Saturday, 27 February 2010

Luther on the Church Fathers

Here is a quote from Luther on the authority of the early church Fathers which is made en passant in his discussion of the days of creation in his commentary on Genesis. An aspect of this comment that I find particularly interesting is that Luther is not content just to state the truth of the matter of the Father's authority, but he draws a pastoral application from it for theologians and ministers in regard to their teaching.
"...this also has a bearing on our firmly holding the conviction that there were really six days on which the Lord created everything, in contrast to the opinion of Augustine and Hilary, who believed that everything was created in a single moment. They, therefore, abandon the historical account, pursuing allegories and fabricating I don't know what speculations. However, I am not saying this to vilify the holy fathers, whose works should be held in high regard, but to establish the truth and to comfort us. They were great men, but nevertheless they were human beings who erred and who were subject to error. So we do not exalt them as do the monks, who worship all their opinions as if they were infallible. To me the great comfort seems to lie rather in this, that they are found to have erred and occasionally to have sinned. For this is my thought: If God forgave them their errors and sins, why should I despair of His pardon? The opposite brings on despair-if you should believe that they did not have the same shortcomings that you have. Moreover, it is certain that between the call of the apostles and that of the fathers there is a great difference. Why, then, should we regard the writings of the fathers as equal to those of the apostles?"
Martin Luther
"Lectures on Genesis"
American Edition of Luther's Works [AE,1:121]
(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958)

Friday, 26 February 2010

For Anne...

This post is for Anne, who, in a thread over at Sentire Cum Ecclesia, asked what I meant when I said that Lutherans would permit the Pope to be head of the college of bishops (of a united Western church) if only he would allow the Gospel to have free course in the Church.

Anne, this is the basic Lutheran confession of what the Gospel or Good News is:

It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and rightousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righetous before God by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness. Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5.

From the Augsburg Confession of 1530, which can be found in the on-line version of the Book of Concord, the collection of Lutheran confessions of faith,
here: (or click on the post title).

Lutherans prayerfully hope that the Pope will one day fully accept this Gospel and reform the Roman church in accordance with it, removing from her life all that is inconsistent with this Good News, which God himself has given to us through Christ for the sake of our salvation. If and when the Pope does this, Lutherans will consider their separation from Rome no longer justifiable, and will gladly enter into communion with the Pope, his bishops, and the Roman faithful. But until such time, we must persist in our separate existence, for the sake of the Gospel.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

C S Lewis on Law and Gospel

"Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing…to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness."
Mere Christianity p.38

When you know you are sick, you will listen to the doctor…. Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in…dismay.”
Mere Christianity, p39

Many more instances of Lewis' understanding of Law and Gospel from across his range of works could be cited. A useful study of Lewis' use of Law and Gospel is Law and Gospel in the Works of C S Lewis by Angus Menuge (click on the post title to view).

Lewis was a lay theologian, rather than a professional one, which perhaps explains why he has connected with so many lay people. He was also, of course, an Anglican, and there is, as far as I am aware, little or no evidence that Lewis ever studied Luther or Lutheran theology, and yet his work is permeated with the use of the Law and Gospel in ways that Lutherans instantly recognise as being in accord with their own understanding of how these two Words of God function soteriologically. I suggest, modestly, that Lewis learned the distinctions between Law and Gospel simply through reading the scriptures, in particular the Gospels, followed by St Paul. Menuge deals with the evidence for Lewis' understanding of Law and Gospel extant in his writings, without delving too much into how Lewis conceived his understanding; the latter would make an interesting topic for research if one had access to Lewis' archives.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Ordered Your "Memex" Yet?

From the July, 1945 edition of The Atlantic, a journal of opinion on politics, science and business which is still in publication:
Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.

The Editor of The Atlantic introduces the article's author as "Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Dr. Vannevar Bush has coordinated the activities of some six thousand leading American scientists in the application of science to warfare. In this significant article he... urges that men of science should ...turn to the massive task of making more accessible our bewildering store of knowledge... Now, says Dr. Bush, instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages."

Just imagine if you could link Memexes together by telegraphic or even wireless means...

HT Mike Westfall, in the Comments section of Gene Veith's latest post, The Internet as Collectivist Monster (click post title).

Cranmer on Law & Gospel II

"Now they that think they may come to justification by performance of the law, by their own deeds and merits, or by any other mean than is above rehearsed, they go from Christ, they renounce his grace: Evacuati estis a Christo, saith St. Paul, Gal. v., quicunque, in lege, judificamini, a gratia excidistis. They be not partakers of the justice, that he hath procured, or the merciful benefits that be given by him. For St. Paul saith a general rule for all them that will seek such by-paths to obtain justification; those, saith he, which will not knowledge the justness or righteousness which cometh by God, but go about to advance their own righteousness, shall never come to that righteousness which we have by God (Rom. 10:1-4); which is the righteousness of Christ: by whom only all the saints in heaven, and all other that have been saved, have been reputed righteous, and justified. So that to Christ our only Saviour and Redeemer, on whose righteousness both their and our justification doth depend, is to be transcribed all the glory thereof."

