The marvel of Christ’s service to us

In his All Saints Day sermon that is worth reading in itself, our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, read a great quotation from Luther:

“There is no greater bondage than that of sin; and there is no greater service than that displayed by the Son of God, who becomes the servant of all, no matter how poor, wretched, or despised [we] may be, and bears [our] sins. It would be spectacular and amazing, prompting all the world to open ears and eyes, mouth and nose in uncomprehending wonderment, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent. But what is a king or an emperor compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred thousand times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital? And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us, the more He cleanses us, relieving us of all our misery and of the burden of all our sins and placing them upon His own back. All the holiness of the [world] stinks in comparison with this service of Christ, the fact that the beloved Lamb, the great Man, yes, the Son of the Exalted Majesty, descends from heaven to serve me” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 22, p. 166).

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: All Saints Sermon.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

I’ve had some posts about Tullian Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson and the successor to D. James Kennedy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.  He is a significant evangelical pastor who credits Lutherans (e.g., Bo Giertz; Harold Senkbeil; Rod Rosenbladt) for helping him to understand the full magnitude of the Gospel.  He has written a book about all of this–including how it impacted him as he went through some difficult times in his ministry–entitled  Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

I was asked to write a blurb for it, as were many others, including other evangelicals who resonate with what he has written.  They are all worth reading in themselves.  (Read them on the Amazon site that this post links to.)  I will just quote myself and Dr. Rosenbladt, whose work I also blogged about recently:

“Many Christians today assume that the gospel just has to do with conversion, for way back when they first came to faith. They have lost the sense, well known to Christians of the past, that the gospel is for every moment of their lives. As a result, they often fall into a moralism that can be, as this book shows, just as idolatrous, self-focused, and godless as immorality. This book shows how the good news of free forgiveness in the cross of Jesus Christ is the driving energy that makes the Christian life possible. Pastor Tchividjian tells about how he himself discovered the full magnitude of God’s grace in the midst of difficult times in his own ministry. He does so in a way that will bring relief, exhilaration, and freedom to struggling Christians.”
Gene Edward Veith Jr., provost, professor of Literature, Patrick Henry College; director, Cranach Institute, Concordia Theological Seminary; columnist; author

“In a powerful, concise, and popular style, Tchividjian announces, explicates, defends, and contrasts the gratuitous gospel of Christ’s person and work with the oft-misheld conviction of us sinners that, if we are somehow to be justified, it will have to be a matter of ‘making up for’ our offenses and of inward improvement. Chapter-by-chapter he argues that God’s saving plan is one of grace and not one of improvement. Filled with illustrations from his life as a pastor, this is no unapproachable, academic tome. But neither, thank God, is it today’s ‘Evangelical silly!’ Tchividjian wrestles openly with demons and their central lie in order that we truly ‘get’ what the Bible is really about. From every point on the compass, he contrasts ‘moral renovation’ with a free, one-sided rescue drenched in the blood of Jesus. Good news for everyone—but especially for Christians who are worn out by trying the other way, believing the lie, somehow knowing renovation isn’t working but knowing nowhere else to turn. Tchividjian is out to convince his reader that justification before God really is pure gift, is free, is by grace and through faith in Christ. . . sola!”
Rod Rosenbladt, professor of theology, Concordia University

via Amazon.com: Jesus + Nothing = Everything (9781433507786): Tullian Tchividjian: Books.

Theologians of the Cross

Another non-Lutheran discovers a Lutheran insight.  Carl Trueman, professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, posts about theologians of the cross as opposed to theologians of glory.  He explains it pretty well, I think:

One of the things that is so striking about the current revival of interest in Reformation theology, broadly conceived, is the absence of perhaps the most glorious contribution of Martin Luther to theological discourse: the notion of the theologian of the cross. . . .

At the heart of this new theology was the notion that God reveals himself under his opposite; or, to express this another way, God achieves his intended purposes by doing the exact opposite of that which humans might expect. The supreme example of this is the cross itself: God triumphs over sin and evil by allowing sin and evil to triumph (apparently) over him. His real strength is demonstrated through apparent weakness. This was the way a theologian of the cross thought about God.

