Friday, 31 July 2009

Luther's Last Word on Predestination pleases me to take from this passage the opportunity to discuss doubt, God, and the will of God; for I hear that here and there among the nobles and persons of importance vicious statements are being spread abroad concerning predestination or God’s foreknowledge. For this is what they say: “If I am predestined, I shall be saved, whether I do good or evil. If I am not predestined, I shall be condemned regardless of my works.” I would be glad to debate in detail against these wicked statements if the uncertain state of my health made it possible for me to do so. For if the statements are true, as they, of course, think, then the incarnation of the Son of God, His suffering and resurrection, and all that He did for the salvation of the world are done away with completely. What will the prophets and all Holy Scripture help? What will the sacraments help? Therefore let us reject all this and tread it underfoot.

These are devilish and poisoned darts and original sin itself, with which the devil led our first parents astray when he said (Gen. 3:5): “You will be like God.” They were not satisfied with the divinity that had been revealed and in the knowledge of which they were blessed, but they wanted to penetrate to the depth of the divinity. For they inferred that there was some secret reason why God had forbidden them to eat of the fruit of the tree which was in the middle of Paradise, and they wanted to know what this reason was, just as these people of our time say: “What God has determined beforehand must happen. Consequently, every concern about religion and about the salvation of souls is uncertain and useless.” Yet it has not been given to you to render a verdict that is inscrutable. Why do you doubt or thrust aside the faith that God has enjoined on you? For what end did it serve to send His Son to suffer and to be crucified for us? Of what use was it to institute the sacraments if they are uncertain or completely useless for our salvation? For otherwise, if someone had been predestined, he would have been saved without the Son and without the sacraments or Holy Scripture. Consequently, God, according to the blasphemy of these people, was horribly foolish when He sent His Son, promulgated the Law and the Gospel, and sent the apostles if the only thing He wanted was that we should be uncertain and in doubt whether we are to be saved or really to be damned.

But these are delusions of the devil with which he tries to cause us to doubt and disbelieve, although Christ came into this world to make us completely certain. For eventually either despair must follow or contempt for God, for the Holy Bible, for Baptism, and for all the blessings of God through which He wanted us to be strengthened over against uncertainty and doubt. For they will say with the Epicureans: “Let us live, eat, and drink; tomorrow we shall die” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:32). After the manner of the Turks they will rush rashly into the sword and fire, since the hour in which you either die or escape has been predetermined.

But to these thoughts one must oppose the true and firm knowledge of Christ, just as I often remind you that it is profitable and necessary above all that the knowledge of God be completely certain in us and that we cling to it with firm assent of the heart. Otherwise our faith is useless. For if God does not stand by His promises, then our salvation is lost, while, on the other hand, this is our comfort, that, although we change, we nevertheless flee for refuge to Him who is unchangeable. For in Mal. 3:6 He makes this assertion about Himself: “I the Lord do not change.” And Rom. 11:29 states: “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” Accordingly, this is how I have taught in my book On the Bondage of the Will and elsewhere, namely, that a distinction must be made when one deals with the knowledge, or rather with the subject, of the divinity. For one must debate either about the hidden God or about the revealed God. With regard to God, insofar as He has not been revealed, there is no faith, no knowledge, and no understanding. And here one must hold to the statement that what is above us is none of our concern. For thoughts of this kind, which investigate something more sublime above or outside the revelation of God, are altogether devilish. With them nothing more is achieved than that we plunge ourselves into destruction; for they present an object that is inscrutable, namely, the unrevealed God. Why not rather let God keep His decisions and mysteries in secret? We have no reason to exert ourselves so much that these decisions and mysteries be revealed to us.

Moses, too, asked God to show him His face; but the Lord replies: “You shall see My back, but you will not be able to see My face” (cf. Ex. 33:23). For this inquisitiveness is original sin itself, by which we are impelled to strive for a way to God through natural speculation. But this is a great sin and a useless and futile attempt; for this is what Christ says in John 6:65 (cf. John 14:6): “No one comes to the Father but by Me.” Therefore when we approach the unrevealed God, then there is no faith, no Word, and no knowledge; for He is an invisible God, and you will not make Him visible.

Furthermore, God has most sternly forbidden this investigation of the divinity. Thus when the apostles ask in Acts 1:6, “Has it not been predestined that at this time the kingdom should be restored?” Christ says to them: “It is not for you to know the times” (Acts 1:7). “Let Me be hidden where I have not revealed Myself to you,” says God, “or you will be the cause of your own destruction, just as Adam fell in a horrible manner; for he who investigates My majesty will be overwhelmed by My glory.”

And it is true that God wanted to counteract this curiosity at the very beginning; for this is how He set forth His will and counsel: “I will reveal My foreknowledge and predestination to you in an extraordinary manner, but not by this way of reason and carnal wisdom, as you imagine. This is how I will do so: From an unrevealed God I will become a revealed God. Nevertheless, I will remain the same God. I will be made flesh, or send My Son. He shall die for your sins and shall rise again from the dead. And in this way I will fulfill your desire, in order that you may be able to know whether you are predestined or not. Behold, this is My Son; listen to Him (cf. Matt. 17:5). Look at Him as He lies in the manger and on the lap of His mother, as He hangs on the cross. Observe what He does and what He says. There you will surely take hold of Me.” For “He who sees Me,” says Christ, “also sees the Father Himself” (cf. John 14:9). If you listen to Him, are baptized in His name, and love His Word, then you are surely predestined and are certain of your salvation. But if you revile or despise the Word, then you are damned; for he who does not believe is condemned (Mark 16:16).

