Wash and be clean

At church last Sunday we had texts on Naaman the Leper (2 Kings 5:1-14) and the leper who begged Jesus for healing (Mark 1:40-45).  The former, thinking to buy healing, came with $400,000 worth of silver and $4 million worth of gold (I appreciated how Pastor Douthwaite translated the ancient weights into their modern equivalence an worth).  The latter came with nothing but desperation.  God ended up healing them both, though not as Naaman expected.  Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon, all of which is worth reading, built up to this:

Sorry, Naaman! Who you are and what you got makes no difference – go, wash, and be clean. And sorry, Joe [the "ordinary Joe" in Mark]! Who you aren’t and what you don’t have makes no difference – I will; be clean. What makes the difference is not anything in these two men – what makes the difference is who our Lord is and what He has come to do. . . .

And now also for you. Also to you Jesus has said, I will; be clean. To heal you from the leprosy of your sin. For sin is the incurable nightmare that afflicts us. Sin is our death sentence, robbing us of life, separating us one from another. Satan doesn’t want you to think sin is so bad, and so he belittles sin in order to belittle our Saviour. He doesn’t want you to think you sin is so bad, and he wants to convince you that you can cover it up with the good you do. But that’s like putting make up on leprosy – you may look okay on the outside, but the disease is still eating you away. . . .

And so Jesus has provided a water of cleansing for you, that like Naaman, you may go, wash, and be clean; that like Joe, He may touch you and cleanse you. And when you are baptized, that’s exactly what happens. All your uncleanness washed away in the forgiveness of your sins. Not because the water is so great – that was Naaman’s objection, remember? What’s so great about the Jordan? What’s so great about the water in the font of baptism? Well, nothing. It’s not the water, but the Word and promise of God attached to the water, that if Naaman washed in the Jordan, that if you wash here, you will be touched by Jesus and you will be clean.

That’s why infant baptism is such a great thing! Babies bring nothing to the font, they can’t even bring themselves – they have to be carried. But that’s exactly the point. It was all the Lord with Naaman, it was all Jesus with Joe, and it is all Jesus here. All the work of the Lord. It is His touch, His washing, His healing, His giving spiritual life. All the baby, and all we can do, is receive it. For that is why Jesus came. To come to us sinners with His: I will, be clean. . . .

Now, there are plenty of modern-day Naamans, who say water can’t do that; that’s it’s empty; that it’s just water. Many who want something more spectacular and awe-inspiring. But what can be more precious or great than this? That our Saviour puts Himself here for you. That His life is here for you, and for your children, and for all who are far off. As Naaman’s servant said: This is a great word. A simple message, a simple washing, but a great salvation.

So despite how these two men may have been quite different, in the end, what mattered most is what made them the same – they were dying and needed life. And that is what makes all of us the same as well. And for all the same, the Lord of life has come. So that whether you’re a Naaman or a Joe or somewhere in between, you have a merciful Saviour – the Lord of life who came to die, so that the dying have life. The holy one come to become unclean, so that the unclean be holy.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Epiphany 6 Sermon.

French court rules in favor of de-baptism

Using the law to deny that a historical event occurred.  Another example of the government and the law and unbelievers not understanding theology enough even to oppose it:

In France, an elderly man is fighting to make a formal break with the Catholic Church. He’s taken the church to court over its refusal to let him nullify his baptism, in a case that could have far-reaching effects.

Seventy-one-year-old Rene LeBouvier’s parents and his brother are buried in a churchyard in the tiny village of Fleury in northwest France. He himself was baptized in the Romanesque stone church and attended mass here as a boy. . . .

But his views began to change in the 1970s, when he was introduced to free thinkers. As he didn’t believe in God anymore, he thought it would be more honest to leave the church. So he wrote to his diocese and asked to be un-baptized. “They sent me a copy of my records, and in the margins next to my name, they wrote that I had chosen to leave the church,” he says.

That was in the year 2000. A decade later, LeBouvier wanted to go further. In between were the pedophile scandals and the pope preaching against condoms in AIDS-racked Africa, a position that LeBouvier calls “criminal.” Again, he asked the church to strike him from baptismal records. When the priest told him it wasn’t possible, he took the church to court.

