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There are people who profess to be Christians who nevertheless don’t believe that Jesus was conceived “by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary” without a human father.  But the notion that this teaching is a mythological accretion or a misunderstanding of the language is being shot down.  The virgin birth of Jesus is best explained as a historical fact.

My fellow Patheos blogger Tom Hobson (Ph.D., Concordia Seminary), a Presbyterian pastor and former professor, makes this point in his blog Biblical Words and World.  (I commend to you that blog, which explores the historical contexts of Scripture.  His New Year’s day post on the Roman calendar fixation, alluded to in Galatians 4:10, tosses off the observation that this year, in 2018, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day and Easter coincides with April Fool’s Day!)

Since this is still Christmas and will be until Saturday, which is Epiphany, it’s good to consider Dr. Hobson’s post Logical Grounds for the Virgin Birth.

Drawing on various scholarly sources, he points out that there is really no precedent in the Jewish, Greco-Roman, or Middle Eastern traditions for a virgin birth.  It would be off for anyone in those cultures to make up such a thing.  Some have claimed that the teaching is “mythological,” pointing to myths of deities impregnating mortal women. But those are stories of human-like beings having sexual relations with humans, so they are far from being depictions of virgin births.

Dr. Hobson also points out that very, very early opponents of Christianity were saying that Jesus had been an illegitimate child, which is evidence that accounts of the unusual circumstances of Jesus’ birth were circulating at a quite early date and that the virgin birth is not the product of a long forming “tradition” as some have said.

There are more reasons to believe in the virgin birth as well, including, of course, the theological reasons.  Read Dr. Hobson’s post.

I remember the controversies around the Revised Standard Version of the Bible came out, a modernization of the King James Bible that availed itself of the results of the latest higher critical Biblical scholarship. That version translated Isaiah 7:14 (“a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son”) as “a young woman shall conceive and bear a son.”  The reasoning is that the Hebrew word “alma” is just the word for “young woman.”

Now there is certainly other Biblical reasons for confessing the virgin birth than the words of that prophecy, particularly the detailed narrative in the Gospel of Luke.  And Matthew 1:23 says that the birth of Jesus fulfills the words of Isaiah 7:14, whereupon he quotes from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew, which renders “alma” with “parthenos,” which definitely means “virgin.”

But in a separate post, Dr. Hobson shows that “alma” can indeed mean “virgin.”

This is taken up in depth by Daniel Hoffman in Is “Virgin” the Correct Translation of Isaiah 7:14? — Knowing Scripture.  He does a thorough job of dealing with the linguistic evidence that “alma” had the connotations of virginity.  (It would seem that the Jewish scholars who translated the Septuagint knew their language better than some modern higher critics do.)

He then takes up an issue that had always puzzled me.  The context of Isaiah 7:14 has to do with King Ahaz, who is faced with a military threat from both Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel, both of whom have allied with Assyria and are putting the southern kingdom of Judah in jeopardy.  In a show of false piety, King Ahaz declines to ask God for a sign, but Isaiah says that God will give him a sign anyway:  “A virgin shall conceive a child. . . .”  And before that child can tell right from wrong, these threatening kings will be no more.  So the passage sounds like it refers to a child being born contemporary to Ahaz.

Daniel Hoffman points out that “a young woman” bearing a child happens all the time and would not be much of a sign, certainly not one “deep as Sheol” as the Lord offered.  Also, the “you” in the prophecy is plural, so it applies not just to Ahaz but to others as well, he says to the entire royal house.  Also, the kingdoms of Syria, Israel, and Assyria ended long after Ahaz’s lifetime.

Furthermore, just two chapters later, we see the prophecy about the child who will be called, “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:7).