The opposite to this was the theologian of glory. In simple terms, the theologian of glory assumed that there was basic continuity between the way the world is and the way God is: if strength is demonstrated through raw power on earth, then God’s strength must be the same, only extended to infinity. To such a theologian, the cross is simply foolishness, a piece of nonsense.

Now, some will respond: But the theology of the cross has not been forgotten; it is often talked about and discussed and even preached. But here’s the rub: in the Heidelberg Disputation Luther actually refers not to a theology of the cross but to theologians of the cross, underscoring the idea that he is not talking about some abstract theological technique or process but rather a personal, existential, real way that real flesh-and-blood theologians thought about, and related to, God. A person’s theology, whether true or false, good or bad, is inseparable from the individual’s personal faith.

At this Reformation season, we should not reduce the insights of Luther simply to justification by grace through faith. In fact, this insight is itself inseparable from the notion of that of the theologians of the cross. Sad to say, it is often hard to discern where these theologians of the cross are to be found. Yes, many talk about the cross, but the cultural norms of many churches seem no different to the cultural norms of — well, the culture. They often indicate an attitude to power and influence that sees these things as directly related to size, market share, consumerist packaging, aesthetics, youth culture, media appearances, swagger and the all-round noise and pyrotechnics we associate with modern cinema rather than New Testament Christianity. These are surely more akin to what Luther would have regarded as symptomatic of the presence and influence of theologians of glory rather than the cross. An abstract theology of the cross can quite easily be packaged and marketed by a theologian of glory. And this is not to point the finger at `them’: in fact, if we are honest, most if not all of us feel the attraction of being theologians of glory. Not surprising, given that being a theologian of glory is the default position for fallen human nature.

The way to move from being a theologian of glory to a theologian of the cross is not an easy one, not simply a question of mastering techniques, reading books or learning a new vocabulary. It is repentance.

via The Forgotten Insight – Reformation21 Blog.

What are some other applications?  If there is no “basic continuity between the way the world is and the way God is,” what happens to natural law?  natural theology?  How would this factor into various theological controversies today?

HT:  Joe Carter

The revised Roman Catholic liturgy

When we lived in Wisconsin, my wife taught at a Catholic school, which occasionally would hold mass.  This also led to friendships which occasionally took us to wedding and funeral masses.   I had thought that going to a Roman Catholic service would at least mean taking in some high church liturgy.  But more often than not, it meant folky guitars, praise songs even worse than those of Protestants, and flat sounding modernizations of liturgical language.  (I know not all masses were this way.  My harder-core Catholic friends would find more traditional services, with some getting in trouble for trying to recover the old Latin mass, though I think the English translation of the ritual was mandatory.)

But now, things are changing again, but they are changing back.  A newly-authorized and newly-mandatory English translation goes back to some of the older readings that are closer to the original Latin.  As a result, by the end of next month, American Catholics are going to have to get used to a whole new liturgy, one whose language is actually more traditional than what that they had gotten used to after the Vatican II reforms of the 1960s.

English-speaking Catholics are bracing for the biggest changes to their Mass since the 1960s, a shift some leaders warn could cause “ritual whiplash.”

The overhaul, which will become mandatory Nov. 27, is aimed at unifying the more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide with a translation that is as close as possible to the original Latin version. It allows for less independence and diversity of interpretation in a church that in recent decades has tried to retain more control over how Catholicism is defined.

Recent popes have emphasized orthodoxy and hierarchy, particularly in the West, where religious identity is increasingly fluid. Catholic hospitals and schools have been required to more clearly espouse church teachings, and Pope Benedict XVI has stressed the sole truth of Catholicism over other faiths, even declining this month to pray with Hindus, Jews and others at an interreligious event.

