A Lutheran Catholic and vocation

Emil AntonOur hosts here in Finland arranged a city tour of Helsinki with Emil Anton.  As he works on his doctorate in theology, he works for a tour company, among other things, and has put together the “Holy Helsinki” tour of religious sites.  But Emil is also quite a Christian thinker himself.  He is a noteworthy author, speaker, and blogger (see this, for which the translator in your browser can give you an extremely rough translation, and this in English).

Emil is a Catholic who loves Luther and Lutheranism.  He says he is the kind of Christian Luther wanted:  an evangelical Catholic, a member of the historic church who, thanks to Luther, understands the Gospel.  Emil is interested in the whole breadth of Christianity.  He reads evangelical authors, such as Ravi Zacharias, and is writing his dissertation on Pope Benedict.  Emil–whose father is Iraqi (an Assyrian Catholic) and whose mother is Finnish and who is married to a Polish woman–is a fascinating model of contemporary Christianity.

Anyway, as he was telling us about the sights of Helsinki, we were also carrying on other conversations.  I commented on how I was struck by the way contemporary Catholic writers were discussing vocation.  Whereas the term “vocation” in a Catholic context used to only refer to the calling to religious orders, I have been seeing it used lately more as Luther used it.  Vatican II documents and papal encyclicals now talk about the “vocation” of laypeople, the “vocation” of marriage, the “vocation” of workers.  More than that, these documents also talk about the concept in ways that reflect the specific content of the Lutheran doctrine of vocation:  God works through human vocations.  The purpose of vocation is to love and serve our neighbors.

Emil said, “Right!  Which brings us to something I want to show you.”  Huh?, I thought.  What can he show me on a city tour in Finland that would bear on the new Catholic understanding of vocation? [Read more…]

Confessional Lutheranism in Finland

Martin_Rautanen_i_Olukonda_1899Imagine that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod suddenly went liberal.  Pastors of every gender and sexual identity, seminaries that ignored the Bible, the gospel replaced by leftwing politics–the whole way.  Also imagine that there were no other church bodies that you could go to instead–no Wisconsin Synod, no Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and, even though this might not be an option for you, hardly any Catholics, Orthodox, Reformed, or Baptists.

There were still some faithful pastors and congregations, carrying on with great courage despite an often hostile church bureaucracy.  But there aren’t any of these near where you live.

The Synod’s Recognized Service Organizations (RSOs), however, are still faithful and confessional.  These RSOs have been officially authorized by the church body to carry out specialized ministries.  They have the right to call pastors.

So these RSOs start holding worship services.  The pastors preside at the Divine Service and offer the Sacraments.  Though you keep your membership in your old congregation with its feminist pastor, you stop attending there on Sunday mornings and instead drive thirty miles each Sunday afternoon to worship with your fellow area conservatives at the offices of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation.

This is basically the situation of confessional Lutherans in Finland.  [Read more…]

Hank Hanegraff, the Bible Answer Man, joins the Orthodox Church

640px-Hank_HanegraaffHank Hanegraff, who hosts the Bible Answer Man radio show and who operates the Christian Research Institute, has converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.

An apologists for evangelicalism, Hanegraff and his ministry has spoken against Baptismal regeneration and the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.  This has put him against Lutheranism.

But now he is embracing the sacraments and other beliefs of Eastern Orthodoxy, including the doctrine of theosis.

He is foreswearing Protestantism, but he is continuing his work with the CRI and the Bible Answer Man.

[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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Eating, sacrifice, and the Gospel

640px-Good_Food_Display_-_NCI_Visuals_OnlineWhen a thale cress plant is being eaten by a caterpillar, it responds by sending out mustard oil, which is toxic to caterpillars.  Other stimuli doesn’t trigger this reaction.  Somehow the plant knows when it is being eaten.

Read about the research and watch a video about it after the jump.  One of the scientists who discovered this effect observes that plants have “behavior” just like animals do.  And they must have, in some sense, a kind of awareness.

Which speaks to us about the Gospel.  And Maundy Thursday.  As I have pointed out before, there can be no life without sacrifice of another life.  Another living being must die in order for us to live.  We call this eating.

We cannot be nourished by inorganic chemicals, minerals, rocks, or other objects.  We have to eat other living things.  It doesn’t matter whether we eat an animal or a plant.  A plant is just as alive as an animal is.  Even “fruititarians,” who will not destroy whole plants, are eating the living cells of their fruit.  No one can escape the reality that our life is sustained by death.  Or, rather, that death allows us to live.  And that life comes from death.

What is true in nature is a sign of what is supremely true spiritually.  Our spiritual life depends on God the Son’s self-sacrifice for us.  If we refuse His death for us, we die spiritually.  But His death gives us life and continues to nourish us.  Eventually, we will die physically, but, as with another natural sign that we see in plants, life comes from death.  We will be raised, just as Christ was raised.

And to sustain us with His sacrifice, on the night that He was betrayed,

Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the  covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28) 

 

[Read more…]

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…]