The prophecy does apply to King Ahaz, whose unrighteousness helps bring on the fall of the House of David as Judah’s royal rulers, even though the Messiah will be born from “the stump of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1).  Concludes Hoffman,

Ahaz and his house would have no royal power when this sign came to fulfillment. Because of Ahaz’s capitulation to Assyria, Judah would become a puppet-state and hardly ever again be a fully independent power, but would be subject to foreign empires in one way or another even until the time of Christ. As Motyer puts it, “Because of [Ahaz’s] unbelief the promised Messiah would be born into poverty, heir to a meaningless throne in a conquered land.” In this regard, the sign of the virgin birth functions partly as a word of judgment: Immanuel would have no human father, and thus Ahaz and his successors would not father the royal Savior in a physical sense. The virgin birth implies a broader judgment than this though: It is a judgment on human nature. Not human nature as such or as created, but simply on human nature as corrupt in Adam. The rebuke on Ahaz is thus ultimately turned into a blessing, as the child born of the virgin would mean the birth of a new Adam, ultimately saving not only Israel but offering a fresh start to the whole of humanity.

 Painting by Gerard van Honthorst (1622) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 

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It’s Christmas, hailed in at least one secular song as “the most wonderful time of the year!”  This is a Christian holiday.  But why do so many non-Christians celebrate it?

Nine out of ten Americans celebrate Christmas.  (And the 10% who don’t includes strict Christians who reject the holidays in the liturgical calendar on principle.)

Around three-quarters of Hindus and Buddhists in America celebrate Christmas, as do a third of Jews and a significant but undetermined number of Muslims. Even 87% of atheists, agnostics, and other “nones” celebrate Christmas!

Today 55% of Americans say they consider Christmas as a religious holiday, with the rest considering it only a “cultural” holiday.

Many observers conclude that the Christian meaning of Christmas is declining, so that December 25 is or is fast becoming a purely secular holiday.

But is that possible?

“Christmas” comes from the two words “Christ,” whose birth the day commemorates, and “mass,” a worship service.  The very word “Christmas” testifies to Christ and the day’s Christian meaning.

Some secularists recognize this and so draw back from the Name.  They don’t say or want to hear “Christmas,” so they substitute some version of “holiday.”  But that word means “holy day.”  So why is the day “holy”?

I realize that the original meaning of words does not necessarily constrain contemporary usage.  But the actual meaning of Christmas–the birth of Christ the Savior–continues to inform the other meanings that people assign to it.

“Christmas is about family,” some say, but that sense points back to birth, which defines family, to Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus.

“Christmas is about good will and kindness to our fellow human beings,” some say.  But all of those feelings of benevolence, the philanthropy and generosity  associated with the season are remnants of the Christian ethic.  The Christmas Angel proclaimed that the birth of the Savior heralds, in the words of the culture-shaping King James Version, “on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).    And the warm feelings Christmas still inspires even among secularists is a cultural memory of what the love inspired by Christ feels like.

Furthermore, the decorations and customs that even secularists and other non-Christians employ to celebrate their “winter holiday” are Christian symbols.  Lights symbolize the Light of the World (John 1:1-9; 8:12).  Evergreen trees symbolize everlasting life.  Holly gives us the Christmas colors of green and red, reminders of Jesus’s crown of thorns, with its drops of blood, flowering into life.

Santa Claus is a shell of St. Nicholas, who championed the Incarnation at the Council of Nicaea.  December 25 is immediately after the solstice, so that days start to lengthen and light starts to conquer the darkness (John 1:5).  Christmas dinner is a carry over of the “feasts” that marked the liturgical calendar, in this case the celebration with food that followed the fast of Advent.

As for gifts. . . .Receiving gifts expresses the heart of the Christian message.  Christ is a gift.  Salvation is a gift.  In worship, we receive God’s gifts.  In our “secular” lives, we receive God’s gifts.  Our daily bread, our families, our abilities, our friends, our communities, our belongings, all of what even non-Christians sometimes refer to as their “blessings” are gifts from God’s hand.  That we have a God who gives gifts means that Christians worship a God of grace, who bestows unmerited favor, and who went so far as to give us Himself by coming down from Heaven, to be born in a manger, and to give His life for us.