From The King's Book, "A Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for Any Christian Man; Set Forth by the King's Majesty of England," (1538), available in the Parker Society volume of Cranmer's writings (Cambridge University Press, 1840 and thereafter).

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Cranmer on Law & Gospel

"To know how we obtain our justification, it is expedient to consider, first, how naughty and sinful we are all, that be of Adam's kindred; and contrariwise, what mercifulness is in God, which to all faithful and penitent sinners pardoneth all their offences for Christ's sake. Of these two things no man is lightly ignorant that ever hath heard of the fall of Adam, which was to the infection of all his posterity; and again, of the inexplicable mercy of our heavenly Father, which sent his only begotten Son to suffer his most grievous passion for us, and shed his most precious blood, the price of our redemption.
...The commandments of God lay our faults before our eyes, which putteth us in fear and dread, and maketh us see the wrath of God against our sins, as St. Paul saith, Per legem agnitio peccati, et, Lex iram operatur, and maketh us sorry and repentant, that ever we should come into the displeasure of God, and the captivity of the Devil. The gracious promises of God by the mediation of Christ showeth us, (and that to our great relief and comfort,) whensoever we be repentant...we have forgiveness of our sins, [are] reconciled to God, and accepted, and reputed just and righteous in his sight, only by his grace and mercy, which he doth grant and give unto us for his dearly beloved Son's sake, Jesus Christ; who paid a sufficient ransom for our sins; whose blood doth wash away the same; whose bitter and grievous passion is the only pacifying oblation, that putteth away from us the wrath of God his Father; whose sanctified body offered on the cross is the only sacrifice of sweet and pleasant savour, as St. Paul saith: that is to say, of such sweetness and pleasantness to the Father, that for the same he accepteth and reputeth of like sweetness all them that the same offering doth serve for."

This is an extract from Cranmer's annotations to The King's Book, the popular title for "A Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for Any Christian Man; Set Forth by the King's Majesty of England," (1538). This can be found in the Parker Society volume of Cranmer's writings (Cambridge University Press, 1840). It has been said by at least one scholar that Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer is the highest liturgical expression ever given to the doctrine of Law and Gospel.

Note: Our erstwhile Lutheran cum Roman Catholic interlocutor has conceded that the Law-Gospel hermeneutic is also known outside the Lutheran confession, although he believes this is due to Lutheran influence. I agree, of course, that Lutheran influence accounts for much of the knowledge of this doctrine in the Reformed, Anglican and Baptist confessions; after all, Martin Luther was God's instrument to restore the clear knowledge of Law and Gospel to the church. But, it seems to me that this factor alone does not account for the widespread acceptance of this doctrine. After all, a Presbyterian, an Anglican or a Baptist would not accept a doctrine merely on the basis of 'what Luther said'; in accordance with the foundational principles of their own confessions they would test this doctrine against the scriptures, and only if it passed that test would it be received.
And then, there is also a tradition of the Law-Gospel hermeneutic in these confessions themselves which does not need Lutheran influence to sustain it.
And further, there are the relatively unlearned and unread proponents of the Law-Gospel doctrine, such as John Bunyan, from whom we shall quote in due course.

Significant Archaeological Discovery Near Temple Mount

More breaking news: Overnight Australian time an Israeli archaeologist announced the discovery of an ancient fortification near the Temple mount in Jerusalem which she believes to date back 3000 years to King Solomon's time. If her estimation is correct, it would be evidence that Israel at the time had a strong central government as the Bible indicates. To date, most Israeli archaeologists have contended that the lack of archaeological evidence from this time period means that the reigns of David and Solomon as recorded in the Bible are at best exaggerated or at worst mythical.

Click on the post title to read a report.

The pic is of the excavations.

Luther on Law & Gospel

Before returning to our series of posts quoting non-Lutherans on Law and Gospel, I thought it would be helpful for all, but especially non-Lutheran readers, to hear from Luther himself on the topic. The following extract is from a sermon that was also, if I'm not mistaken, appended to copies of the Luther Bibel. The painting is 'Gesetz und Gnade' (Law and Grace), a visual depiction of the Lutheran doctrine, by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Notice how on the side depicting Law, Christ appears as Judge coming on the clouds, while in the side depicting Grace, He appears as Saviour and Redeemer.

