The Pope on Luther

Thanks to Paul McCain, who posted a transcript of Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks that he gave at the Augustinian cloister in Erfurt, which was where Luther served as a monk.  You should read the whole speech, but here is a sample:

As the Bishop of Rome, it is deeply moving for me to be meeting representatives of Council of the Lutheran Church of Germany here in the ancient Augustinian convent in Erfurt. This is where Luther studied theology. This is where he was ordained a priest in 1507. Against his father’s wishes, he did not continue the study of Law, but instead he studied theology and set off on the path towards priesthood in the Order of Saint Augustine. On this path, he was not simply concerned with this or that. What constantly exercised him was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life’s journey.

“How do I receive the grace of God?”: this question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle. For him theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God.“How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make an impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives? In our preaching? Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. He knows that we are all mere flesh. Insofar as people today believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful. The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

Now perhaps you will say: all well and good, but what has this to do with our ecumenical situation? Could this just be an attempt to talk our way past the urgent problems that are still waiting for practical progress, for concrete results? I would respond by saying that the first and most important thing for ecumenism is that we keep in view just how much we have in common, not losing sight of it amid the pressure towards secularization – everything that makes us Christian in the first place and continues to be our gift and our task. It was the error of the Reformation period that for the most part we could only see what divided us and we failed to grasp existentially what we have in common in terms of the great deposit of sacred Scripture and the early Christian creeds. The great ecumenical step forward of recent decades is that we have become aware of all this common ground and that we acknowledge it as we pray and sing together, as we make our joint commitment to the Christian ethos in our dealings with the world, as we bear common witness to the God of Jesus Christ in this world as our undying foundation.

via The Pope’s Remarks at the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

The pope may hold the office of the antichrist, but he “gets” Luther, including just how Christocentric is his theology.  Read what Rev. McCain has to say about this, including his point that the pope doesn’t minimize our differences–indeed, he stands on clear confession, unlike many ecumenical efforts–while wanting us to stand together against the tides of secularism.

What do we make of this?  (I’d like to hear from Catholics on what they make of this also!)

The third use of the Law

Continuing our series on the Law, in which we discussed the civil use (as curb; that is, external righteousness that makes possible the social order) and the theological use (as mirror; that is, to help us to see our sins so that we repent and turn to the Gospel), we  now come to the so-called Third Use (as guide; that is, to help Christians know the kind of life that pleases God).  This third use has been the topic of some contention in Lutheran circles, with controversies over how best to understand the law in the life of Christians.

What do you think of this explanation by Jono Linebaugh, an Anglican teaching at a Reformed seminary?  (Read the whole post at Tullian Tchividjian’s blog.)

God’s words that accuse and kill typically do their work of condemnation in the form of a commandment attached to a condition. So, for example, when Paul sums up the salvation-logic of the Law he quotes Leviticus 18.5b: “the one who does [the commandments] will live by them” (Gal 3.12). Here, there is a promise of life linked to the condition of doing the commandments and a corresponding threat: “cursed is everyone who does not abide in all the things written in the Book of the Law, to do them” (Gal 3.10 citing Deut 27.26). When this conditional word encounters the sinful human, the outcome is inevitable: “the whole world is guilty before God” (Rom 3.19). It is thus the condition that does the work of condemnation. “Ifs” kill!

Compare this to a couple examples of New Testament imperatives. First, consider Galatians 5.1. After four chapters of passionate insistence that justification is by faith apart from works of the Law, Paul issues a couple of strong imperatives: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore stand firm (imperative) and do not be subject (imperative) again to the yoke of slavery.” Are these imperatives instances of God’s accusing and killing words? Are these commandments with conditions? Is Galatians 5.1 an example of Law? No! The command here is precisely to not return to the Law; it is an imperative to stand firm in freedom from the Law. Or take another example, John 8.11. Once the accusers of the adulterous women left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Depart. From now on, sin no more.” Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? Is this a commandment with a condition? Is this Law following the Gospel? No! This would be Law: “if you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The command is not a condition. “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical and unconditional, it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an “if.” The only “if” the Gospel knows is this: “if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2.1).

For Luther, it is within this unconditional context created by the gospel, the reality he called “living by faith,” that the Law understood as God’s good commands can be returned to its proper place. Freed from the burden and bondage of attempting to use the Law to establish our righteousness before God, Christians are free to look to commandments, not as conditions, but as descriptions and directions as they seek to serve their neighbor. In other words, once a person is liberated from the commonsense delusion that acting righteously makes us righteous before God, and in faith believes the counter-intuitive reality that being made righteous by God’s forgiving and resurrecting word precedes and produces righteous action, then the justified person is unlocked to love.