If receiving gifts is emblematic of receiving God’s grace, giving gifts is emblematic of the Christian life, as we become, in Luther’s words, “little Christs” to each other, by loving our neighbors with grace of our own and serving our neighbors by giving them the gifts of our vocations.

What has happened, I think, in the “secularization of Christmas” is that people, having turned away from Christianity, continue to follow its outward forms.  It’s like someone who goes to church and goes through the motions of worship, while oblivious to everything that it means.  They retain the externals, but they have lost the meaning.

And yet they are honoring Christ even though they are doing so unwittingly and against their intention.

I think of this Christmas text from the Apostle Paul:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2: 5-11)

I have heard it said that when Jesus comes again and the dead are raised, both the save and the lost will fulfill this Scripture, whether in victory or in defeat.

But already, in observance of His first coming, every knee is bowing to “the name of Jesus,” if not to His person, and every tongue is confessing that Jesus is Lord, even if their hearts are far from Him.

Secularists love the beautiful presents under their trees, but all they know is the external wrapping.  We Christians should encourage them to open all of their gifts.

 

 

Illustration by QuinceMedia via Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons

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On this 174th anniversary of the publication of Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol, I am re-running this post–at a reader’s request–from a couple of years ago:

Christmas and Vocation:

One thing you learn from the doctrine of vocation is that the Christian life includes what we might describe as the secular.  The realm of “Christian” does not consist just of overtly devout exercises.  Rather, it also includes our lives in the family, the workplace, and the community.  This point also applies to how we celebrate Christmas.  We are surely right to complain when Jesus is left out of the celebration of His birthday, but those who complain about the secular observances–wanting it to be just a religious holiday celebrated in church, being irked that even non-Christians are celebrating it, and complaining about all of the presents–may be missing something about the scope of Christ’s reign and the nature of vocation.

Consider, for example, this piece by Patrick Callahan, Charles Dickens’ War on Christmas.  This is a much better and more nuanced treatment than most, but it advances the by-now-familiar thesis that Dickens’ The Christmas Carol is responsible for  “the transformation of Christmas from a religious feast to a secular holiday.”

First of all, Dickens did not invent the Christmas customs and sentiments that he records.  The philanthropists raising money for the poor, the office parties, the family feasts, the spirit of benevolence and merry-making, the talk of holly and plum pudding–none of that would make any sense in the story if the readers had never heard of them before.  Dickens is writing about Christmas observances; he is not making them up.  In fact, his treatment of the Ghost of Christmas Past suggests that the customs were much more robust in the old days.

Mr. Callahan does concede that Dickens refers to Jesus and to church quite a few times, in passages scattered throughout the novella.  Consider this quotation from Scrooge’s nephew:

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

This passage refers to the past associations of Christmas time, but, more importantly, note Mr. Callahan’s italicized reference to Christ.  It indicates what, I would argue, all of Dickens’ allusions to Christ indicate, that nothing belonging to Christmas, as Dickens presents it, can be seen “apart from the veneration due its sacred name and origin.”  That is, that the secular observances are framed and given significance by Christ’s birth.

Dickens’ readers were closer to the time when the doctrine of vocation, which likewise relates the secular to the sacred, was a commonplace of Christian teaching.  Those visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past were even closer.  But around Dickens’ time, things had indeed started to change.

The industrial revolution had the effect of making work less personal, as opposed to the Reformation teaching of personal calling; and the new economic theories focused on self interest, as opposed to the vocational focus on love and service to the neighbor.Ebenezer Scrooge, like his dead partner Marley, has amassed great wealth, but he does nothing with it other than to amass it.  He exploits his employees.  He has chosen the pursuit of wealth over marriage and parenthood.  He ignores his extended family.  He acknowledges no civil obligations.  As a result, he is completely isolated from any other human beings.

The Christmas Carol is about vocation.  Scrooge has to learn to love and serve his neighbors, which is the purpose of all vocations.  As an employer, he has to learn to see employees like Bob Cratchitt as human beings with families and with struggles, to love them and then to serve them, even as they serve him in their work.  Scrooge has to learn to love and serve his family, including his earnest nephew and his bride.  He has to learn to love and serve his neighbors in the London alleys who are poor and destitute.  He has to learn to love and serve the urchins in the street and the passersby in the square.

