Tuesday, 30 June 2009

C S Lewis on Duty and Love

“A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people) like a crutch which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own.”

—C.S. Lewis, Letters, 18 July 1957.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

A "Weather Eye" on the Reformed

I always try to keep a "weather eye" on what is happening in the Reformed world, both at home and abroad. When I returned to the grace of my baptism as an adult and realised that High Church Anglicanism did not have enough meat on its bones to sustain me spiritually, I read a lot of Reformed theology and seriously considered a confessional Presbyterian Church as an option before I discovered Lutheran doctrine via Sasse and Mueller's dogmatics. Ah, those were the days! And I have not looked back since. However, I did learn this from my study of refromed theology and life: say what you will about Calvinism, at least it has doctrine, and in the final analysis, even if on a purely sociological level, those who know what they believe and why they believe it will triumph over those who can only offer up mealy-mouthed platitudinous twaddle as a creed.

Another thing I will acknowledge about Calvinism is that it puts iron in men's souls (and women's too!). Once you believe you are among God's elect, the world is your oyster. As evidence for this, just consider the impact of the English, the Scots and the Dutch on world history in the modern period to understand what I mean - these three relatively minor European nations have re-made the world in their image in the modern period (i.e. since the Reformation). Much of that impact is attributable, I believe, to the spiritual, moral and social impact of Calvinist doctrine on the life of these peoples. For example, is not America's belief (remembering that the ethos of the US has been largely shaped by its Calvinist English, Scottish and "Scotch-Irish" immigrants) in its "Manifest Destiny" but a secularised version of Calvinist Predestination, writ large on the national, continental, and since WWII, world stage?
Soon after reaching its ascendancy Calvinism collapsed in a demoralised heap as the logic of its system unravelled at the hands of the very world it had underpinned and created. Church bodies and universities established by Calvinists became rationalistic and then liberal (of course, this process took centuries - I'm painting with a broad brush here) and finally went to seed. The Calvinist work-ethic which originally propelled much of Western capitalism became divorced from the religious purpose of the glory of God and surrendered to acquisitiveness for its own sake. The children to the 3rd and 4th generation of the men and women with iron in their souls became Methodist.

But now it appears that Calvinism is back, and thriving at that. A couple of months ago an issue of Time magazine featured several modern movements it believed were shaping the 21st century, and yes, there among them were "The New Calvinists", with Reformed Baptist pastor-theologian and prolific author, John Piper leading the charge. When the secular press takes note of something in the religious world, that something is getting too big to be ignored. Even Rupert Murdoch is riding the wave of the Reformed revival, purchasing the originally Dutch Reformed publishing house, Zondervan.

For my part, I must say that the resurgence of Calvinism, albeit in a form that the man himself may not recognise, does not surprise me. Anyone with their ears to the ground over the last ten to fifteen years would have heard the distant rumble of the New Calvinism approaching. I remember, for instance, when the Australian Christian book chain Koorong opened their Brisbane store near where I was then living I received a catalogue flyer in the mail which featured Jonathan Edwards' works. "How many people are that interested in Jonathan Edwards", I thought, "that he should feature in a letterboxed catalogue?" A subsequent trip to the store revealed as much Calvinist as Arminian theology on the shelves. So much for the cliche that evangelicals are all "free-will decision theology" adherents, just as many must have been interested in Calvinism, and continue to be, if the growing number of Reformed dogmatics works published by evangelical publishing houses is anything to go by.

Then, while at seminary in Adelaide, I used often to attend the evening services at Trinity Anglican Church on North Terrace, an outpost of Sydney Anglicanism (which is basically Calvinistic in orientation) in a liberal High Church/Anglo-Catholic archdiocese, where one could witness 200+ young people gathered from Trinity's university ministry listening to 45 minute sermons and taking notes! This never ceased to amaze me at a time when the Lutheran tertiary student ministry in Adelaide, the only Australian city where we have sufficient strength in numbers to really do something in that area, was flirting with liberalism and seemingly in terminal decline. And Trinity North Terrace, which has to have 5 services on a Sunday to cater for all its members when most High Church Anglican parishes are struggling with one service, is but one example of a phenomenon that is being repeated in capital and regional cities across Australia. The future of Anglicanism in Australia, the 2nd largest church body in the land and the largest historically Protestant Church (I'm feeling generous!), is looking decidedly Evangelical and Calvinist (Oh, if only our LCA leadership would realise this and take the challenge of Sydney Anglicanism seriously, instead of cosying up to High Church bishops whose cathedral services see pew-sitters in danger of being outnumbered by all the lavishly vested, incense-riddled clergy mincing about the chancel).

