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.

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What the Reformation did for preaching

Evangelical theologian Timothy George has written a fascinating and illuminating post entitled “How the Reformation Recovered Preaching.”

Prof. George shows not only historical facts about how the Reformation put the sermon back into the worship service.  (Before, sermons were only given on special occasions, and often outdoors instead of in the sanctuary.)  Drawing deeply on Luther, He also explores the theology of the sermon, which is a “sacramental event.”

Read highlights after the jump.

(Painting by Lucas Cranach, Altarpiece at St. Mary’s Church, Wittenberg.  Reproduction by Torsten Schleese (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)

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The pastor who baptized a murderer

Emanuel_African_Methodist_Episcopal_(AME)_Church_CorrectedDylann Roof, who was sentenced to death for murdering nine African-Americans at a Bible study, had been baptized at the age of 2 in the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, an ELCA congregation in Charleston, SC.

The pastor who baptized him, Rev. Richard Graf,  is now in the news, trying to explain the Lutheran doctrine of Baptism and how there is still hope even for this monstrous killer if he turns back to Christ.

Is his explanation adequate?  Does anything else need to be said?

 

Photo of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston [site of the shootings] by Cal Sr from Newport, NC, US [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons [Read more…]

A new approach to evangelism

prayer-1143598_640The traditional approach to evangelism, according to Ed Stetzer of Christianity Today, has started with presenting the Gospel to unbelievers.  The new approach, he says, starts with getting them involved with the church.  In the course of their relationships in the community of Christians, they will come to believe.

He sums up the two models this way:  Old:  Believe, Become, Belong.  New:  Belong, Believe, Become.

For more details, read the excerpts and the article linked after the jump.

As a Lutheran, I do see that bringing an unbelieving friend to church is a good way to evangelize that person, since a pastor, by virtue of his call, is going to proclaim the Gospel better than I can.  And yet, the church is a community of Christians, not something non-Christians can fully enter into, even if they wanted to, and I’m not sure they do.

And what makes a non-believer into a believer is the Gospel.  Even if the non-believer becomes, to some measure, a part of the  community and comes to have Christian friends who are good influences, at some point that friend–or the pastor, or someone–is going to have to tell the person about Christ.  (Actually, bring the person to the point of repentance through the Law, so as to make the hearer receptive to the Gospel.)  At that point, the “old” model would seem to reassert itself.

Actually, both models seem inadequate.  Baptism is nowhere mentioned.  Nor is Law, which leads to Gospel.  The very breaking down of the process into steps seems to go against the organic, unique, and varied way the Holy Spirit works.

What do you think about these approaches?

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The formal and the material principles of theology

The “formal principle” of a particular theology is its source and authority.  The “material principle” of a theology is its central teaching, the characteristic “content” of the theology that shapes its other teachings and practices.

In the course of some research for a project I am working on, I learned that this distinction emerged out of Lutheran scholarship.  But it’s a helpful way to understand any theological tradition.

Wikipedia has an entry on the subject that lists the formal and material principles of Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Zwinglianism, Calvinism, and Methodism.

These are taken from F. E. Mayer’s classic study The Religious Bodies of America.  I give them after the jump.

These are theologies, not church bodies, and it’s evident that various evangelicals might be “Zwinglians,” “Calvinists,” or “Methodists” (a.k.a. Arminians).  But there are still Baptist, Pentecostal, and other theologies, including popular expressions such as “the prosperity gospel.”  How would you break down their formal and material principles?

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A rite for changing to a new gender?

30108554503_82b923c684_zAt Baptism, among other things, a child is named.  So what about those who later get a new name along with a new gender?  Some LGBT activists in churches are urging the adoption of a new service “akin to baptism” to mark and to formally bless transgender transitions.

Officials of the Church of England have tabled a proposal to that effect.  The General Synod meeting next week will NOT change church teachings about sexuality, it has been announced, and will NOT change the definition of marriage to allow for same-sex weddings.

But transgender re-baptisms, naming ceremonies, or the equivalent, are on the agenda of progressive church activists in many denominations.  They are already happening, as a Google search will show.

How does this show a misunderstanding of Baptism? [Read more…]