The catalyst for this archetype of self-seeking capitalism discovering the true purpose of his vocations in the family, the workplace, and the community is the spirit(s) of Christmas.

Today, too, Christmas has to do with our vocations.  Consider our “secular” sentiments and customs:

“Christmas is a time for family.”  Our vocations in the family.

“Christmas is for kids.”  Family vocation + homage to the Christchild.

Office parties.  Our economic vocations.

Shopping.  Our economic activities as part of the exchange of vocation. Whereas usually, our economic activities pursue our rational self-interests, our Christmas shopping makes us think about the interests of the neighbor we are shopping for.

Gifts.  Giving and receiving gifts is the image both of the grace of God in Christ and the mutual giving and receiving that takes place in every vocation.

Is Christmas too materialistic?  Well, it’s not as materialistic as God becoming flesh, redeeming our sinful flesh, and sending us back into the material world to live out our faith in love and service to our physical neighbors.

HT:  Mary Moerbe

 

 

 

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October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and this Sunday, October 8, is Pastor Appreciation Day.  I have no idea who came up with those observances and they have not made it onto the liturgical calendar.  Still, appreciating your pastor is important, and we need the reminder.  And go beyond appreciating him in the privacy of your mind by letting him know how much you appreciate him.

The Barna Research Group, in conjunction with Pepperdine University, has been studying pastors as they work to fulfill their vocation.  The research shows just how difficult the job can be.  Barna has already issued reports on  pastors’ cultural credibilitytheir experiences and timing of the call to ministrythe aging of pastors and the health of pastors’ relationships.

But Barna’s latest report, on pastors’ general sense of well-being, is more encouraging.

A whopping 91% of pastors say that, overall, they are satisfied with the quality of their lives.  This compares to 62% of American adults who feel such satisfaction.

Breaking it down, 88% of pastors say that their spiritual health is “excellent” or “good,” compared to 60% of all Americans; 85% say that of their emotional health, compared to 63% of the rest of us; and 67% say the same of their physical health, compared to 55% of the laity.

In other findings, 73% of pastors are motivated to becoming a better leader, compared to only 22% of all Americans.  Among pastors, 60% are energized by their work, while only 24% of the laity feel that way.  And, significantly, 68% of pastors feel well-supported by people close to them, compared to 43% of the rest of us.

But being a pastor also has its crosses to bear.

Pastors are more likely than the rest of us to feel “inadequacy about their work or calling” (12% of pastors frequently feel that way, with 45% sometimes feeling that way; among the laity 8% feel inadequate to their callings frequently, with 22% feeling inadequate sometimes.)

And pastors are more likely than the rest of us to be plagued with mental or emotional exhaustion (12% “frequently” and 45% “sometimes”; compared with 23% and 32% for all U.S. adults).

So it’s good to be pastor, but it can take its toll.

What might we laypeople do to build up our pastors in their sense of vocation and in making their ministry to us less exhausting?

Are our congregations too busy?  Are we devaluing Word and Sacrament ministry in favor of secondary activities that take up way too much time and energy?  Are we so demanding of our pastors that they have too little time for their other vocations–as husband, father, and citizen–thus causing them problems at home?

What do you appreciate about your pastor?

In Australia, I was asked to speak to a seminary class on the topic of “what a writer and academic needs from a pastor.”  The assumption seems to have been that we intellectual types need something special from our pastors.  But I told the future pastors that all I need is what everyone else in their congregations will need.  I need my pastor to bring me to repentance and to give me the Gospel; I need him to forgive my sins; and I need him to put Christ’s body and blood into my mouth.  Anything else is just extra.

UPDATE:  Here are some suggestions for how you can show your appreciation.