You must kill the other thoughts and the ways of reason or of the flesh, for God detests them. The only thing you have to do is to receive the Son, so that Christ is welcome in your heart in His birth, miracles, and cross. For here is the book of life in which you have been written. And this is the only and the most efficacious remedy for that horrible disease because of which human beings in their investigation of God want to proceed in a speculative manner and eventually rush into despair or contempt. If you want to escape despair, hatred, and blasphemy of God, give up your speculation about the hidden God, and cease to strive in vain to see the face of God.

Otherwise you will have to remain perpetually in unbelief and damnation, and you will have to perish; for he who doubts does not believe, and he who does not believe is condemned (Mark 16:16).

Therefore we should detest and shun these vicious words which the Epicureans bandy about: “If this is how it must happen, let it happen.” For God did not come down from heaven to make you uncertain about predestination, to teach you to despise the sacraments, absolution, and the rest of the divine ordinances. Indeed, He instituted them to make you completely certain and to remove the disease of doubt from your heart, in order that you might not only believe with the heart but also see with your physical eyes and touch with your hands. Why, then, do you reject these and complain that you do not know whether you have been predestined? You have the Gospel; you have been baptized; you have absolution; you are a Christian. Nevertheless, you doubt and say that you do not know whether you believe or not, whether you regard as true what is preached about Christ in the Word and the sacraments.

But you will say: “I cannot believe.” Thus many are troubled by this trial, and I recall that at Torgau a little woman came to me and complained with tears in her eyes that she could not believe. Then, when I recited the articles of the Creed in order and asked about each one whether she was convinced that these things were true and had happened in this manner or not, she answered: “I certainly think that they are true, but I cannot believe.” This was a satanic illusion. Consequently, I kept saying: “If you think that all these things are true, there is no reason why you should complain about your unbelief; for if you do not doubt that the Son of God died for you, you surely believe, because to believe is nothing else than to regard these facts as the sure and unquestionable truth.”

God says to you: “Behold, you have My Son. Listen to Him, and receive Him. If you do this, you are already sure about your faith and salvation.” “But I do not know,” you will say, “whether I am remaining in faith.” At all events, accept the present promise and the predestination, and do not inquire too curiously about the secret counsels of God. If you believe in the revealed God and accept His Word, He will gradually also reveal the hidden God; for “He who sees Me also sees the Father,” as John 14:9 says. He who rejects the Son also loses the unrevealed God along with the revealed God. But if you cling to the revealed God with a firm faith, so that your heart is so minded that you will not lose Christ even if you are deprived of everything, then you are most assuredly predestined, and you will understand the hidden God. Indeed, you understand Him even now if you acknowledge the Son and His will, namely, that He wants to reveal Himself to you, that He wants to be your Lord and your Savior. Therefore you are sure that God is also your Lord and Father.

Observe how pleasantly and kindly God delivers you from this horrible trial with which Satan besets people today in strange ways in order to make them doubtful and uncertain, and eventually even to alienate them from the Word. “For why should you hear the Gospel,” they say, “since everything depends on predestination?” In this way he robs us of the predestination guaranteed through the Son of God and the sacraments. He makes us uncertain where we are completely certain. And if he attacks timid consciences with this trial, they die in despair, as would almost have happened to me if Staupitz had not delivered me from the same trial when I was troubled. But if they are despisers, they become the worst Epicureans. Therefore we should rather impress these statements on our hearts, such as John 6:44: “No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him.” Through whom? Through Me. “He who sees Me also sees the Father” (cf. John 14:9). And God says to Moses: “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live” (Ex. 33:20). And we read (Acts 1:7): “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority. But go, and carry out what I command.” Likewise (Ecclus. 3:22): “Seek not the things that are too high for you, and search not into things above your ability; but the things that God has commanded you, think on them always, and in many of His works be not curious.” Listen to the incarnate Son, and predestination will present itself of its own accord.

Staupitz used to comfort me with these words: “Why do you torture yourself with these speculations? Look at the wounds of Christ and at the blood that was shed for you. From these predestination will shine. Consequently, one must listen to the Son of God, who was sent into the flesh and appeared to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:8) and to make you sure about predestination. And for this reason He says to you: ‘You are My sheep because you hear My voice’ (cf. John 10:27). ‘No one shall snatch you out of My hands’ ” (cf. v. 28).

Many who did not resist this trial in such a manner were hurled headlong into destruction. Consequently, the hearts of the godly should be kept carefully fortified. Thus a certain hermit in The Lives of the Fathers advises his hearers against speculations of this kind. He says: “If you see that someone has put his foot in heaven, pull him back. For this is how saintly neophytes are wont to think about God apart from Christ. They are the ones who try to ascend into heaven and to place both feet there. But suddenly they are plunged into hell.” Therefore the godly should beware and be intent only on learning to cling to the Child and Son Jesus, who is your God and was made flesh for your sake. Acknowledge and hear Him; take pleasure in Him, and give thanks. If you have Him, then you also have the hidden God together with Him who has been revealed. And that is the only way, the truth, and the life (cf. John 14:6). Apart from it you will find nothing but destruction and death.

