The liquid bread fast

In the 17th century, a strict order of monks gave up all solid foods for Lent.  So to sustain themselves, they developed a particularly rich version of what they called “liquid bread.”  That is to say, beer.

This was the origin of the Paulaner brewery, which still makes its acclaimed beer.

A few years ago, a Christian  journalist went on an all-beer fast.  Intoxication faded.  Hunger subsided.  And he developed a remarkable “clarity of focus” and devotional intensity.

I suspect that any kind of long-term fasting can have that affect.  (Can anyone speak to this?)

I should add, don’t try this at home!  Most beers today lack the nutritional substance of the old brews.  (The journalist found a special doppelbock.)  And there can be other unintended consequences. [Read more…]

We Lutherans as others see us

480px-Lutherrose.svgI stumbled upon a tab at the Patheos site that is called “Religion Library.”  It includes information about a host of religions and Christian denominations and traditions.  So I checked out the information for “Lutheran.”  For each church category, you can click on topics such as “Sacred Narratives,” “Sacred Time,” “Sacred Space,” “Rites and Ceremonies.”  Reading them feels like being the object of an anthropological study.

The author, Ted Vial, is a professor at Illiff School of Theology, a Methodist seminary, that also serves other mainline Protestant churches.  He is a true scholar and he gets much of Lutheranism right, considering that he is writing about the whole gamut of this tradition.  He does distinguish between the confessionalism of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod from the more liberal branches.  But I didn’t notice mention of the other conservative branches, such as the Wisconsin synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Free Lutherans, etc.

Prof. Vial is good on vocation, Luther’s neighbor-centered ethic, the Two Kingdoms, and justification.  He mentions the distinction between the Theology of the Cross and the Theology of Glory but doesn’t do too much with it, and readers don’t get a sense of the distinctly Lutheran Christology that allows our confessions to talk about “God suffering” and “God dying,” which, in turn would give him more to say about the Lutheran take on “Suffering and the Problem of Evil.”

Also, you can see the lens through which Prof. Vial is seeing.  He uses the Reformed numbering in the uses of the Law–he calls the use that convicts us of sin the “First Use,” whereas that is the “Second Use” for Lutherans, the first being the use that constrains outward behavior.  And he is clearly Methodist in saying that Lutherans “don’t expect to be sanctified.”  We do, only not in the Methodist sense of achieving moral perfection.

Part of Lutheranism he “gets” very well, other parts he misses, but in other places he is just “off” a little, as is probably always going to be the case when someone tries to understand religious beliefs from the outside, rather than as someone who believes them.

Check out what he says about Lutheranism from the live links given after the jump.  Those of you who aren’t Lutheran, go to the Religion Library and read about your church and how it measures up to those anthropological categories of “sacred time,” “sacred space,” etc.

Did you learn anything about your church that you didn’t realize before?  What is the author missing about your theology and your religious identity?

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Mortification of the flesh

Lent has traditionally been a time to practice “mortification of the flesh.”  That’s another concept we don’t hear too much about today.

But isn’t that Catholic?  An example of that medieval asceticism that the Reformation reacted against?  Not at all.  Reformation Christians also emphasized mortification.  In fact, it’s enshrined in the Lutheran confessions:

“We teach this about the putting to death of the flesh and discipline of the body. A true and not a false putting to death [mortification] happens through the cross and troubles, by which God exercises us . . . .There is also a necessary voluntary exercise. . . .This effort [at mortification] should be constant.”

Philip Melanchthon,“The Apology of the Augsburg Confession,” Article XV, in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), pp. 193-194.

This is pretty much the opposite of the “prosperity gospel.”  God gives us the crosses we have to bear and the troubles of our lives in order to “exercise” us.  Such problems and sufferings drive us to prayer, to greater dependence on God, and thus to the growth of our faith.  Furthermore, we voluntarily mortify ourselves–not doing what we want, depriving ourselves of certain pleasures, denying ourselves for our neighbor–in a “constant” effort at self-discipline.

More on mortification, including its Biblical and theological basis, after the jump.  [Read more…]

Glitter Ash Wednesday

LGBT-friendly churches are planning to mix glitter with the ashes that are imposed on Ash Wednesday.

This “Glitter Ash Wednesday” event is being planned to give “an inclusive message,” showing that LGBT folks can also be Christians.  Here is a link to the organizers.

So are those who are receiving ashes, along with the glitter, repenting?  That is what ashes and Ash Wednesday and Lent are all about. The message from activists is usually that being LGBT is good, suggesting that there is nothing about this identity to repent about.

When the Cross is smeared on their foreheads, will they receive the words, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return”?  That’s about death, the wages of sin.  Ash Wednesday is supposed to face up to that.  How can you glitter that up?

Will there even be a Cross on the forehead?  Would you put glitter on the Cross at Calvary?  The Cross is about suffering, sacrifice, atonement.  What is the meaning of a glittery Cross, and how can such happy party imagery help a person who is LGBT? [Read more…]

An online, social media Lenten observance

Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent, a time for reflection and devotion. Christ Lutheran Church (LCMS) of Topeka, KS, has devised an ingenious online, social media observance, built around specific words for each day of Lent. The idea is to post a picture that captures each word, posting it on FaceBook, tagged with @christlcms, or Instagram, tagged with @christ_lutheran_topeka, and the hashtag #hearingthegospel.  Then people can contemplate all of the pictures that have contributed.

There was a story about this on Religious News Service.  I contacted the pastor, asking if this is just a congregational activity or if I could put it out there on the Cranach blog.  He gave me permission to do so, so spread the word.  More details after the jump.

2017+pic-a-day+calendar

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The Pope on salvation by works

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)Catholics, Protestants often say, believe in salvation by good works.  This engenders the reply from thoughtful Catholics, no we don’t!  You have to have grace.  In fact, we even believe in justification by faith, just like you Lutherans do, as proven by the accord we signed with liberal Lutherans.  Since there is now no real disagreement, there is no need for the Reformation divisions.  You can come back to Rome and enjoy being under Pope Francis.

But Pope Francis keeps preaching that salvation is, in fact, by good works.  He is reported to have said recently that it’s better to be an atheist than a bad Christian.  Now this is not exactly what he said, according to ChurchPop; in context he was referring to Christians living a “double life” of sin and piety, which creates a “scandal” that makes outsiders think it would be better to be an atheist.  But read his sermon yourself to get a sense of where he stands on the importance of good works for salvation.  Note how he warns against “excessive confidence” in Christ’s forgiveness.

Earlier the Pope has said that on the last day the only issue will be “what we did.”  Lots of Christians won’t make it.  But atheists will, if they do good.  Here is what the Pope said of atheists:  “‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

So those who do not believe but do good works will meet with the Christians who do good works in Heaven.  While Christians who believe but are sinful will not.

[Read more…]