 

Photo of Pastor by weldert, Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons

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Labor Day is a good day for Christians to celebrate Vocation.  That is, the teaching that our work, our family relationships, our church, our citizenship are all “callings” from God, the realms in which we live out our Christian faith as we love and serve our neighbors.  In addition to the cook-outs and the finales to our summer vacations, I invite you to meditate on the following quotations from Martin Luther, the great theologian of vocation.  (I discuss these passages in my latest book on the subject, commissioned by the Acton Institute:  Working for Our Neighbor:  A Lutheran Primer on Vocation, Economics, and Ordinary Life.)

Martin Luther on Vocation

If you are a manual laborer, you find that the Bible has been put into your workshop, into your hand, into your heart. It teaches and preaches how you should treat your neighbor. Just look at your tools—at your needle or thimble, your beer barrel, your goods, your scales or yardstick or measure—and you will read this statement inscribed on them. Everywhere you look, it stares at you. Nothing that you handle every day is so tiny that it does not continually tell you this, if you will only listen. . . .All this is continually crying out to you: “Friend, use me in your relations with your neighbor just as you would want your neighbor to use his property in his relations with you.”

Martin Luther, “Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount” (Luther’s Works 21:237)

 

There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do. …A cobbler, a smith, a peasant—each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops. Further, everyone must benefit and serve every other by means of his own work or office so that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, just as all the members of the body serve one another.

Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility, LW 44:127-130.

 

Now observe that clever harlot, our natural reason…takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, ‘Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and that, do this and that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you take a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life; I will become a priest or nun and compel my children to do likewise.

What then does the Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says ‘O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock this little babe or wash its diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is pleasing in thy sight.”

Martin Luther, “The Estate of Marriage,” LW 45: 39-40.

 

[Human nature] knows nothing but its own good, or what is good and honorable and useful for itself, but not what is good for God and other people. Therefore it knows and wills more what is particular, yes, only what is an individual good. And this is in agreement with Scripture, which describes man as so turned in on himself that he uses not only physical but even spiritual goods for his own purposes and in all things seeks only himself.

This curvedness is now natural for us, a natural wickedness and a natural sinfulness. Thus man has no help from his natural powers, but he needs the aid of some power outside of himself. This is love.

Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, in LW, 25: 345.

 

When you pray this petition [“give us this day our daily bread”] turn your eyes to everything that can prevent our bread from coming and the crops from prospering. Therefore extend your thoughts to all the fields and do not see only the baker’s oven. You pray, therefore, against the devil and the world, who can hinder the grain by tempest and war. We pray also for temporal peace against war, because in times of war we cannot have bread. Likewise, you pray for government, for sustenance and peace, without which you cannot eat: Grant, Lord, that the grain may prosper, that the princes may keep the peace, that war may not break out, that we may give thanks to thee in peace. Therefore it would be proper to stamp the emperor’s or the princes’ coat-of-arms upon bread as well as upon money or coins.

Martin Luther, Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer (1528). LW 51:176-177.

 

[The ruler]  should picture Christ to himself, and say, “Behold, Christ, the supreme ruler, came to serve me; he did not seek to gain power, estate, and honor from me, but considered only my need, and directed all things to the end that I should gain power, estate, and honor from him and through him. I will do likewise, seeking from my subjects not my own advantage but theirs. I will use my office to serve and protect them, listen to their problems and defend them, and govern to the sole end that they, not I, may benefit from my rule.” In such manner should a prince in his heart empty himself of his power and authority, and take unto himself the needs of his subjects, dealing with them as though they were his own needs. For this is what Christ did to us [Phil. 2:7]; and these are the proper works of Christian love.

Martin Luther, Temporal Authority, LW 45:120.

Although the Christian is thus free from all works, he ought in this liberty to empty himself, take upon himself the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in human form, and to serve, help, and in every way deal with his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with him. This he should do freely, having regard for nothing but divine approval. He ought to think: . . . . “I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me.”[i]. . .Just as our neighbor is in need and lacks that in which we abound, so we were in need before God and lacked his mercy. Hence, as our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians. . . .We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor.  Otherwise he is not a Christian. .He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor. Yet he always remains in God and in his love.”[i]

Martin Luther, Freedom of the Christian, LW 31: 366-67, 371.