So, what does it mean for the Lutheran Church that, in the English-speaking world at least, Calvinism is waxing while Lutheranism wanes? I'll leave you to ponder that for the time being. I have a few thoughts on the subject which I may post in the near future. In the meantime, check out Exiled Preacher's review of the evangelical book to read at the moment, Young, Restless, Reformed (click on post title for link), for a taste of the New Calvinist phenomenon. You may also wish to read a Calvinist Anglican's apologia for his mentor recently published in The Australian, Australia's premier broadsheet newspaper, here:

Monday, 22 June 2009

Swimming the Tiber

My friend, Lito, at Extra Nos, has recently posted a theory to explain Lutheran conversions to Rome (aka "swimming the Tiber"). I'm not convinced, but the discussion has led me to an interesting discovery of a perversion of the old Synodical Conference doctrine of objective justification in the direction of universalism. I'm sure this development would have Franz Pieper (pictured right)
turning in his grave.

Click on the title to go to the post.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

What Monstrosity Is This?

"The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about..." (Article 25 from the 39 Articles of the Church of England); to which we today might wish the authors had added: "and they especially were not ordained of Christ to take the form of a focaccia and be held aloft with a pair of giant tongs", as is actually happening in this photo taken at an outdoor Roman Catholic Mass in Linz, Austria.

You could not invent this stuff.

(Those not au fait with Roman liturgical nomenclature may miss the pun in the title to this blog, the host is usually carried about in a "monstrance", hence "monstrosity".)

Sunday, 14 June 2009

A "Fundagelical" on Obama

Guy Davies, the Exiled Preacher, has done several series of interviews with bloggers; his latest series starts off with Dan Phillips, a self-described 'CalviDispieBaptoGelical' (a Calvinistic Dispensational Baptistic Evangelical, for the uninitiated) whom, I must say, I had not previously heard of. Anyway, Guy, who is Welsh, asks Dan, who is American, his opinion of Barack Obama:

GD: What is your early assessment of the your President and the "Leader of the Free World", Barak [sic] Obama?
DP: Obama is the triumph of postmodernism. America elected a hollow image, a human projection-screen, prepped and served by our media. They gave arguably the most powerful office in the world to a man with no accomplishments, no preparation, and no qualifications. Worse, they elected a faux-Christian who sat under a viciously racist, marxist ministry for 20 years, who embraces abortion in every form and wants to crush liberty under totalitarian governmental control.

Comment: Don't hold back, Dan!

Now, all of that may well be true, and the insight into Obama as the first PoMo President spot on, and let it be said that I have grave reservations about many of President Obama's policies myself, especially his recent overturning of President Bush's policy against using overseas aid for abortion programs in Third World countries (a policy change which the Australian government has also, lamentably, implemented). But the tone of comments like Dan's makes me think that American Evangelicalism is too politicised for its own good and possibly too bound up with the electoral fortunes of the Republican Party to be a genuine good news bearer to the unchurched populace of that great nation. The well-known linkage between Evangelicals and Republicans raises the question: Does one's politics have to change as well as one's heart upon conversion?
American Evangelical Christians threw in their lot with Ronald Reagan in 1980, even though the incumbent Jimmy Carter was one of their own. That probably made good sense in the political context of the times, as subsequent history bears out, but, to paraphrase Dean Inge, whoever marries the political spirit of the age may soon find themselves a widower.
Don't get me wrong, as far as I'm concerned a Christian is free to be a card-carrying Republican if he or she wishes, it's the de facto public alliance that concerns me, the quid pro quo of Evangelical votes for Republican promises on this or that plank of Evangelical social policy, promises which, as history again bears out, have not always been honoured - but such is the nature of politics. Sooner rather than later, American Evangelical Christians will have to ask themselves the question of whether their public alliance with Republicanism has not cost them dearly, or even become a stumbling block for some.

