holds the office of the Secretary of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, draws attention to a Christmas account in the Bible that gets hardly any notice.  It’s in the Book of Revelation:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.  (Revelation 12:1-6)

So what do you make of this?  The child is pretty obviously  Christ.  The woman is often interpreted as the Church, but the Church does not bring forth Christ, but the reverse.  Besides, the Church is His bride, not His mother.  Others say the woman is Israel, which is a possibility.  Others say she is the Virgin Mary, which seems most likely.  What does this account teach us about the meaning of Christmas?

UPDATE:  I had always heard that the veneration of the Virgin Mary was a displacement of pagan goddess worship, with one evidence being that in Roman Catholic iconography, the depictions of Mary as the Queen of Heaven showed her wearing a crown of twelve stars and standing on the moon.  Supposedly, this was how Diana the moon goddess was depicted.  But this text, with Roman Catholics do ascribe to Mary, shows that the imagery is Biblical.

And yet the text is also problematic to Roman Catholic Mariology. The woman is “crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.”  But according to  Roman Catholicism, Mary was blessed with an immaculate conception, so that she did not inherit original sin.  Thus, she was spared Eve’s curse of enduring pain in bearing children.  And, indeed, this is how Roman Catholic accounts depict the birth of Christ.

I suppose the best interpretation is that the woman represents “God’s people”–both in the sense of Israel and the Church as the new Israel–which is what the Lutheran Study Bible says, but that, as Al Colver adds in Carl’s link,  both are represented in the historical Virgin Mary (who does bear the curse of the Fall, so that Christ can fully bear humanity’s Original Sin so as to atone for it).

If I don’t have the Roman Catholic position right, I’m open to correction.


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