The new translation changes the majority of sentences in the Mass. The prayers and call-and-response dialogue between the priest and the congregation are different, transforming the dialogue that Catholics under 40 have used in church their entire lives. Some leaders warn that the shift could cause “ritual whiplash” among those accustomed to a worship script so familiar that most recite it from memory.

Reaction to the changes has been intense, in some ways fueling a Catholic culture war that began when the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s imposed far more sweeping changes designed to open up and modernize the church. Some traditionalists say the new translation of the ritual is richer and — because it’s less conversational — more mysterious and spiritual. . . .

Perhaps the most basic change will be when the priest says: “The Lord be with you.” The congregation will no longer say “And also with you.” The new response is “And with your spirit.”

via ‘Ritual whiplash’ ahead? Catholics’ Mass liturgy changing. – The Washington Post.

Another change is going from “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might” to “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of hosts.”  That last phrase is a translation of the even older “Sabaoth.”

Notice anything, Lutherans?  The language that is being changed in those two examples was the same language used in Lutheran Worship (a.k.a., the “blue hymnbook”) by way of the ELCA’s Lutheran Book of Worship (a.k.a., the “green hymnbook”)!   So why did Lutherans follow the lead of the Vatican II liturgists?

But there is more.  The “contemporary worship” vogue has also been connected to the Vatican II worship reforms.  The call to be less God-centered and more congregation-centered, the impulse to be culturally-relevant, and the value of worshipping in new ways–all of these notions came out of Vatican II.   So did the use of guitars, praise bands, and faux folk music (which was only a small step from pop music).  So why did evangelicals, along with Protestants of all sorts, follow the lead of the Vatican II liturgists?

It will now be interesting to see if the neo-traditionalism of this new mass will pave the way for Protestants to return to their own particular and diverse ways of worship.

I do think the new LCMS hymnal, the Lutheran Service Book, made this move before the Catholics did in restoring, with light modernization, the Divine Service found in The Lutheran Hymnal of the 1940s.  The LSB keeps the more modern blue hymnal liturgies too, among other options.  But it’s a good example of something “new” that is also “old.”

 

 

 

How to honor the saints

Thanks to Cincinnatus for bringing into focus for me a great paradox:  On the day after we mark the breaking of the church due to the always necessary struggle against how the church tends to fall into corruption and the obscuring of Christ’s Gospel (Reformation Day), we celebrate the unity of the church, how all who have faith in Christ constitute the everlasting “communion of the saints” (All Saints’ Day).

And now on that holiday, we can turn to the Lutheran Confessions to see how saints ought to be honored:

Our Confession approves honoring the saints in three ways. The first is thanksgiving. We should thank God because He has shown examples of mercy, because He wishes to save people, and because He has given teachers and other gifts to the Church. These gifts, since they are the greatest, should be amplified. The saints themselves, who have faithfully used these gifts, should be praised just as Christ praises faithful businessmen (Matthew 25:21, 23). The second service is the strengthening of our faith.When we see Peter’s denial forgiven, we also are encouraged to believe all the more that grace truly superabounds over sin (Romans 5:20). The third honor is the imitation, first of faith, then of the other virtues. Everyone should imitate the saints according to his calling. The adversaries do not require these true honors. They argue only about invocation, which, even if it were not dangerous, still is not necessary.

Source: Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article XXI Paragraphs 4-7. Concordia CPH: 2006, p. 202.

HT:  Paul McCain @ Thoughts for All Saints Day: We Feebly Struggle, They in Glory Shine | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

Saints that you have known

Have you ever met a saint?  I’m not just asking if you have met someone sure to be canonized by the Church of Rome, such as Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul II.  You most assuredly have met a saint, since all Christians, though simultaneously sinners, have that status in Christ.  But today being All Saints’ Day, let’s honor saints who have had an impact on your life and on your faith.  Who are some?  You don’t have to mention names, since saints are easily embarrassed, but tell about Christians you know or have known who made an impression on you because of their faith, love, and holiness, or their transparency to Christ, or however you want to describe it.


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