But He manifested himself in the flesh to snatch us from death, from the power of the devil. From this knowledge must come great joy and delight that God is unchangeable, that He works in accordance with unchangeable necessity, and that He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13) but keeps His promises. Accordingly, one is not free to have such thoughts or doubts about predestination; but they are ungodly, vicious, and devilish. Therefore when the devil assails you with them, you should only say: “I believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, about whom I have no doubt that He was made flesh, suffered, and died for me. Into His death I have been baptized.” This answer will make the trial disappear, and Satan will turn his back.

Thus on other occasions I have often mentioned the noteworthy example of a nun who underwent the same trial. For under the papacy there were also many godly persons who experienced these spiritual trials, which are truly hellish and thoughts of the damned. For there is no difference at all between one who doubts and one who is damned. Therefore whenever the nun felt that she was being assailed with the fiery darts of Satan (cf. Eph. 6:16), she would say nothing else than this: “I am a Christian.”

We must do the same thing. One must refrain from debates and say: “I am a Christian; that is, the Son of God was made flesh and was born; He has redeemed me and is sitting at the right hand of the Father, and He is my Savior.” Thus you must drive Satan away from you with as few words as possible and say: “Begone, Satan! (Matt. 4:10.) Do not put doubt in me. The Son of God came into this world to destroy your work (1 John 3:8) and to destroy doubt.” Then the trial ceases, and the heart returns to peace, quiet, and the love of God.

Otherwise doubt about some person’s intention is no sin. Thus Isaac doubts that he will live or have a pious host. About a man I can be in doubt. Indeed, I should be in doubt. For he is not my Savior, and it is written (Ps. 146:3): “Put not your trust in princes.” For man is a liar (Ps. 116:11) and deceitful. But one cannot deal doubtfully with God. For He neither wants nor is able to be changeable or a liar. But the highest form of worship He requires is your conviction that He is truthful. For this is why He has given you the strongest proofs of His trustworthiness and truth. He has given His Son into the flesh and into death, and He has instituted the sacraments, in order that you may know that He does not want to be deceitful, but that He wants to be truthful. Nor does He confirm this with spiritual proofs; He confirms it with tangible proofs. For I see the water, I see the bread and the wine, and I see the minister. All this is physical, and in these material forms He reveals Himself. If you must deal with men, you may be in doubt as to the extent to which you may believe a person and as to how others may be disposed toward you; but concerning God you must maintain with assurance and without any doubt that He is well disposed toward you on account of Christ and that you have been redeemed and sanctified through the precious blood of the Son of God. And in this way you will be sure of your predestination, since all the prying and dangerous questions about GOD’S secret counsels have been removed—the questions to which Satan tries to drive us, just as he drove our first parents.

But how great would our first parent’s happiness have been if he had kept the Word of God carefully in sight and had eaten of all the other trees except the one from which he had been forbidden to eat! But he wanted to search out why God had forbidden him to enjoy the fruits from that one tree. In addition, there was Satan, the malicious teacher who increased and abetted this curiosity. Thus he was hurled headlong into sin and death.

Thus God reveals His will to us through Christ and the Gospel. But we loathe it and, in accordance with Adam’s example, take delight in the forbidden tree above all the others. This fault has been implanted in us by nature. When Paradise and heaven have been closed and the angel has been placed on guard there (cf. Gen. 3:24), we try in vain to enter. For Christ has truthfully said: “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). Nevertheless, God, in His boundless goodness, has revealed Himself to us in order to satisfy our desire. He has shown us a visible image. “Behold, you have My Son; he who hears Him and is baptized is written in the book of life. This I reveal through My Son, whom you can touch with your hands and look at with your eyes.”

I have wanted to teach and transmit this in such a painstaking and accurate way because after my death many will publish my books and will prove from them errors of every kind and their own delusions. Among other things, however, I have written that everything is absolute and unavoidable; but at the same time I have added that one must look at the revealed God, as we sing in the hymn: Er heist Jesu Christ, der HERR Zebaoth, und ist kein ander Gott, “Jesus Christ is the Lord of hosts, and there is no other God”—and also in very many other places. But they will pass over all these places and take only those that deal with the hidden God. Accordingly, you who are listening to me now should remember that I have taught that one should not inquire into the predestination of the hidden God but should be satisfied with what is revealed through the calling and through the ministry of the Word. For then you can be sure about your faith and salvation and say: “I believe in the Son of God, who said (John 3:36): ‘He who believes in the Son has eternal life.’ ” Hence no condemnation or wrath rests on him, but he enjoys the good pleasure of God the Father. But I have publicly stated these same things elsewhere in my books, and now I am also teaching them by word of mouth. Therefore I am excused.

From the American Edition of Luther’s Works 5:43-50; commenting on Genesis 29:9.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Country Clergy

I've wanted to post some favourite poetry for some time now, but feared that I might be breaking several copyright laws by doing so. However, emboldened by the example of the Mild Colonial Boy, and flinging caution to the wind, I now post a favourite poem by the Welsh clergyman-poet R.S. Thomas, one of the better English-language poets of the latter half of the 20th century. Perhaps, if you go out and buy a book of his poems as a result of reading this, I'll receive some leniency from the judge!

The photo immediately below is of one of the Welsh villages where Thomas served, and beneath the poem is John Hedgecow's atmospheric 1966 photographic portrait of the poet, where he looks for all the world as though he's just stepped out of a John Cowper Powys novel. Enjoy.

The Country Clergy
by R. S. Thomas (1958)

I see them working in old rectories
By the sun's light, by candle-light,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes: rather they wrote
On men's hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.