Last October, a judge in Normandy ruled in his favor. The diocese has since appealed, and the case is pending.

“One can’t be de-baptized,” says Rev. Robert Kaslyn, dean of the School of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America.

Kaslyn says baptism changes one permanently before the church and God.

 “One could refuse the grace offered by God, the grace offered by the sacrament, refuse to participate,” he says, “but we would believe the individual has still been marked for God through the sacrament, and that individual at any point could return to the church.”

 French law states that citizens have the right to leave organizations if they wish. Loup Desmond, who has followed the case for the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, says he thinks it could set a legal precedent and open the way for more demands for de-baptism.

 “If the justice confirms that the name Rene LeBouvier has to disappear from the books, if it is confirmed, it can be a kind of jurisprudence in France,” he says.

Up to now, observers say the de-baptism trend has been marginal, but it’s growing. In neighboring Belgium, the Brussels Federation of Friends of Secular Morality reports that 2,000 people asked to be de-baptized in 2010. The newspaper Le Monde estimated that about 1,000 French people a year ask to have their baptisms annulled.

via Off The Record: A Quest For De-Baptism In France : NPR.

HT:  Mary

 

Lutheran pastor attacks Lutheran view of Lord’s Supper

An article on the Christian Post website and picked up by RealClearReligion is an in-your-face attack on the Lutheran theology of the Lord’s Supper.  The thing is, the author,  Dan Delzell, is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.

The church website says that it rejects membership in any synods, as being hierarchical like Roman Catholics, but it is affiliated with the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), which broke away from the ELCA for being too liberal.  The LCMC says it holds to the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Small Catechism, both of which have clear teaching on the Lord’s Supper.

Here is Rev. Delzell’s article:  The Lord’s Supper Helps Christians ‘Keep it Real’, Christian News.

It is so full of misunderstandings and theological bloopers that one does not know where to begin.  I know, of course, that other theological traditions reject the Lutheran understanding of Christ’s real bodily presence in the Supper (not “consubstantiation”!) so that the bread and wine are the true body and blood of our Savior given for the forgiveness of sin.  I don’t, however, expect a Lutheran pastor to reject this teaching or to misunderstand it in such a spectacular way.  In what sense, I wonder, can he still consider himself a Lutheran?

How would you answer what he says, setting the record straight for the readers of the Christian Post?

“I’m neither religious nor spiritual–I’m a Lutheran”

You know that viral video from the guy who says he hates religion but loves Jesus?  Well, Anthony Sacramone kind of agrees with him:

I like to say that I’m neither religious nor spiritual — I’m a Lutheran. It’s more than just left of pithy; it’s true. I have zero interest in religion. I had plenty of it as a kid. Sunday school; religion classes in my Lutheran parochial schools; confirmation classes. I was an acolyte and a winner of some religion-essay contest at the tender age of 9. And then there was church. And the inevitable Monday morning role call. Every Monday, our home room teacher would ask whether we had gone to church, Sunday school, both, or neither. After about age 11 I was racking up an impressive list of neithers. I would do anything to get out of going. To this day, I cannot remember a single word any pastor ever preached on any text. Church was something to endure. And among many of the Lutherans of my childhood, it didn’t seem to matter. They subscribed to Woody Allen’s shallow philosophy: just showing up was good enough.

And when I was finally confirmed, I was not just an adult in the eyes of the church; I was also free. Free never to have to endure the brain-sapping banality that was my religion. And we’re not talking about a denomination exactly given to legalism. In fact, it had very few rules. Really, it had just one: show up. Just show up. And that was enough to make my religion unbearable. Because I wanted to be anywhere but there.

If only someone had told me to read Luther. Real Luther, not Sunday school Luther. The Luther who killed religion. . . .