“What else is all our work to God— whether in the fields, in the garden, in the city, in the house, in war, or in government—but just such a child’s performance, by which He wants to give His gifts in the fields, at home, and everywhere else? These are the masks of God, behind which He wants to remain concealed and do all things.”

Martin Luther, LW 14:114-115

Illustration by Timasu, on Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons

 

 

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Vladimir Putin continues to crackdown on religions that are “non-traditional” to Russia, persecuting people because of their religious beliefs on a scale unknown since Soviet days.  Interestingly, Lutheranism is considered one of the “traditional” religions (as are Baptists), so that some Protestant church work is still legal.  In fact, Lutheran Christianity, as an alternative to both Orthodoxy and other kinds of Protestantism, is reportedly showing special appeal to Russians, particularly to intellectuals and scientists.

I stumbled upon an article entitled Russian Lutheranism:  Between Protestantism, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism.  in the East-West Church & Ministry Report (Vol. 11, No. 2, Spring 2003), a journal about Christian work in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe.  The authors are an Orthodox scholar and his assistant, Sergei B. Filatov and Aleksandra Styopina.

They survey the various Lutheran groups in Russia–which owe their “traditional” bona fides to the German immigrants Catherine the Great and other Czars moved in to help modernist the country, to the strongly Lutheran Ingrian ethnic group, and to Lutherans in the Baltic regions.

They say that Lutheranism appeals to Russians because its sacramentalism and liturgical worship preserves the sense of “mystery” that they value in the Orthodox Church.  Lutherans also affirm the ecumenical creeds and thus much of what Orthodoxy teaches.

But Lutheranism is said to be more “intellectual” and to promote more “freedom.”  Russians like the emphasis on the Gospel and on the Bible.  But they think Lutherans are less “extreme” in their theology than other Protestants. (Whatever that means.)  They appreciate how Lutherans teach that salvation is by grace alone, and yet avoid the predestinarianism of Calvinists.

Also the Lutheran theology of culture–the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms–allows them to affirm Russian culture in a way that other kinds of Protestantism can’t or won’t.

Though there have been some liberal Lutherans, most Russian Lutherans have avoided the liberalism of so much of Western Christianity.  That too is a plus for Russians.

The authors quote a theater director who became a Lutheran and the founder of the Bible Lutheran Church. an example of the artists, intellectuals, and scientists that the article says are especially attracted to Lutheranism.   He is now a fierce of the liberal Lutheran church in Germany, which had attempted mission work in Russia and which,he says, “is penetrated by the ideas of Calvinism, Baptism, feminism, moral relativism, and secularism and is an example of spiritual degradation.”

The authors quote from a pastor of the Bible Lutheran Church in Irkutsk, words that I find astonishing:

“There are two major religions in Russia, Orthodoxy and Lutheranism. Since the sixteenth century Lutheranism together with Orthodoxy has formed a part of Russian culture, science, and politics. Without the Lutheran tradition in Russia, only half of Russia would be left and the Lutheran part is not the worst half. You will become tired if you start counting everything that Lutherans have given to Russia. The regeneration of Russian Lutheranism is the restoration of the natural order of things.”

I suppose he is referring to Catherine the Great, a Lutheran before having to convert to Orthodoxy, who brought Western education and universities to Russia, along with the other Lutheran immigrants who were instrumental in bringing science, industry, and technology to what was otherwise a backward land.  Russia is a unique hybrid of Asiatic and European culture.  I suspect the pastor is crediting Lutheranism for the European part, though whether this is completely accurate I cannot say.

This article was published back in 2003, so I’m not sure of the situation today.

I offer this not only for what it says about Russia, but what it says about the ways Lutheranism might also speak to America and to Europe today.

Photograph of service in Sts. Peter & Paul Lutheran Cathedral in Moscow by Bischof Brauer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

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