While on the subject of poetry, John H. at Confessing Evangelical, whose blog is always worth reading, has a good recent post titled 'That We Lose Not The Things Poetical'. Here 'tis :

Monday, 27 July 2009

The C of E: Busy Making Unknown What Was Previously Known.

"The Church of England is busy making unknown what it has previously known. It is so busy selling teddybears, making coffee, preaching inoffensive political correctness and developing gay liturgy that it has lost all sense of its spiritual raison d’être. One comment in the thread, from the professing atheist Mikey, says: “I am atheist but would have more respect for the Church if it had a tiny bit of confidence in its message."

From the blog "Cranmer", 26.07.09, 'The Church That Doesn't Do God'.

Gloss: Regular Lutheran readers will have to forgive me for so many posts on the Church of England. I assure them I am "over" my former Anglicanism, but it continues to fascinate as well as proving itself a good foil for confessional Lutheran Christianity. I thought the above was a brilliant statement apropos the state of much (but thankfully not all) of Anglicanism, particularly in England, where a sort of 'Christian agnosticism' reigns in so many quarters of the established Church. Let me add that the present state of the C of E only increases my admiration for the many orthodox, evangelical, Bible-believing Christians who manage to go about their work - God's work - quietly while yet remaining within its walls.

Click on the title to go to the post.

Pic: 'Temple to an Unknown God', a.k.a. Salisbury Cathedral.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Luther on the Urgency of Attending to God's Gracious Word While It Is Among Us

Beloved Germans! Buy while the vendor is at the front door, make hay while the sun shines and the weather is good, and make use of God's gracious Word while it is still among us. For you should know that God's gracious Word is a swiftly passing downpour, which will not return to where it once rained down. It came to the Jews - but it passed on from them and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the people of Greece - but it has also passed on from them and they are now controlled by the Turks. Rome and the Latin-speaking lands had it as well - but now it has passed from them and they have the Pope. Likewise, you Germans should not think that you will have access to God's gracious Word forever, for neglect and contempt of it will lead it to pass also from you.

From To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany, That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools (1524) WA 15:32.4-13. My own free translation.

a) This is a rich sermon illustration which can lead the preacher to other concrete images. Melanchthon expressed a similar thought somewhere that I read once, but I have not since been able to track it down.
b)Lutheran dogmatics, with its (understandable) anti-Calvinistic polemic, has been concered to stress the universality of grace. Has it given sufficient attention to this thought? Then again, some of the 17th C. Lutheran orthodox used a similar illustration to argue precisely for the universality of grace, in that all peoples had once had access to the Gospel in some form, although it had since passed from them.
c)Pity the pastors who must minister in a time when the gracious Word of God is receding into the distance:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

From 'Dover Beach' by Matthew Arnold

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Sibbes on Conscience

We should not sin in hope of concealment. What if thou conceal it from others, canst thou conceal your own conscience? As one said well, what good is it for thou that none knows what is done, when thou knowest it thyself? What profit is it for him that hath a conscience that will accuse him, that he hath no man to accuse him but himself? He is a thousand witnesses to himself. Conscience is not a private witness*. It is a thousand witnesses. Therefore, never sin in hope to have it concealed. It were better that all men whould know it than that thyself should know it. All will one day be written in Thy forehead. Conscience will be a blab. If it cannot speak the truth now, though it be bribed in this life, it will have power and efficacy in the life to come...

* Sibbes seems to use "private" here in the sense of singular or solitary.

From the Anglican Puritan divine, Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), Commentary on II Corinthians, chapter I, found in Works of Richard Sibbes, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1981 3:208.

a) The Puritans are particularly rich in practical wisdom, indeed they placed a premium on the practical application of God's Word to life. However, one needs to beware of their doctrinal shortcomings, such as a tendency to separate Word and Spirit, Grace and Sacrament, Sign and Thing Signified.
b) The Puritans influenced German Pietism, no doubt because their warm practical orientation was seen to be an antidote to the perceived dryness of the high theology of later Lutheran orthodoxy. It would be interesting to track down and make a list of all the English Puritan works translated into German.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Old Language, New Religion

"In the current Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church, there is, as we would expect, a service of Holy Baptism. If you come to it, having been used to the services in the traditional Book of Prayer, you may be able to read it as if it were simply an updating of these. Further, if you examine the layout of this service, you notice that there are several types of sub-headings within the text. Those in the largest type are obviously intended to indicate the important nature and content of the material that follows and there are three of these: “Presentation and Examination of the Candidates,” “The Baptismal Covenant,” and “The Baptism.” It is here that you may begin to suspect that it is more than simple updating that has occurred here...

In “An Outline of Faith” in the same Prayer Book a covenant with God is defined thus: “A covenant is a relationship initiated by God, to which a body of people responds in faith.” And the New Covenant is said to be “the new relationship with God given by Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to the apostles; and, through them, to all who believe in him.”
So what we learn from the Service itself and from “An Outline” is that God as the senior Partner in the agreement/covenant/contract sets things in motion — initiates — and the human being as the junior partner accepts certain beliefs and conditions. (In terms of the beliefs and conditions, it would appear that the Episcopal liturgists actually created the terms of the contract of what they deemed God required in the modern world. And they used Scripture, Tradition and “Experience”. In doing this, they innovated in their placing in the contract the requirement of striving for “peace and justice” in the world, and “respecting the dignity” of each and every person, themes which most agree come from the late 1960s when the Service was first planned.)