What exactly did the religious folk want of Jesus? They wanted a king. And Jesus gave them one “in the form of a slave.” They wanted relief from oppression, and they got parables. They wanted a kingdom, and they got the cross — a young Jewish man of dubious parentage apparently crushed by the collision of church and state but in reality bearing the iniquity of us all to reconcile us to a holy God, to inoculate us against sin, death, and the devil, to bury us alongside him, so he could raise us to eternal life. Their prayers were answered in the most startlingly appalling way: they received not power but promises.

Christianity isn’t a religion. It’s a conundrum. And no one has ever wrestled with and wrung the truth out of that conundrum better than Martin Luther. And it took a class at NYU to introduce me to his inimitable voice.

Luther hated that God who demanded perfect righteousness from an original sinner but who had already rigged the game with election. How could this possibly be good news? Where was hope of being a saint when you were still a sinner? How could a perfect God understand the weight of guilt, the pain of betrayal, the agony of a broken body? Luther had failed to bridge the chasm between a wrathful God and lowly, raging, libidinous man with his fastings and law keeping. How could he possibly get from despair to hope?

It was in the communication of properties — the dual nature of Christ understood such that we can speak of the death of the Son of God and the true union of God and man — that Luther saw a way out and was able slowly to forge the key to the Christian conundrum: Jesus takes my sin and gives me his righteousness. His righteousness. There is real union, but it is predicated on faith, trust in the promises, not an ascent on our part, but a condescension on his. We are passive recipients of a gift, which is Christ’s own flesh. He really took our sin into his own flesh on Calvary and he really communicates his favor and forgiveness by feeding us that same flesh. Because life is in the blood. The worst crime in history — he who called heaven and earth into being with his Word fixed immobile to two cross beams — is the only hope anyone has of true freedom.

The church should be the place where you hear the promises of God, and embrace them as your own. The Father’s wrath at his broken law should terrify you such that you run from him to Jesus, from the Just Judge to the Righteous Redeemer, who delivers not a sentence but his own self. If what you get instead is therapy or law or even encouragement to try harder, climb higher, or even to just show up, then you have religion, and you are doomed.

via Strange Herring | And other signs that the end is nearish.

Read it all.

This, of course, is the “theology of the cross” as compared to “the theology of glory.”

Do you see what he is saying?  I’m touched by the account of his childhood post-confirmation alienation from the church.  If we could teach the radical nature of the gospel and the theology of the cross more consistently, as opposed to just memorizing answers and “just showing up,” would that make a difference?  Or are young people at that particular age more interested in a “theology of glory,” being oblivious to the grace that is hidden in an ordinary, boring church service?  Whereas, perhaps, after failing and suffering and becoming cynical for awhile, they are ready to come back?

A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod

Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk converted to Lutheranism, something we discussed at length not too long ago.  Many of us were dismayed that we went the route of the ELCA rather than the more conservative synods (LCMS, WELS, ELS). He addresses that, with reference to our discussions here, in a recent post entitled The Post-Evangelical Path and Wilderness Update.

One reason he said in that latter post is that he couldn’t join the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod because we insist on 7-day creationism and he has a different position.  I’ve heard that said by other folks who have a problem with that teaching and thus with the LCMS.  But that was new to me.  Where, I wondered, is that taught as a binding doctrine?

I found it in a document entitled “A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of he Missouri Synod,” which was put out in 1932.  Here is a link:  LCMS Documents.

The article on Creation does specify that we follow the Bible literally in its account of the creation, including that it happened in 6 days.  It does not, however, contrary to what I had heard, specify “24 hour days” or that this is a “young earth,” issues that came to the fore well after 1932.

I myself would have no problem subscribing to the “Brief Statement,” but I’m curious about its status and its authority.  The “Brief Statement” has lots of good stuff in it.  At the same time, I was surprised to see how much it leaves out.  There is a section on the means of grace, but I saw nothing specifically on the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and hardly anything  about Baptism.  Quite a bit on church & ministry, but nothing on worship.  It speaks of good works, but not vocation.  There is nothing on the Theology of the Cross.  It addresses Justification but not the Atonement.  There are sections on predestination and conversion that stress certain similarities of  Lutheranism to Calvinism.  In all, it seems to be a very Protestant document.

