Top 5 heresies of 2016

Andy_stanley_2499 years after the Reformation, 1691 years after the Council of Nicaea, theological disputes and charges of heresy are still going strong.  Emily McFarlan Miller of the Religious News Service looks back on the Top 5 Heresies of 2016.

Could you list some more?  Are some brewing that will come to a head in 2017?

After the jump, I’ll list the five.  But go to the link for explanations and details. [Read more…]

The Name of Jesus

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).  So tomorrow, the 8th day after Christmas, which falls on New Year’s Day, the church year commemorates the Circumcision and Name of Jesus.

With the baby’s circumcision, He took upon Himself the burden of the Law, which He fulfilled on our behalf.  And with His naming, His identity and purpose are made clear.  “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.”  God saves.  His very name proclaims His divinity and His saving work.

[Read more…]

A medieval Christmas for the children

IDas_festliche_Jah_Christkindel_und_Hans_Trapp_im_Elsaßn a review of what sounds like an excellent book on Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Nathaniel Peters quotes a 17th century theologian on what Christmas was like under Medieval and 17th century Catholicism.

He describes the processions, featuring actors dressed up like the Christ Child, St. Peter, other saints, angels, and “damned spirits,” including the terrifying Knecht Ruprecht (who became a companion of St. Nicholas).  The goal was to scare children out of their wits.  The Christ Child would berate the kids for their sins and threaten to punish them.  Then St. Peter and the saints intercede for them.  Then Jesus gives them presents.

Notice how Jesus is all about the Law, not the Gospel.  The saints are the intercessors.  But at least the children get gifts eventually.  (St. Nicholas is described as being in the company of saints who scare the children.  He has become rather more a figure of grace today, giving gifts without conditions.)

You’ve got to read Johann Gabriel Drechssler’s 1674 account after the jump. [Read more…]

Statistics on churchgoing at Christmas

Complete-church-midnight-mass_(3135957575)Over half of Americans will go to church on Christmas day.  Of those who don’t, 57% said they would be open to an invitation to go. [Note the opportunity.]

A LifeWay Research study of churchgoing at Christmas also found that 89% of churches will hold services even though Christmas falls on a Sunday.  [But over one in ten won’t.  See our discussion.]

Lutherans are the most likely to hold Christmas services on Sunday (94%), while Pentecostals are least likely (72%).  [Why is that, do you think?]

Also, while Catholic and Orthodox services see a big upturn in attendance for Christmas services, even when on a Sunday, Protestant congregations as a whole report poorer attendance.  [Why is that, do you think?]

The study has lots more fascinating information about worship and church practices over the holidays, including statistics about which churches also hold services on Christmas Eve (again, Lutherans lead) and New Year’s (Lutherans are less likely than the Reformed).  [Why is that, do you think?]

Details after the jump. [Read more…]

Theological music for Christmas

Ken Myers has written a wonderful post on Christmas music, emphasizing particularly how it is sung by choirs and its connection to worship in the liturgy.  He includes a fascinating discussion of how music can be a contemplation of divine mysteries, as in the harmonies of this piece, “Mirabile mysterium” to this text:

“A wondrous mystery is declared today, an innovation is made upon nature; God is made man; that which he was, he remains, and that which he was not, he takes on, suffering neither commixture nor division.”

The composer is Jacob Handl (sometimes called “Gallus”), not to be confused with George Friedrich Handel.  Read what Myers says about it after the jump.

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Cancelling church on Christmas

Trinity_Lutheran_Church,_Friedheim,_Missouri_altar,_Dec_20,_2013Christmas falls on a Sunday this year.  So once again, many congregations are CANCELLING SERVICES!  That boggles my mind.  You should go to church on Christmas even when it doesn’t fall on a Sunday!  But when it does, why wouldn’t you go to church as you usually would?

OK, I understand about opening presents, making the Christmas dinner, and all that.  I understand someone missing church, though that’s not to condone it.  But what I cannot understand is a church that would not open its doors on Christmas day, that would not worship Christ on the commemoration of His birth.

I guess this practice is more common than I realized.  I’ve heard the reason given that Christmas is a family time, so we are going to be “worshipping” by spending time with our families.  But that’s just more secularizing of the holiday.  Maybe someone can explain it to me.

UPDATE:  Here is a defense of the practice, one that slams us critics.  Do you find it convincing?  I guess the big difference is one of theology.  The defense portrays worship as something we do–hard work that we sometimes need a break from–with little sense of what we receive when we worship or of Christ actually being present when we worship.

After the jump, Jonathan Aigner, gives 8 reasons NOT to cancel church services on Christmas.

Just as it’s important to keep Christ in Christmas, it’s important to keep “mass” in Christmas.  In fact, doing the latter is the best way to do the former.

[Read more…]