Recently a female theologian of The Episcopal Church, Frederica H. Thompsett, deeply committed to “The Baptismal Covenant” gave great emphasis to it in an essay entitled, “Baptismal Living: Steadfast Covenant of Hope.” In the first sentence she writes:

Baptism is deeply grounded in the generosity of God. Like all other biblical covenants, whether the Hebrew covenants of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Jeremiah, or the new covenant proclaimed by Paul and others, baptism is a response to God’s initiating love. (Anglican Theological Review, 2004)

This is quite amazing. She equates the baptismal covenant with the new covenant in terms of importance, but as somehow different from it! And in this equation she apparently speaks for many in The Episcopal Church.

What was made clear in Columbus, Ohio, at the 75th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in June 2006, where I was present, was that there is a very clear connection and route from the content of its innovative 1979 Prayer Book to its major innovation in the secular areas of self-worth, human rights and freedoms, especially sexual. And that connection is specifically through the constant use of part of the text of the “Service of Holy Baptism” (1979, pp. 299ff.), specifically “The Baptismal Covenant.” Overseas journalists present at the Convention were mystified by the constant references in Committees, the Houses of Deputies and the House of Bishops to “The Baptismal Covenant” as the apparent basis of Episcopal religion. One journalist, who knows well the Church of England General Synod and its favourite themes, admitted on his Blog that he could not understand why Baptism was mentioned so often in an American Anglican Synod. At this stage he had not yet seen — the penny had not yet dropped — that this Covenant is the foundation of the progressive, liberal agenda.

In The Episcopal Church in 2007, Baptism seems to be widely understood as the ritual entrance into a community (a community in modern terms is the coming together of “individuals” for a common purpose). But what kind of community? This is presented within “The Baptismal Covenant”. Though there is a promise to be committed to certain traditional things such as church attendance, resisting of evil and proclaiming the Gospel, the innovation is in two questions which require an affirmative reply: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” And, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?” Then these themes cast their shadow backwards over the topics that went before them so that, for example, proclaiming the Gospel becomes proclaiming what would be called in political terms, a radical, progressive agenda of human affirmation. (All these new explanations of old themes are possible because for many God is no longer perceived in terms of classical Trinitarian Theism but, at best, in terms of panentheism and, at worst, in terms of pantheism; and thus God’s being and the being of the world are seen to be intimately related and so concern for the things of God is necessarily this-worldly, of this cosmos!)
Anyone who has followed the debates and resolutions of the General Convention from the 1960s through to 2006 will have no doubt of the great importance attached to these innovative, radical commitments to “God” based on “The Baptismal Covenant,” which provided not a few General Conventions with their titles and themes. What these commitments mean — if we listen to the General Convention and the Executive Council — is a virtually total dedication to the expanding agenda of civil and human rights and the support of all moves to affirm self-worth and human dignity. Thus anyone making these commitments within the context of the Episcopal Church is virtually committing himself to all the innovations introduced by the General Convention since the 1960s, from the right to divorce and remarriage in church, through a variety of women’s and minority rights, to the rights of homosexual persons to be true to their orientation. To see what “peace and justice” mean the place to go is to the work of the “Peace and Justice Commission” of the Episcopal Church since the 1970s, and to see what “dignity of persons” is all about the place to go is the General Convention and its resolutions arising from acceptance by this Church of most of the agenda of the LesBiGay and Feminist lobbies.
It is also important to note that the new Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, at her installation in The National Cathedral in Washington D.C. on November 4–5, 2006, made “The Baptismal Covenant” central on both days, and also had the ceremony of sprinkling the congregations with “baptismal water” as a sign of their commitment to and renewal of this covenant. Both her sermons presented the Christian Gospel in terms of a commitment to bringing into being a better world for the poor, needy, outcasts and sick. She presented what seemed to be an updated version of the old liberal doctrine of the realization of the kingdom of God on earth as that to which The Baptismal Covenant commits both God and the people of God..."

From Mystical Washing & Spiritual Regeneration by Peter Toon, Preservation Press of the Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A., 2007. Italics mine, ellipses indicate several sentences edited out for sake of brevity.

What Toon writes here, while part of a penetrating analysis of the attempt of the American Anglican establishment to forge a new religion under the guise of traditional Christian language and sacraments, also applies to much of the mainstream Lutheran and Reformed world (and much of Roman Catholicism in Western Europe, North America and Australasia too, for that matter).
For a time it was thought that the impact of Karl Barth, particularly in the English-speaking world in the period from 1920-1959, had overcome the old liberalism in the mainstream Protestant denominations, but since the 1960s "social justice" concerns have brought the old liberalism back into these denominations like a Trojan Horse, and by and large the laity have remained oblivious to the fact. After all, what reasonable person does not want to be seen to be in favour of peace, justice and human rights? Who in their right mind would rather have war, injustice and oppression?

It is only when one takes the time to delve behind the familiar language and examine the concepts involved - as Toon does here and elsewhere in his writings - that one discovers that the language of Zion is being appropriated for the purposes of a neo-Marxist agenda that is fundamentally opposed to everything that these Christian confessions represent. In the neo-Marxist agenda, the oppressed are no longer the urban proletariat, who long ago forsook socialism for the increased standard of living that capitalism provides, but the gay, lesbian and womanist sub-cultures whose rights are denied by conventional, Pharisaic society. The Gospel in this New Religion is a message of radical liberation, not from sin, death and the devil, but from the death-dealing strictures of conventional 'bourgeois' society, in so far as that society remains informed by traditional Christian values.