Meantime, I thank God for the Biblical-Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms, which enables one to make proper distinctions between the temporal and spiritual realms, and which informs me that I should respect and pray for President Obama even though I disagree with him on many things.

(Click on the post title to go to the full interview at Exiled Preacher.)

Monday, 8 June 2009

The Saxon Visitation Articles of 1592 (& extra-confessional standards of doctrine)

The Visitation Articles For the Electorate and Provinces of Upper Saxony, published A.D. 1592.

Article I: Of the Lord's Supper: The pure and true doctrine of our Churches on the Lord's Supper.
1] That the words of Christ, 'Take and eat, this is my Body;' 'Drink, this is my Blood,' are to be understood in the simple and literal sense, as they sound.
2] That, in the Sacrament, there are two things which are exhibited and received together: one, earthly, which is bread and wine; the other, heavenly, which is the body and blood of Christ.
3] That these things [this union, exhibition, and consumption] take place here below on the earth, and not above in heaven
4] That the true and natural body of Christ which hung on the cross, and the true and natural blood, which flowed from the side of Christ, are exhibited and received.
5] That the body and blood of Christ are received in the Supper, not only spiritually, which might be done out of the Supper; but by the mouth, with the bread and wine; yet in an inscrutable and supernatural manner; and this for a pledge and ascertainment of the resurrection of our bodies from the dead.
6] That the body and blood of Christ are received orally, not only by the worthy, but also by the unworthy, who approach them without repentance and true faith; though with different effect. By the worthy, they are received for salvation; by the unworthy, for judgment.

Article II: Of the Person of Christ. The pure and true doctrine of our Churches on the Article of the Person of Christ.
1] In Christ there are two distinct natures, the divine and the human. These remain eternally unmixed and inseparable (or undivided).
2] These two natures are personally so united that there is but one Christ and one person.
3] On account of this personal union it is rightly said, and in fact and truth it really is, that God is man, and man is God; that Mary begat the Son of God, and that God redeemed us by his own proper blood.
4] By this personal union, and the exaltation which followed it, Christ, according to the flesh, is placed at the right hand of God, and has received all power in heaven and in earth, and is made partaker of all the divine majesty, honour, power, and glory.

Article III: Of Holy Baptism.
The pure and true Doctrine of our Churches on this Article of Holy Baptism.

1] That there is but one Baptism, and one Ablution: not that which is used to take away the filth of the body, but that which washes us from our sins.
2] By Baptism, as a bath of the regeneration and renovation of the Holy Ghost, God saves us, and works in us such justice and purgation from our sins, that he who perseveres to the end in that covenant and hope does not perish, but has eternal life.
3] All who are baptized in Jesus Christ are baptized in his death; and by baptism are buried with him in his death, and have put on Christ.
4] Baptism is the bath of regeneration, because in it we are born again, and sealed by the Spirit of adoption through grace (or gratuitously).
5] Unless a person be born again of water and Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. This is not intended, however, for cases of necessity.
6] Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh; and, by nature, all of us are children of divine wrath: because we are born of sinful seed, and we are all born in sin.

Article IV. On Predestination and the Eternal Providence of God.
The pure and true doctrine of our Churches on this Article.

1] That Christ died for all men, and, as the Lamb of God, took away the sins of the whole world.
2] That God created no man for condemnation; but wills that all men should be saved and arrive at the knowledge of truth. He therefore commands all to hear Christ, his Son, in the gospel; and promises, by his hearing, the virtue and operation of the Holy Ghost for conversion and salvation.
3] That many men, by their own fault, perish: some, who will not hear the gospel concerning Christ; some, who again fall from grace, either by fundamental error, or by sins against conscience.
4] That all sinners who repent will be received into favour; and none will be excluded, though his sins be red as blood; since the mercy of God is greater than the sins of the whole world, and God hath mercy on all his works.

