Gorsuch’s first week will feature LCMS school

Rubber_mulch_playgroundJustice Neil Gorsuch is now on the Supreme Court, and one of the first cases he will hear in his first week involves a Lutheran preschool:  Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley.

At issue is whether Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, can take part in a state program that gives shredded tires to schools in order to cushion their school’s playgrounds.

The Missouri Constitution says that no state money whatsoever can go to a religious entity.  And those shredded tires represent money.

At issue, though, is the heritage of the anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment in the 19th century, which is an obstacle to school choice programs.

I am sympathetic to the church and school.  But do  they have a leg to stand on?  Doesn’t the Missouri constitution say what it says?  If Justice Gorsuch rules against the church, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that he is weak on religious freedom, just that this case is pretty straightforward against the church’s position.  What line of argument would you make in support of the church’s case?

See George Will’s take on the case. [Read more…]

The day that God suffered and died

Crucifixion_GrunewaldA powerful Good Friday devotion would be to read Article VIII of the Formula of Concord: “The Person of Christ.”  It will help you to appreciate even more the magnitude of what happened on the Cross.

Luther’s dispute with Zwingli went beyond their disagreement over Holy Communion and whether “this is my body” is a fact or a figure of speech.  They had different understandings of Christ.

This question arose:  Can we say that on the Cross “God suffered” or “God died”?  No, said Zwingli.  God is “impassible.”  He cannot suffer or die.  Christ has both a divine and a human nature.  So on the Cross only His human nature suffered.  Zwingli dismissed scriptural language to the contrary as, again, a figure of speech.

Luther said that while it is true that God, in Himself, does not suffer or die, in Christ something else is going on.  In taking on human nature, God the Son could experience what human beings experience.  By virtue of the incarnation, the unity of the Trinity, the communication of the attributes, and the personal union of Christ’s two natures, we can say that God suffered and died.

Later, Chemnitz would explain it using this analogy (and it is only an imperfect analogy, since the Son of God was not simply a deity in a human body, but rather took on a human soul as well):  A human being has a spiritual and a physical nature.  If you cut your finger, it isn’t just your body that suffers.  You suffer because your two natures come together in your person.

After the jump, read how this is treated in one of the key confessional documents of Lutheran theology.  I know I trot this out every few years around this time, but it bears repeating.

For one thing, to believe that God suffered and God died helps us to understand the atonement more deeply.  It isn’t God punishing his kid for what other people did, as mockers and some liberals are saying today.  In the atonement, the Second Person of the Trinity sacrificed Himself for sinful human beings.  And in doing so, He took into Himself, by His omnipotence, the world’s evil and the world’s suffering, our “iniquities” and “transgressions” and our “griefs” and “sorrows” (Isaiah 53, a major passage of Scripture to read for today).  And this has a bearing on the problem of evil and the problem of pain, since we know that, far from looking down on the evils and sufferings of the world and doing nothing, God took them into Himself in His redemption of the world.

Illustration:  The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald. [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.  Originally at the Hospital of St. Anthony, where plague victims could contemplate Christ, depicted as bearing their disease.

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A church with its own police force

handcuffs-308897_640The Alabama state Senate has voted to allow a church in Birmingham to have its own police force.

Briarwood Presbyterian (PCA)  believes it needs its own police to provide security for its school and its 4000 members.

Universities are routinely authorized to have their own “campus cops,” but not other institutions, much less churches. The approval must still pass the state House of Representatives.

A church with a police force, according to the article after the jump, would be “unprecedented.”  But what are the theological problems with this? [Read more…]

The other version of the new Luther movie

Return to GraceI reviewed Martin Luther:  The Idea That Changed the World, the dramatized documentary produced in Lutheran circles to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Reformation.  It turns out that there is another version of the same project, Return to Grace:  The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther.

The latter, which has a much better title in my opinion, is the version being promoted and screened by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

Why the two versions?  Is WELS, known as a stickler for fellowship issues, holding to some kind of “cinematic fellowship” as one Cranach commenter called it?  This provoked quite a bit of discussion in the comments to my review here at the blog and even more on Facebook.

First of all, the WELS version does NOT leave out scholars from the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  Nor does it leave out the interview with the Catholic archbishop Timothy Dolan.   This is evident from the trailer, which you can see here after the jump.

It was said that the WELS version cuts out many Lutheran Church Missouri Synod scholars from the original film, but in the trailer the LCMS is represented.

After the jump, I’ll explain what I have found out so far about why there are two versions. [Read more…]

The Jewish argument for “closed” Passover meals

Seder_PlateMany churches during Holy Week hold a “Seder” meal, a version of the Jewish Passover celebration that was the context for Christ’s “Last Supper” in which He established Holy Communion.

Those Christian seders are interesting in their symbolism.  But there are problems with Christians celebrating a Jewish ritual.  Not only are there Christian reasons not to celebrate the Passover, but there are also Jewish reasons.

This is explained by two Jewish rabbis writing in Christianity Today.  Their fascinating article shows an impressive understanding of both Christian and Jewish theology.  They point out that Jesus did not, in fact, eat a Seder meal.  He ate the Passover, but not the ritual as practiced by Jews and now some Christians today, which was started long after the destruction of the Temple.  They also explain why it is disrespectful for one religion to take over the rituals of another.

Their argument is sort of a Jewish version of what Lutherans take heat for in their practice of “closed Communion,” that those who commune together should be unified in their ecclesiastical community and in their confession of faith.  Call this “closed Passover.”

[Read more…]

Martin Luther as inventor of freedom

1024px-Лютер_в_ВормсеLutherans aren’t the only ones celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses.  Nor are Protestants or other Christians.  Luther had a monumental impact on Western Civilization, so even the secularists are taking the opportunity to study Luther’s cultural contributions, from his impact on universal education to his pioneering use of information technology (the printing press).

Time Magazine has published an article reprinted from History Today by scholar Frank Furedi entitled How Martin Luther Helped Invent Individual Freedom.

Furedi argues that when Luther stood up against Pope and Emperor at the Diet of Wurms, making his stand on his individual conscience, he, in effect, invented personal freedom.  His rejection of temporal and ecclesiastical authority would lead, Furedi says, to the undermining of all authority.  Including, eventually, to the authority of God.

Read Furedi’s argument, quoted and linked after the jump.  After which, I will explain what is wrong with what he says, while acknowledging that Luther did play an important role in the rise of freedom.

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