In a logical development, Katherine Jefferts-Schori, the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church USA, has recently labelled the concern with individual salvation of traditional Christianity a barrier to the church pursuing its real agenda in the world.

However, faithful Anglicans are waking up to the attempt to usurp their religion, and are leaving the ECUSA denomination in droves. Even Rowan Williams has been drawn to comment unambiguously on the recent Episcopal Convention's decision that being in a same-sex relationship is not an obstacle to occupying even the highest of offices in the church.

Members of the Lutheran Church of Australia who engage with Anglicans need to take note of these developments. In most Australian Anglican dioceses, the lines of division have not yet been drawn as clearly as in the US, and since the Evangelicals here are more powerful in the church than in the US, it is harder for the progressives to impose their agenda on the church. But we would be short-sighted to think that the same struggle is not happening here.
For example, the new Prayer Book for Australia (sometimes disparagingly referred to as the "Prayer Brick", due to its hefty size and weight) published in 1999, not only replaced the hallowed traditional phraseology of the 1978 Australian Prayer Book with more prosaic modern sentences, but it also requires candidates for baptism to renounce "selfish living and all that is false and unjust".
Again, at first glance there is perhaps nothing objectionable in this, although it is quite a nebulous sentence. The average church goer might conclude it is derived from John the Baptist's ethical instructions to his baptismal candidates. But how exactly does one define what is selfish, false and unjust today, and therefore to be renounced? One needs to look to the social justice statements of the Diocesan Social Responsibility commissions to find out, and there is the rub.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Plain Sense of 1 Corinthians 10:16

"Nothing is more characteristic of the Apostle’s sacramental teaching as a whole than his use of the term fellowship (Greek koinonia). In baptism we are united with Christ in his death and risen life; in the Lord’s Supper we share in his body and blood. This is the plain sense of 1 Corinthians 10:16...

...Provided we insist on the importance of a living communion by faith, we may agree with Hauck’s interpretation: ‘Bread and Wine are for Paul bearers of the presence of Christ’ (F. Hauck, article in Kittel’s TDNT)."

Reader's Note: Koinonia is usually translated as "communion with", "sharing in", & "participation in" in English New Testaments - MH.

From Worship in the Early Church, originally published by Marshall, Morgan & Scott, London, 1964, quotation from Eerdmans Reprint, 1992, pp 122 & 127.

Gloss: Ralph P. Martin was Professor of New Testament and Director of Graduate Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in California and is presently Distinguished Scholar in Residence at that institution. He holds a Ph D in New Testament from King's College, University of London and has contributed to the Word commentary series, amongst other publications.
I do not know what denomination Martin belongs to, but Fuller is progressively evangelical (some would say liberal evangelical), and Martin would certainly have no interest in defending the Lutheran doctrine of the sacramental union in the Lord's Supper. But in this little volume he comes very close to the basic Lutheran position on the Lord's Supper, simply by taking 1 Corinthians 10:16 in its "plain sense", that is, interpreted literally and not through the prism of Calvinist dogma. Read in context, one will see that Martin might quibble at some of the protective fences Lutherans have traditionally built about their interpretation (communion of the impious, for e.g.), but this is nevertheless a momentous confession from a distinguished evangelical scholar.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

New Blog Title

New blog title, new photo behind the title; still on holidays and obviously with too much time on my hands (thanks to my parishioners, who've kindly left me undisturbed to enjoy my rest).
I've been ensconced in my study for the last few days, warmed by the fire, reading voraciously and blogging more than I normally do, breaking only to collect firewood, watch the cricket and occasionally eat and sleep. Don't worry, it will all come to an end soon enough when my good wife returns home.
As mentioned in the sidebar profile, the new title is a play on the title of a collection of short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses From An Old Manse (if you like 19th C. Gothic literature, you've probably heard of Hawthorne and read these tales, if not, I recommend them).
Here's the book:

And here's Hawthorne's old manse in New England:

Glosses are simply notes to aid in interpretation scribbled in the margins of books, a practice which became important in medieval times.
Here's a few examples:

So, the idea is that my posts are nothing more than notes or 'glosses' on theology and life, scribbled on the margins of the web (i.e. my blog!) from the study of the old manse where I live, to aid myself and whoever reads my blog to 'interpret' life from a confessional Lutheran viewpoint.

Oh, and no, that is not the view from my front door, it is the view from the front door of the old manse in Gartmore, Scotland. Here's what it looks like from the front lawn:

Any comments on the new title and blog-philosophy are most welcome.
Please adjust the title of your bookmark accordingly (if you can be bothered, that is!).

Saturday, 11 July 2009

The Wreck of Calvin's Lord's Supper Doctrine

To mark - mark, not celebrate, mind you - the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth yesterday, I'm posting these reflections on the Genevan Reformer's theology of the sacrament from the German-Australian theologian and confessor, Hermann Sasse, which I recently added to my other blog, What Sasse Said. The portrait of Calvin below is by Oliver Crisp, and my own comment follows below it.

But first, Calvin's highest written expression of his Lord's Supper doctrine:

"While we, as long as we sojourn in this mortal life, cannot be included or contained in the same place with Him, the efficacy of His Spirit is not limited by boundaries of space and time and therefore is able to bring together and connect what is separated by local distance...Thus we recognise that His Spirit is the bond of our participation in Him. The Spirit feeds us with the substance of the flesh and blood of our Lord for immortality."