The False and Erroneous Doctrine of the Calvinists On the Lord's Supper.
1] That the words of Christ ["This is my body; this is my blood"] are to be understood figuratively, and not according to the letter, as they sound.
2] That bare signs only are in the Supper; but the body of Christ is as far from the bread as the highest heaven from the earth.
3] That Christ is present therein, by his virtue and operation only, and not in his body; as the sun, by his splendour and operation, is present and effective on earth; but the body of the sun exists above in heaven.
4] That the body of Christ is therein a typified body, which is only signified and prefigured by the bread and wine.
5] That the body is received by faith alone, which raises itself to heaven, and not by the mouth.
6] That the worthy only receive it; that the unworthy, who do have the faith which rises to the heavens, receive nothing besides bread and wine.

The False and Erroneous doctrine of the Calvinists On the Person of Christ Which differs, in particular, from the Third and Fourth Article of the more pure doctrine.
1] That God is man, and man God, is a figurative mode of speech.
2] That human nature hath communion with the divine, not in fact and truth, but in name and words only.
3] That it is impossible to God, by all his omnipotence, to effect that the natural body of Christ, which is in one place, should, at the same time and instant, be in several.
4] That, according to his human nature, Christ hath, by his exaltation, received only created good and finite power; and doth not know and cannot do all things.
5] That, according to his humanity, Christ reigns, where he is absent, as the King of Spain governs his new islands.
6] That it is a damnable idolatry to place the hope and faith of the heart in Christ, not only according to his divine, but also according to his human nature, and to direct the honour of adoration to both.

The False and Erroneous doctrine of the Calvinists On Holy Baptism.
1] That Baptism is an external washing of water, by which a certain internal ablution from sin is merely signified.
2] That Baptism does not work nor confer regeneration, faith, the grace of God, and salvation, but only signifies and seals them.
3] That not all who are baptized in water, but the elect only, obtain by it the grace of Christ and the gifts of faith.
4] That regeneration doth not take place in and with Baptism, but afterwards, at a more advanced age-yea, with many not before old age.
5] That salvation doth not depend on Baptism, and therefore in cases of necessity should not be required in the Church; but when the ordinary minister of the Church is wanting, the infant should be permitted to die without Baptism.
6] The infants of Christians are already holy before Baptism in the womb of the mother, and even in the womb of the mother are received into the covenant of eternal life: otherwise the Sacrament of Baptism could not be conferred on them.

The False and Erroneous doctrine of the Calvinists On Predestination and the Providence of God.
1] That Christ did not die for all men, but only for the elect.
2] That God created the greater part of mankind for eternal damnation, and wills not that the greater part should be converted and live.
3] That the elected and regenerated cannot lose faith and the Holy Spirit, or be damned, though they commit great sins and crimes of every kind.
4] That those who are not elect are necessarily damned, and cannot arrive at salvation, though they be baptized a thousand times, and receive the Eucharist every day, and lead as blameless a life as ever can be led.

Based on the translation found in The Creeds of Christendom, Volume III, by Philip Schaff (in the public domain), anglicised in spelling and with some minor grammatical modifications.

Comment: This is a very clear and concise document originally written and authorised to ferret out crypto-Calvinism (secret-Calvinism under the guise of Lutheranism) from Saxony. It was subsequently appended to all editions of The Book of Concord published in Saxony until the Prussian Union with the Reformed was brought about in 1817; in fact, some information I have seen indicates the articles were still enforced among the Lutherans in Saxony until 1836, but I have not been able to confirm this.

There is an intra-Lutheran debate about whether extra-confessional writings that address particular doctrinal challenges to the Lutheran faith are 1) a legitimate use of church authority, and 2) can bind consciences. The publication of these articles as an appendix to the BoC in Saxony is a valuable fact which might well serve as a strong precedent at least for the legitimacy of such extra-confessional statements in local churches (e.g. the "Brief Statement" of 1932 in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the "Theses of Agreement" and various synodically authorised "Doctrinal Statements" in the Lutheran Church of Australia, plus numerous other examples which are now redundant due to ecclesial mergers). Whether such documents can bind the conscience would depend upon their consonance with scripture. That a church body could require subscription to such extra-confessional statements on the aprt of ordinands would seem to me to be entirely appropriate.