For this reason, Luther would insist that the Law only applies to the second question of Christian living: what shall we do? It helps to answer the “what” question, the question about the content of good works. The Law, however, does not answer the more basic question, the question far too few people ask: How do good works occur? What fuels works of love? While the Law demands and directs, what delivers and drives? For Luther, the answer to this question always follows the pattern of 1 John 4.19: “We love because he first loved us.” Works of love flow from prior belovedness. Thus, as Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer has said, the essential question of theological ethics is this: “What has been given?” The answer: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8).

Recognizing this distinction between the conditional and condemning function of the Law and the descriptive and directive statement of God’s will addressed to the unconditional context of faith in the God who justifies the ungodly is essential for understanding the purpose and place of New Testament imperatives, not to mention the Ten Commandments. The proper pattern is always “in view of God’s mercies…” (Rom 12.1), or as Luther pointed out with respect to the Decalogue, the pattern is the opening promise: “I am the Lord your God…” (Exod 20.2). In other words, the ears of faith are free to hear a commandment without a condition because the Christian conscience listens not to the condition and curse of the Law, but to the Christ in whom there is no condemnation (Rom 8.1).

via Tullian Tchividjian.

Closed Communion question

I know that the confessional Lutheran practice of “closed communion,” in which you have to be a member of the church body (or a member of a church in formal doctrinal fellowship with that church body) to commune at the Lutheran altar, is offensive to many non-Lutherans.  I don’t particularly want to debate that practice, which we’ve talked about extensively.  Rather, I would like to ask those of you who are offended some questions:  Have you ever been to a Roman Catholic mass or an Eastern Orthodox divine liturgy?  Perhaps you attended a funeral or a wedding or had an assignment in a religion course or dropped in on a service for one reason or another.   Were you offended because you could not commune?  Did you expect to?  Did you even want to, given your theological reservations about what was going on?

Though some Roman Catholic priests will commune anyone, this is strictly forbidden by canon law.  I would say that there are proportionally more Missouri Synod Lutheran pastors who practice open communion, even though it is against denominational policy, than there are Catholic priests who do it.  And, as an Orthodox commenter helpfully observed in one of our earlier threads, you will come close to never finding open communion practiced in an Eastern Orthodox church.

Used to, one’s membership in a particular theological tradition was defined by whom you would take communion with.   Then we had the ecumenical movement, largely among Protestants, and different churches–usually highly liberal–started sharing Communion with everyone.

Anyway, my impression is that few people feel insulted when they don’t join Catholics or Orthodox in their sacramental rites.  After all, we think, I’m not Catholic or Orthodox.

So why is it different with Lutherans?

 

What defines an “evangelical”?

Al Mohler has an interesting piece trying to define what is meant by “evangelical.”  He goes back into history, though strangely he says nothing about the source of the word in Lutheranism.  “Evangelical” used to be the name for “Lutheran,” in distinction to both Roman Catholics and Calvinists, a.k.a., “Reformed.”  The term comes from  evangelium, the Latin version of the Greek word for “good news”; that is, the Gospel.  And the Christian Gospel is that  salvation is a free gift, won by Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who atoned for the sins of the world when He died on the Cross and who rose from the dead for our justification.  “Evangelical” was used to describe Lutheranism because the Gospel is the “chief article” of its theology–not God’s sovereignty, not morality, not church government, but the Gospel–the linchpin of every other teaching, including Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

But I acknowledge that many other kinds of Christians–not just Lutherans–also believe in the Gospel and make it central, and they too can go by the name “evangelical.”

Dr. Mohler, whom I think highly of,  says that the term refers to conservative Protestants to distinguish them from liberal Protestants, as well as from  Catholics.  He then gives some description of evangelicals as a social group.  But I think that the term, to be meaningful, must retain its core meaning of holding to the centrality of the Gospel.  And some conservative Protestants do NOT make the Gospel central, not really, and so shouldn’t use the name “evangelical.”

If you believe that you are saved by your good works, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that salvation comes from how good you are, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you no longer believe in justification by grace through faith in Christ (as many “evangelical” theologians don’t anymore), you are NOT an evangelical.

