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.

[Read more…]

Holy Sepulchre needs more repair or it might collapse

Domes_of_the_Church_of_the_Holy_SepulchreRestoration work on the shrine built around the likely spot of Christ’s tomb has been completed.  (See this and this and this.)  But researchers have found that the shrine and the surrounding complex have been built on unstable ground.  Without more work, there could someday be a “catastrophic” collapse.

The “edicule,” the small building around the tomb that has been restored, preserves the remnants of a cave.  It was once part of a quarry that had been turned into grave sites for wealthy Jews.  (Note the confirmation of what the Bible says about Joseph of Arimathea, who offered the grave that he owned for the body of Jesus.)  A number of those other grave sites have also been discovered on the property.  The quarry is also thought to have been the site of “the Place of the Skull,” the Golgotha where criminals were executed.  This is why the Church of the Holy Sepulchre complex also includes the reported site of the crucifixion.

The site over the ancient quarry is honeycombed with other caves and tunnels from the mining.  The current structure is also built on top of tons of rubble, not only from the quarry but from layers of  building and rebuilding over the centuries.  Plus, the graves were dug into a slope.  Drainage problems and damage from so many visitors are compounding the problem.

Researchers are proposing a six million euro project to shore up the buildings and to stabilize the foundations.  The construction work would be accompanied with more archaeological excavation.
[Read more…]

And now, Network Christianity

Lots of Christians supported Donald Trump, for many different reasons.  Some didn’t approve of him, but thought that he would be better than Hillary Clinton.  Some thought Trump would be more favorable to the pro-life cause.  Some thought he would be better on religious liberty.  Some thought Trump would bring more jobs, shake up the status quo, and make America great again.  Most Christians who supported him probably did so for various of these reasons.  But some apparently supported him for theological reasons.

Did you notice how a number of Pentecostal groups, particularly those influenced by TV preachers, were with Trump from the beginning and expressed no qualms about some of his questionable behavior?

According to a recent book on the subject by Brad Christerson and Richard Flory (published by Oxford University Press), there is  a new movement within Pentecostal and charismatic circles.  The authors call it “Independent Network Charismatic”–or “INC”–Christianity.  It doesn’t focus on evangelism or building congregations, nor speaking in tongues or performing miracles.  Though of course Pentecostalists and charismatics continue to care about and to practice such things, this particular strain is solely about acquiring influence.  And it is based not at all on a church, but on independent networks of leaders known as “Apostles.”

INC Christianity teaches that there are “seven mountains of culture”:  business, government, media, arts & entertainment, education, family, and religion.  The idea is that if Christians “capture” each of these mountains–that is, assume leadership in these fields–the nation’s problems will be solved and they will “bring heaven to earth.”

These Network Christians still believe in signs and wonders:  They are convinced that one of them was the election of Donald Trump, whom they consider to be God’s chosen agent to bring in the kingdom of Heaven on earth.

These are not to be confused with Dominionists or Theonomists, who are Calvinists.  Nor do they seem to be millennialists, either pre- or post-, though I could be wrong about that.  (Please enlighten me if you know.)  They are charismatics, seeing leadership in all of these areas as a sort of spiritual gift. UPDATE:  They also strike me as applying the “prosperity gospel”–which these groups also hold to–on the national level.  These leaders are part of the New Apostolic Reformation movement, which more fully accounts for their theology.

I suspect all Christians who support Trump or who are active in politics or who seek cultural impact will get tarred with this brush.  You can ascend those seven mountains–if that is your vocation–without buying into the theology behind these “networks.”  But you should be aware that this new social gospel is in the air. [Read more…]

St. Patrick’s confession

5692057805_2a4b7d530b_zInstead of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by just wearing green, making a big deal about being Irish, drinking green beer, or marching in parades, try reading the works of St. Patrick and reflecting on his Christian faith and convictions.

Observe St. Patrick’s Day this year by reading the great missionary’s own story, as he tells about his life and confesses his faith in Christ.

Read “The Confession of St. Patrick” after the jump.

Also read his beautiful poem/meditation/hymn “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” also known as “Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me.”

And read our earlier post The True Meaning of St. Patrick’s Day.  Note the link to How the Irish Saved Civilization and reflect, who is going to save it today?
[Read more…]