The picture is of Aegidius Hunnius, principal author of the articles.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Luther on Trinity Sunday

Extract from a sermon by Martin Luther on Trinity Sunday (Church Postill, 1522)

"Today we celebrate the festival of the Holy Trinity, to which we must briefly allude, so that we may not celebrate it in vain. It is indeed true that the name "Trinity" is nowhere to be found in the Holy Scriptures, but has been conceived and invented by man. For this reason it sounds somewhat cold and we had better speak of "God" than of the "Trinity."
This word signifies that there are three persons in God. It is a heavenly mystery which the world cannot understand. I have often told you that this, as well as every other article of faith, must not be based upon reason or comparisons, but must be understood and established by means of passages from the Scriptures, for God has the only perfect knowledge and knows how to speak concerning himself.
We can... have no surer foundation for our belief in the divinity of Christ than that we enwrap and enclose our hearts in the declarations of the Scriptures. The Scriptures gradually and beautifully lead us to Christ; first revealing him to us as a man, then as the lord of all creatures, and finally as God. Thus we are successfully led to the true knowledge of God. But the philosophers and the wise men of this world would begin at the top and so they have become fools. We must begin at the bottom and gradually advance in knowledge, so that the words of Proverbs 25, 27 may not apply to us: 'It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it good to seek one's own honour.' "

Comment: Aside from what Luther has to say on the Trinity, which is only brief and en passant , what I find especially valuable in this sermon extract is his use of scripture passages to prove articles of faith and his exhortation to his listeners to do the same, in preference to relying overly much on human reason to establish doctrine in the manner of medieval scholasticism (and later Roman Catholicism, we might add).
Luther uses the following proof-texts in the introductory portion of this sermon where he discusses the doctrine of the Holy Trinity before moving on to his lectionary text, John 3:1-15 (which I also preached on today): John 1:1-3; Psalm 110:1; Psalm 8:4-8; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 2:9-10; John 5:19-23; Romans 1:2-4; John 16:13; John 17:1-5; Psalm 2:8; Psalm 45:6-7; Genesis 1:2; Psalm 33:6; Psalm 139:7-8.
Some of these proof-texts – and Luther is not ashamed to refer to them as such in the text of his sermon – are the classic loci for the Trinity going back to patristic times, while others seem to be tangential. It would be a fascinating study, if one had the time as well as access to a decent theological library, to trace the subsequent use of these texts in Lutheran orthodoxy. Questions to answer would be: To what extent did Luther continue the patristic tradition of interpretation? To what extent did he inaugurate a new tradition of reading scripture texts?
It is known that catenae of quotations from the Church Fathers on scripture passages were handed down by scholars into medieval times; there also seems to be, from my limited reading, a similar practice in Lutheran orthodoxy in regard not only to the Fathers but also to Luther. We may, however, view this tradition with some ambivalence; to the extent that it preserved the patristic tradition of interpretation when the full works of the Fathers were not always available, it was indeed valuable, but to the extent that it prevented theologians from doing their own exegetical spadework, it was less so.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Blessed Are the Persecuted

Britain's Sunday Telegraph recently commissioned a poll of UK church goers. The results, published last weekend, reveal that UK Christians believe they are more likely to be subject to intolerance today compared with 20 years ago, and that they even suffer significant levels of persecution (50% claim to have suffered some sort of persecution).

Here are some of the results:

75 per cent said that there is now less religious freedom in the UK than there was 20 years ago.
50 per cent of British Christians revealed that they had suffered some sort of persecution for their faith.
44 per cent said they had been mocked by friends, neighbours or colleagues for daring to be Christian.
20 per cent said that they had faced opposition at work because of their beliefs.
19 per cent said they had been ‘ignored’ or ‘excluded’ for the same reason.
10 per cent said they have been rejected by family members.
5 per cent said they had been turned down for promotion because of their faith.
5 per cent also declared that they had been reprimanded or cautioned at work for sharing their faith.

In comparison to what our brothers and sisters in Muslim majority countries are presently experiencing (see www.persecutionblog.com), what is reported by UK Christians is all relatively mild. However, it does raise the question as to whether British Christians should seek legal redress through the courts to protect their civil rights, or "turn the other cheek" and patiently suffer what God permits to come upon them from the hands and lips of unbelievers. After all, our Lord said, "Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exeedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.." Matthew 5:11-12.

(Click on the title to go to the Sunday Telegraph article).