Calvin: Theological Treatises, Library of Christian Classics, SCM, London, 1954.

"In his doctrine of the Lord's Supper, Calvin tries to find the via media between Luther and Zwingli. Already in the first edition of the Institutio, which appeared in the year of the Wittenberg Concord, his doctrine was almost complete. Without mentioning names, he rejects the understanding of the Words of Institution held by Luther on the one hand and by Zwingli and Oecolampadius on the other hand. Neither is the bread the body or the body is the bread*, nor is the bread a mere sign or figure of the body. In the Sacrament 'we are spiritually fed' (Spiritualiter pascimur, Corpus Reformatorum, [Calvin] I, 118), that is, our souls are fed with the body and blood of the Lord. There is no Real Presence of the body of Christ in the Sacrament, as Luther believes, for the body of Christ exists , locally circumscribed, in heaven."

From This Is My Body Luther's Contention for the Real Presence...Revised Australian Edition, March 1977, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, p261-262

* This awkward phrase sounds like a Germanism which may have slipped passed Sasse's English style advisor.

"No-one can study Calvin seriously without feeling the deep longing of this man for the real Sacrament. There is a touching hunger and thirst for the Sacrament which expressed itself in the classical liturgies of the old Reformed churches. Calvin really wanted to retain the Sacrament. Only reluctantly did he give up the desire to have the Sacrament celebrated each Sunday. But his theology, and perhaps still more the philosophical presuppositions of this theology, made it impossible to reconcile the realistic terminology with his actual thoughts. This was seen at once by the Lutherans."

This Is My Body, Luther's Contention for the Real Presence...
Revised Australian Edition, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, 1977, p. 266.

Comment: Behind Calvin's views on the Lord's Supper there is a large hinterland of philosophical assumptions on spirit and matter and pertinent theological developments, including the Marburg Colloquy and Zwingli's adoption and promotion of the Dutch lawyer Cornelius Hoen's repristination of Wessel Gansfort's critique of transunstantiation. Indeed, this hinterland even stretches as far back to the Second Eucharistic Controversy of the 11th century between Berengar and Lanfranc, which helped to usher in the era of medieval scholasticism, not to mention the oft-debated question of relation of John 6 to the Lord's Supper, all of which territory we would have to explore carefully in order to fully understand the issues involved.

However, we can set all this aside for the moment, because we do not have to fully understand the issues in order to understand what Holy Scripture teaches on the matter. Calvin's doctrine on the Supper (and, btw, I haven't yet met a "Calvinist" who holds it, although I have met several high church Anglicans who do, although they would shudder at being called "Calvinists"!) comes to grief on the twin rocks of 1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:27, which clearly show that for Paul, and therefore for the Holy Spirit which inspired him, it is the bread and wine which are the bearers of Christ's body and blood to us in the sacrament, not the Spirit. A doctrine which exists in such tortured contradiction to Paul's teaching as Calvin's does cannot be called scriptural.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Books That Have Shaped My Life

OK. Enough of cricket and politics, let's move on to less ephemeral matters: 'Books that have Shaped my Life'.

I. A History of Philosophy by Frederick Copleston.

Rather strange that my first choice should be by a Roman Catholic and a Jesuit to boot! But, as anyone who has read these works - and for present purposes I am treating the nine volumes as one "Book" - will know, this is the best history of philosophy available in English. These volumes were originally written in the 1950s to provide Roman Catholic seminarians with a deeper introduction to Western philosophy than was hitherto available to them, but I'm sure their impact has been felt far outside the seminary lecture halls. Looking back, it was by sheer good fortune (or was it mysterious providence?) that I came across the cheap little paperback editions of Copleston in a bookshop (no, I did not own the handsome blue-cloth bound set pictured, but they're on my wish-list).

At the time I read them I was in my early twenties and although I had worked as a clerk after leaving school I found myself retrenched due to the recession of the early 1980s, when unemployment levels in my age group were over 30%. Thus it was that, with time on my hands, I became interested in philosophical questions: God, Man, Life, Death, Origins of the Universe, The Trustworthiness of Our Sense Perceptions (little did I realise then where this path would lead me!).

I suppose this was my "university education" (no-one in my family had ever gone to university, lower middle-class sons needed scholarships to do so in those days) and like many students I began to spend more on books than on food, only in my case out of interest and not necessity. And yes, I was living in a...well, not exactly a garret, but certainly not the finest of inner-city accomodation (before such areas became trendy and gentrified), which I shared with a mate* who had a job but liked to spend most of his wage on going out to the pub, thus leaving me in quietness most of the time to read. I well remember often getting up after reading for hours and becoming light-headed, due, I suppose, to a lack of food - all I remember eating was jam on bread, which I toasted on a bar-heater, and cups of sweet tea, with the occasional evening meal of "spag bol" or tins of greasy "Irish stew" and "Braised Steak" which I now shudder to even contemplate.

Of course, my mind was much more agile then than it is now, some twenty-five years later, and I dare say I have forgotten much of what I read. But at the time reading Copleston's history on the sugar high provided by jam and tea was almost as exciting as reading Tolstoy's 'War & Peace' (which I also read around the same time, along with most of Dostoevsky's novels, Knut Hamsun's 'Hunger' - appropriate, yes?!- and the poetry of T S Eliot); it was to embark upon an intellectual adventure in the company of some of the greatest minds ever to have graced the earth with their presence.