To be sure, it points to the Book of Concord as the definitive exposition of Lutheran theology, not in itself but only because it is derived from the Word of God, the only true authority.

Could someone who knows tell us a little about this document?  It can’t be on the level of the Book of Concord.  When we laypeople join the church we agree to the Word of God as confessed in the Small Catechism, as well as the confessions in the Book of Concord.  Does a layperson have to believe in everything in the “Brief Statement”?  Do pastors?

I believe the “Brief Statement” is one of those documents adopted by convention, along with other statements from the Commission on Theology & Church Relations and the like.  These too have an official status.  To what degree must a member of the LCMS subscribe to those?  (And do WELS, ELS, and other conservative Lutheran bodies–especially those in the old Synodical Council–also sign on to this?)

I agree that the church cannot just rest on its past confessions and must address new theological issues as they arise.  Should the LCMS come up with a rather less brief statement of its doctrinal position, setting forth Lutheran teachings more fully and dealing with recent theological controversies (the new perspective on Paul; the current questioning about justification and the atonement, the inerrancy of Scripture, etc.)?  Or is it better to stick with the historic confessions and leave some things open?

Newt wasn’t married after all!

Newt Gingrich is on his third marriage, but the Roman Catholic church, which does not believe in divorce, has granted him  at least one and maybe two annulments!  According to canon law,  annulled marriages were never marriages at all.  So if there was no marriage, there was no adultery, no divorces, and Newt is a once-married paragon of family values.

From the New York Times:

In 1980, Mr. Gingrich left his wife of nearly 20 years, the former Jackie Battley, for Marianne Ginther, with whom he was having an affair. In 1981, Mr. Gingrich married Ms. Ginther, but he later left her for Callista Bisek, with whom he had been having an affair for several years. They married in 2000.

The third Ms. Gingrich is a Catholic, and in 2002, Mr. Gingrich asked the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta to annul his second marriage on the ground that the former Ms. Ginther had been previously married. “We were married 19 years, and now he wants to say it didn’t exist,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In 2009, Mr. Gingrich converted to Catholicism. It is not clear if he ever tried to have annulled his first marriage, which, if between two baptized Christians, would be considered valid by the Catholic Church. Mr. Gingrich’s spokesman, R. C. Hammond, could not be reached by telephone and did not reply to e-mails.

OK, so we don’t know if Newt got an annulment for the first marriage, but apparently he is a communicant member of the church, which must be satisfied with his status.  Here is a Catholic take on the question:

To the fact that Gingrich has re-married twice, as part of his coming into the church he went through the annulment process and as a result of those findings is validly married in the eyes of the church. This may not impress those who do not like or understand the church’s annulment process, but it does give Catholics who wish to forgive Gingrich his previous infidelities some evidence that he has attempted to make right. Catholics, as often as they encounter scandal and disappointment in their elected leaders, want to hope that forgiveness and conversion is possible, too.

via The Catholic Case For Gingrich, For Now.

How a valid, legal, consummated marriage that lasted nearly two decades–with children, who thus must be considered illegitimate–can be annulled by the church staggers the mind and the moral imagination.  Surely that practice is worse than divorce, bad as that is, since divorce at least faces up to what the breaking of a marriage is and does not cover it up with a pious facade.  (In effect, annulments are divorces granted by the church, even as it (commendably) teaches against divorce!  Protestant churches may be too tolerant of divorces, but at least they don’t grant them!)

This is not a matter of simply undoing church actions.  The Gingriches were not Catholic at the time of their marriage.  I have heard that annulment simply recognizes that a marriage was not valid.  In this case because the previous Mrs. Gingrich had been married before.  But other reasons for annulment include such things as immaturity at the time of the marriage or the two not knowing what they were getting into so as to prevent proper consent.   So what I want to know is how any of us can know if we are really married.   I could go on and on citing other problems with this, but I’ll stop.  This just seems like ecclesiastical over-reaching of the sort that necessitated the Reformation.

Maybe I’m missing something.  I’d be glad to hear from a Catholic who could justify this practice.


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