The ACLU is targeting Catholic hospitals


One in six patients in America today is treated in a Catholic hospital.  The numbers are even bigger in poverty-stricken areas, especially in large urban areas.  And the number of Catholic hospitals is increasing.  In some areas, a Catholic hospital is the only option for treatment.

This has the American Civil Liberties Union worried.  Catholic hospitals do not perform abortions or sterilizations.  In the words of an ACLU report, “With the rise of Catholic hospitals has come the increasing danger that women’s reproductive health care will be compromised by religious restrictions.”

So because of this “danger,” the ACLU has been filing lawsuits in an effort to force them to violate their religious beliefs.  Rather than doing so, of course, they would shut down.  And this would be fine with the ACLU, which apparently no longer sees religious exercise as a “civil liberty.” [Read more…]

There already is a church that is both evangelical and sacramental


Gordon T. Smith has written a book entitled Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal:  Why the Church Should Be All Three.  His thesis is that since Christianity exists in those three forms, we really should have churches that combine them all.

review in Christianity Today agrees with his “exciting proposal,”  that Christians today should bring those strains together in their congregations.

Well, there already are churches that are both evangelical and sacramental.  These are called Lutheran.  I would also describe them as pentecostal, not in the sense of speaking in tongues and the like but in stressing a personal supernatural experience of the Holy Spirit.  Lutherans call that reading or hearing God’s Word.  They are charismatic in the sense of receiving God’s supernatural gifts, which they call worshipping and receiving the sacraments.

Prof. Smith’s book only mentions Luther and Lutheranism three or four times, according to the index on Amazon’s “Look Inside!” feature, but never in a way that shows how his dream of combining the evangelical with the sacramental can be done.

I realize that he is not looking for Lutheranism, as such.  He views the sacraments as “symbols,” which will prevent him from being truly sacramental.  But Lutheran theology would help him with his project, for example, by showing how justification by faith alone fits in with baptismal regeneration.

Lutheran theology would help other non-Lutherans work out their difficulties.  For example, Baptists are currently torn between Calvinist factions and Arminian factions.  Lutheran theology could show them how it is possible to hold to salvation by grace alone (divine monergism), as Calvinists do, while also affirming, like Arminians, the Universal Atonement, that Christ died for all, so that potentially anyone can be saved.

Why do you think Lutheranism so often gets left out of theological conversations in which it would be highly relevant?  It isn’t that Lutheranism is some tiny sect that few people adhere to.  Depending on the statistics, it’s the largest or the second-largest (after Anglicanism) body of Protestants in the world.  And yet it seems nearly unknown or mistakenly known in Anglo-American Christianity.

Part of the problem may be that Anglo-American Christianity is dominated by Calvinism, with its picture of the Calvinist Luther (the one who heroically started the Reformation but didn’t go far enough, with his work perfected by Calvin).  People therefore assume that they know what Luther believed–basically Calvinism plus an idiosyncratic view of the Lord’s Supper–and so they assume that he and his followers have little to add that they don’t already have in Calvin.  But maybe another part of the problem is the Lutherans’ fault in not interacting with any other Christians.

Any other ideas?

Illustration:  The Lutheran Reformation in Denmark, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[Read more…]

“Now He Is Very Near”


Happy Ascension Day!

Some people think that Christ’s ascension into Heaven means that He is no longer with us.  Not so.  His ascension back into the Godhead means that now He can be with us, more so now than when He was in the flesh two millennia ago.

Because of His ascension, He can promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”  (Matthew 28:20).  The Ascended Lord is with us in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, where two or three are gathered in His Name, in the hearts of those who believe in Him, and in His Church.

Far from being gone, Christ now “fills all things”:

He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. (Ephesians 4:10)

All things!

After the jump, read a profound passage from a sermon by Martin Luther on Ascension Day. [Read more…]

The invention of breakfast cereal and other wacky church history


You need to know about Luke T. Harrington, a Missouri Synod Lutheran who like me lives in Oklahoma.  He writes, among other places, at Christ and Pop Culture.  He has a series D-List Saints on “the many less-than-impressive moments in Christian history.”  For example, the time the Catholics had three popes; the story of Oliver Cromwell’s severed head; and how those little communion cups were invented.

Mr. Harrington is a very funny writer, but his pieces are also informative and often strangely inspiring.  (For example, Cromwell as an example of becoming what we hate.)

I have always thought that Lutheranism can be a good foundation for humor: a strong view of sin yielding a healthy cynicism about human pretensions; a Reformation-bred skepticism of man-made religiosity; an openness to pleasure that makes it OK to laugh.

After the jump, the opening and the link to Mr. Harrington’s latest piece on the invention of breakfast cereal, with a digression on why Baby Boomers eat it and Millennials don’t. . . . [Read more…]

The cup for the laity

The communion practice of the Roman Catholic Church, up until Vatican II, was for the priests to drink the wine.  Laypeople were only given the bread.

Brian Stiller, writing on the Christianity Today site, reflects on Luther and the Reformation as he sits in the City Church of Wittenberg.

He sees a detail in Lucas Cranach’s altarpiece–one that I hadn’t noticed before– that gives him a flash of insight into the Reformation.

Now Luther would not be happy with all of what the author says about Holy Communion, since Stiller believes that the Lord’s Supper consists of symbols rather than the true Body and Blood of Christ.  Stiller even extrapolates his conclusions into meals in general.

But he does pick up the detail that Luther is sitting around the Table at the Last Supper with Christ and His disciples.  And Luther gives the cup to a servant–a layman, not an apostle.  Stiller explains why this is so significant and why offering the cup to laypeople–imaged here on the altar–is so expressive of the Gospel as proclaimed in the Reformation.

UPDATE, FURTHER THOUGHTS:  We shouldn’t take this privilege for granted.  John Hus was burned at the stake largely because he insisted on giving laypeople the Blood of Christ. For us laypeople to receive the Cup means that we are all priests (the doctrine of vocation) and that there is no spiritual superiority of one caste or another in Christ’s Kingdom. And that He poured out His blood for all.

[Read more…]

“The way of life” vs. “The way of death”


“I believe that as an abortion provider, I am doing God’s work.”  So says Dr. Willie Parker, an abortionist who insists that he is a Christian.  New York Times columnist  Nicholas Kristof, in profiling him, claims that the conservative Christian consensus that abortion is murder is a late development, that the Bible doesn’t address the issue and that evangelicals often approved of it until just a few decades ago.

The estimable Dr. Al Mohler refutes all of this.  He admits, though, that one of Kristof’s points is valid:  Many evangelicals did approve of abortion or take a “moderate” position on the topic.  This was true even of the Southern Baptist Convention and Christianity Today up through the early 1970s.  (I believe anti-Catholicism had something to do with this.  I’m curious too if there is a relationship between a church’s stance on abortion and its position on infant baptism–do any of you know?)

At any rate, Dr. Mohler says the anti-life position of many evangelicals up until Roe v. Wade was unconscionable.  But that soon evangelicals returned to the historical Christian position on the topic.  (I believe Francis Schaeffer had a big influence on this.)

As for the historical Christian position, there is no doubt about that.  After the jump, I excerpt from Dr. Mohler’s essay quotations from the early church, which addressed abortion explicitly and in depth. [Read more…]