Behold, an exciting thing happened as I progressed through each volume (and yes, as I recall, I did buy them in order each fortnight as my dole cheque arrived, and I did read them all)...I began to find the Christian philosophers to be the most interesting and compelling, especially Augustine, whom Coplestone treats as a philosopher, although I would place him in the more vital category of "thinker".
I wasn't actually reading philosophy, to be sure, and I have usually found the writings of philosophers themselves to be extremely tedious, but I certainly was thinking philosophically about my own life, the world around me and the possibility of the existence of God along with the implciations for my life, as a result of reading Copleston.
Somewhere in my secondary school years, between the ages of 14-15, I had lost my childhood faith (or so I thought, now I sometimes wonder whether the dim embers of that faith were ever entirely extinguished). After Copleston, I had not yet begun to be Christian again or to consider myself such, but I had a new respect for Christianity and even the church as a result of my newly-awakened interest in Christian thought, and especially in Augustine.

Thus, through the writing of Fr Copleston, my mind and life began to be shaped by the great Christian tradition, especially the Augustinian tradition, albeit presented by a Thomist.

Thank you, Fr Copleston.

*mate = British English slang for a friend, a "buddy" in American terms.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

At Last, Confessing Anglicans Find a Voice!

At last, a "confessing movement" which seeks to call mainstream, historically Protestant Anglicanism back from its liberal drift to its confessional, biblical roots has come forth as a result of the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem last year, and it has the Queen's support, no less.

A leading light in the movement is Michael Nazir-Ali (pictured), the Pakistani born Bishop of Rochester (soon to retire from that position) who was considered one of two prime candidates for the position of Archbishop of Canterbury in 2003 (unfortunately Rowan Williams was appointed). Bishop Nazir-Ali has been a vocal contender for the traditional Christian positions on marriage and family, has publicly called on practising homosexuals to repent, and has warned of the dangers to a cohesive British society that stem from Canadian style multi-culturalism, especially in view of Britain's large Islamic population (Nazir-Ali's father converted to Christianity from Islam, and Nazir-Ali himself holds dual Pakistani-British citizenship). Nazir-Ali's pronouncements on these subjects have been as clear and bell-like as Rowan Williams' have been obfuscating and muted.

There has never been any doubt that Bible-honouring Anglicanism would survive, but at times it has not seemed clear how - but now the inception of this movement may be the catalyst for positive change and renewal.
Lutherans, watch and learn! This development is not without relevance to us.
Click on the title to go to the UK Telegraph's story.
The website address of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Wish You Were Here!

I've escaped from deep rural exile for a while and I'm blogging from the city of Adelaide in South Australia, where I'm spending 2 days on leave. Will be visiting my alma mater, Luther Seminary, tomorrow...well, the library specifically, to do some research and donate some books to them.

Adelaide in winter has a strange climate which is never quite what I would call cold, but certainly not warm either, but often wet and miserable, which presents the traveller with difficulties as to what to pack. However, it always amuses to see the locals wearing long overcoats when it is no colder than 16 celsius - one of the reasons why I consider Adelaide the most pretentious Australian capital city!

Adelaide is definitely a city to visit in late spring and summer, when it can be quite glorious, as the picture above, taken just down from the Lutheran seminary in North Adelaide, overlooking the cricket ground and city centre, shows. In winter, however, it is uninspiring and mediocre.

Visited the local Koorong today - the largest Christian bookstore chain in Australia. Interestingly, I discovered the Adelaide shop rates their Bibles according to sales: NIV Study Bible is No 1, and the Orthodox Study Bible in the New King James Version published by Thomas Nelson is at No 8 ahead of the much vaunted ESV Study Bible at No 9. Either Orthodox are taking up bible study seriously, or evangelicals are interested in Orthodoxy, I suspect the latter, and that ESV is outgunned by the NIVSB among evangelicals. I've blogged about that before, and may do so again. I was, however, distressed by the fact that in between the NIVSB and the OSB & ESV there were to be found study bibles authorised by Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer! Whether such offerings are heretical is not for me to say, but I fear they are definitely unhealthy spiritually and methodologically eisegetical (reading meanings into the text, rather than deriving meaning from it). Perhaps the better question to ask is: Why are they so popular?

Picked up a copy of Oswald Bayer's Martin Luther's Theology - at Koorong; looks good, better than Loehse's comparable volume of c. 2002.

Visited Borders (large multi-national book chain), dirty and disappointing, but still better than Melbourne's CBD Borders! Will check out a few other book shops tomorrow, d.v..

Update: Next day visited Dymocks - impressed. When I lived in Adelaide Dymocks was a poky (pokey?) little book shop whose custom was being enticed away by the newly opened shop of the international chain Borders; now Dymocks has a clean, spacious two-storey shop, with more books, as opposed to coffee shops, knick knacks, CDs and DVDs, and better variety and prices than Borders too.

Also visited Adelaide Booksellers , the second-hand book dealers at the top of Rundle Mall - used to be a chaotically organised, dusty shop but has been transformed into one of the best second-hand bookshops I have experienced. Picked up a copy of volume one of Prof. Owen Chadwick's classic The Victorian Church from Black's Ecclesiastical History of England series. Now I have to buy volume two!

So, in the end I came away from Adelaide with fewer books than I went with, much fewer - which was one of my goals, as I am trying to simplify my life and live with fewer books (and "stuff" generally). More on that endeavour in the future.