A confessional text on marriage, natural law & human law

Philip-Melanchthon

Since Lutherans believe that marriage is a civil ordinance rather than a sacrament (though still established by God that speaks to us of Christ and the Church), they have traditionally looked to the state for marriage laws.

But now that the state has legalized same-sex marriage, contrary to the Scriptures, this would seem to have put Lutherans in a bind.

But, as Rev. John Hill has pointed out in his lectures on truth, the Lutheran confessions do offer a framework for addressing this.

In Article XXIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Philipp Melanchthon explains why priests should be allowed to marry, despite the prohibitions of canon law.

In doing so, he discusses natural law (who says Lutherans don’t believe in that?), its connection to divine law (since God created the natural order), and how human-made laws must not conflict with them.

I know how liberal Lutherans will take Article XXIII:  As it says, lifelong celibacy is impossible for most people.  That would include homosexuals.  Marriage is God’s provision for sexual desire.  Therefore, homosexuals should be allowed to marry each other, and human laws against it should carry no weight.

But Melanchthon is specifically talking, in detail, about the sexual love between men and women.  This is what is grounded in natural and divine law, and nothing else.  Human laws that teach something to the contrary, including no doubt laws with a different definition of marriage, should carry no weight.  Melanchthon also discusses “concupiscence,” which is disordered sexual desire, which would include all kinds of sexual immorality.  I suspect he would include homosexuality in that category.

Read the Apology, Article XXIII, after the jump. [Read more…]

Misunderstanding the cultural influence of the Reformation

Lucas_Cranach_(II)_-_Martin_Luther_&_Philipp_Melanchthon

The cultural influence of the Reformation is getting lots of attention on this 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses.  But the topic is often treated with a theological ignorance that is surprising to find in works of scholarship.

The Nation has a long article on the subject, quoted and linked after the jump, which is essentially a review essay of several new books on Luther and Protestantism.   As the article observes, the Reformation is often credited or blamed for opposite influences:  for a new personal piety and for the rise of secularism; for recovering the Bible and for launching modernity; for the rise of individualism and for the rise of the nation state; for inventing freedom and for capitalist oppression, etc., etc.

The article by Elizabeth Bruenig, drawing on the books she is reviewing, says that what Luther did was to make religion a private, inward matter.  Whereas the external world–including the state, the society, the economic order–was irrelevant spiritually.  Therefore, it was allowed to run along on its own without a religious context (as in Catholicism).  Thus the rise of secularism, modernity, science, and a world that does not need to consider God.

Meanwhile, the inner spiritual life that Luther encouraged had the additional effect of questioning all external authority, making a space for freedom and undermining institutions, which also had a secularizing and eventually revolutionary effect.

But this analysis, while citing Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms,  completely misunderstands what it means–to the point of interpreting it to mean its opposite.  And it utterly ignores one of Luther’s greatest and most culturally influential theological contributions, the place where he directly addressed the value of the “secular” realm and to the role it plays in the Christian’s faith; namely, his doctrine of vocation.

What other examples of theological illiteracy do you see in this article?  (Hint:  Did Luther really teach a theology based on inwardness, with individuals going inside themselves for a purely interior relationship with God?)

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Marriage Is a Civil Matter, Not a Church Power

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With the government legalizing same sex marriage, many Christians and their pastors are asking, what does marriage have to do with the state?  It’s a religious institution.  Let the church marry people and the state can stay out of it.

Some pastors are marrying couples who aren’t bothering to get a marriage license.  In some cases, elderly couples are asking pastors to marry them “in the eyes of God, but not the state” so that they can avoid the legal entanglements and financial issues that come with an official, government sanctioned marriage.

But Rev. John Frahm explains why the church cannot marry people outside of the civil ordinances.  If you are a Catholic, believing that marriage is a sacrament, that might work.  But not if you are a Protestant.  This was actually an issue during the Reformation.  The church had so many restrictions and so much control over marriages that the Reformers pushed for the civil authorities to regulate and conduct marriages, which would then be blessed in a church service.  (Or conducted in a church with the pastor functioning as an officer of the state.  “By the power vested in me by the state of Oklahoma, I now pronounce you husband and wife.”)

Lutherans particularly cannot “leave the government out of marriage.”  Their confessions and theology don’t let them.

This by no means diminishes the value or significance of marriage, which was established by God and which mirrors Christ and the Church.  God is still the One who “joins together” (Matthew 19:6).  It’s just that God uses the civil realm to bring men and women into this vocation.

But what if the state interferes with God’s design, as it is doing with same sex marriage, easy divorce laws, and the like?  Pastors mustn’t cooperate with those.  But that doesn’t negate the state’s general responsibility for marriage.

Read Rev. Frahm’s discussion after the jump.

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The cup for the laity

The communion practice of the Roman Catholic Church, up until Vatican II, was for the priests to drink the wine.  Laypeople were only given the bread.

Brian Stiller, writing on the Christianity Today site, reflects on Luther and the Reformation as he sits in the City Church of Wittenberg.

He sees a detail in Lucas Cranach’s altarpiece–one that I hadn’t noticed before– that gives him a flash of insight into the Reformation.

Now Luther would not be happy with all of what the author says about Holy Communion, since Stiller believes that the Lord’s Supper consists of symbols rather than the true Body and Blood of Christ.  Stiller even extrapolates his conclusions into meals in general.

But he does pick up the detail that Luther is sitting around the Table at the Last Supper with Christ and His disciples.  And Luther gives the cup to a servant–a layman, not an apostle.  Stiller explains why this is so significant and why offering the cup to laypeople–imaged here on the altar–is so expressive of the Gospel as proclaimed in the Reformation.

UPDATE, FURTHER THOUGHTS:  We shouldn’t take this privilege for granted.  John Hus was burned at the stake largely because he insisted on giving laypeople the Blood of Christ. For us laypeople to receive the Cup means that we are all priests (the doctrine of vocation) and that there is no spiritual superiority of one caste or another in Christ’s Kingdom. And that He poured out His blood for all.

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Assault on pro-life doctors

8928257201_d2ce02e317_zThe Hippocratic Oath specifically forbids physicians from committing abortion or euthanasia.  So that oath isn’t used much in the medical profession any more.  But doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in the United States can still refuse to perform abortions on the grounds of conscience.

But now a concerted effort is underway to eliminate that conscience provision.  Lawmakers, professional organizations, and medical ethicists are considering making it a requirement that doctors do whatever their patients request.  “Personal morality has no place in medical practice.”

Under the proposed changes, a pro-life obstetrician must either perform the abortion or arrange for someone else to do it.  Or go into a different specialty.  Or leave the medical profession.

Wesley J. Smith reports on what is happening, linked after the jump, focusing on a recent article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. [Read more…]

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…]