If you do not believe in the Atonement (as many “evangelical” theologians don’t anymore), you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that Christianity is all about creating a perfect society on earth,  you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that Christianity is all about giving you prosperity, that the good news is about your earthly success, rather than the Cross of Jesus Christ, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe in faith, but put your faith in yourself, rather than in Christ (as I have heard “evangelicals” preach on TV), you are NOT an evangelical.

I’m not saying those I’m referring to may not be Christians–if they have even a trace of faith in the work of Christ, buried under all kinds of other teachings, they may be–but they should come up with other words for themselves.

What Makes Evangelicalism Evangelical?, Christian News.

I believe in the “holy Catholic church” or “holy Christian church”?

The great Lutheran blogger Anthony Sacramone–remember Luther at the Movies?–goes from posting whole handfuls of entries a day at Strange Herring to going months without posting a thing (and now to keeping the public from reading it, for some reason).  But he sometimes puts something up at the First Things site.   He has a characteristically humorous, provocative, and instructive post there now:  What’s in a Name? Plenty. » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

After riffing on how Campus Crusade has changed its name to “Cru,” he complains about how his fellow Lutherans in the Missouri Synod and other confessional churches translate the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds as “I believe in the Holy Christian Church,” instead of the more direct rendition of the Latin, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church” like everybody else does (only sometimes with an asterix).

He does cite the fact that this comes from the German translation that predates even the Reformation, but he makes the case that today in English we should  show that we are “catholic” in the sense that we claim to be by using “catholic” like the rest of the universal church.   He points out that all kinds of sects and heretics claim to be “Christian.”  We need to affirm that we part of the historical universal Body of Christ, which is what “catholic” does.

In the course of the discussion, he gives some interesting biographical tidbits about his own spiritual pilgrimage  that I have always wondered about. But doesn’t he have a good point?  In the Athanasian Creed, which I’d be glad to confess every week, we do use “catholic.”   It’s a good word, like “evangelical,” and we shouldn’t cede it just to the Church of Rome.  Or are there reasons to change it?

Make a good shoe

A while ago I blogged about Tullian Tchividjian–Billy Graham’s grandson and the successor to William Kennedy as the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church”–and his reaction to Lutheran novelist Bo Giertz.  (He offered a clarification to that post:   “I didn’t say that Giertz caused a Copernican revolution in my preaching but that the conversation between Henrik and Linder described the Copernican revolution that took place in my preaching a number of years ago.”)

He since has written an interesting post about vocation:

Martin Luther was once approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently become a Christian. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?” As if to say, should he become a minister or perhaps a traveling evangelist. A monk, perhaps.

Luther asked him, “What is your work now?”

“I’m a shoe maker.”

Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make a good shoe, and sell it at a fair price.”

In becoming a Christian, we don’t need to retreat from the vocational calling we already have—nor do we need to justify that calling, whatever it is, in terms of its “spiritual” value or evangelistic usefulness. We simply exercise whatever our calling is with new God-glorifying motives, goals, and standards—and with a renewed commitment to performing our calling with greater excellence and higher objectives.

One way we reflect our Creator is by being creative right where we are with the talents and gifts he has given us. As Paul says, “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God” (1 Corinthians 7:20,24). As we do this, we fulfill our God-given mandate to reform, to beautify, our various “stations” for God’s glory–giving this world an imperfect preview of the beautification that will be a perfect, universal actuality when Jesus returns to finish what he started.

For church leaders, this means that we make a huge mistake when we define a person’s “call” in terms of participation inside the church—nursery work, Sunday school teacher, youth worker, music leader, and so on. We need to help our people see that their calling is much bigger than how much time they put into church matters. By reducing the notion of calling to the exercise of spiritual gifts inside the church, we fail to help our people see that calling involves everything we are and everything we do—both inside and, more importantly, outside the church.

I once heard Os Guinness address a question about why the church in the late 20th century was not having a larger impact in our world when there were more people going to church than ever before. He said the main reason was not that Christians weren’t where they should be. There are plenty of artists, lawyers, doctors, and business owners that are Christians. Rather, the main reason is that Christians aren’t who they should be right where they are.

“Calling”, he said, “is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything w eare, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction.”

via You’re Free To Stay Put – Tullian Tchividjian.

I urge you to go to the site and also consider the discussion in the comments.  Some people pushed back against the doctrine of vocation, insisting that spreading the Gospel is the only way we truly serve God, with others citing the influence of Lutheran theology on their evangelicalism (contrary to an earlier discussion about how that doesn’t happen much!).

By the way, do you see anything missing in this particular account of vocation?


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