"Dear friends, you have often heard that there has never been a public sermon from heaven except twice. Apart from them God has spoken many times through and with men on earth, as in the case of the holy patriarchs Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others, down to Moses. But in none of these cases did he speak with such glorious splendor, visible reality, or public cry and exclamation as he did on those two occasions. Rather God illuminated their heart within and spoke through their mouth, as Luke indicates in the first chapter of his gospel where he says, "As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old" [Luke 1:70].

Now the first sermon is in Exodus 19 and 20; by it God caused himself to be heard from heaven with great splendor and might. For the people of Israel heard the trumpets and the voice of God himself.

In the second place God delivered a public sermon through the Holy Spirit on Pentecost [Acts 2:2-4]. On that occasion the Holy Spirit came with great splendor and visible impressiveness, such that there came from heaven the sudden rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where the apostles were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to preach and speak in other tongues. This happened with great splendor and glorious might, so that thereafter the apostles preached so powerfully that the sermons which we hear in the world today are hardly a shadow compared to theirs, so far as the visible splendor and substance of their sermons is concerned. For the apostles spoke in all sorts of languages, performed great miracles, etc. Yet through our preachers today the Holy Spirit does not cause himself to be either heard or seen; nothing is coming down openly from heaven. This is why I have said that there are only two such special and public sermons which have been seen and heard from heaven. To be sure, God spoke also to Christ from heaven, when he was baptized in the Jordan [Matt. 3:17], and [at the Transfiguration] on Mount Tabor [Matt. 17:5]. However none of this took place in the presence of the general public.

God wanted to send that second sermon into the world, for it had earlier been announced by the mouth and in the books of the holy prophets. He will no longer speak that way publicly through sermons. Instead, in the third place, he will come in person with divine glory, so that all creatures will tremble and quake before him [Luke 21:25-27]; and then he will no longer preach to them, but they will see and handle him himself [Luke 24:39].

Now the first sermon, and doctrine, is the law of God. The second is the gospel. These two sermons are not the same. Therefore we must have a good grasp of the matter in order to know how to differentiate between them. We must know what the law is, and what the gospel is. The law commands and requires us to do certain things. The law is thus directed solely to our behavior and consists in making requirements. For God speaks through the law, saying, "Do this, avoid that, this is what I expect of you." The gospel, however, does not preach what we are to do or to avoid. It sets up no requirements but reverses the approach of the law, does the very opposite, and says, "This is what God has done for you; he has let his Son be made flesh for you, has let him be put to death for your sake." So, then, there are two kinds of doctrine and two kinds of works, those of God and those of men. Just as we and God are separated from one another, so also these two doctrines are widely separated from one another. For the gospel teaches exclusively what has been given us by God, and not - as in the case of the law - what we are to do and give to God."

From the sermon, How Christians Should Regard Moses, August 27, 1525

New Lutheran Church Body in the USA

We interrupt our scheduled programming on Law and Gospel for breaking news: As I type, it is likely that discussions regarding the formation of a new Lutheran church body in the USA are taking place. The proposed new body, to be called The North American Lutheran Church (all the good names are taken, it seems!) will rise from the ashes of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's 2009 synod's decision to allow homosexual clergy and move to bless same-sex unions in the future. Already, 229 congregations are reported to have taken votes on leaving the ELCA, and in 156 of those congregations the vote has attained the necessary two-thirds majority (a second vote is required within a 90 day period for the decision to be constitutional, apparently).

Small beginnings, perhaps, given the size of the ELCA, but as the recent history of orthodox Anglican breakaway groups in the US has shown, these movements, once started in the US, tend to gain a momentum of their own once disaffected members of the parent body see a viable alternative.

We at the 'old manse' look forward to future developments, and await further elucidation of the proposed new body's doctrinal basis. A rejection of the hermeneutical approaches which have led to the ELCA's present problems and a re-statement of Biblical authority would be a good start.

Click on the post title to read Lutheran CORE's press release. The move to form a new denomination has been reported in several national newspapers in the US, as was the 2009 synod decision. The pic is one of the Lutheran CORE group of ELCA dissneters 2009 Convocation.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Bavinck on Law & Gospel

We continue our series of posts from the writings of non-Lutheran exponents of the Law-Gospel hermeneutic with an extract from the great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics. Bavinck (1854-1921) was a man of encyclopedic learning who guided the conservative and confessional part of the Dutch Reformed Church as it met modernity head on in the late 19th century. In this endeavour he was a contemporary and co-worker with the churchman, theologian and some-time Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper.

“Although in a broad sense the terms ‘law’ and ‘gospel’ can indeed be used to denote the old and the new dispensation of the covenant of grace, in their actual significance they definitely describe two essentially different revelations of divine will.”

...the law is the will of God; holy, wise, good, and spiritual; giving life to those who maintain it, but because of sin it has been made powerless, it fails to justify, it only stimulates covetousness, increases sin, arouses wrath, kills, curses, and condemns. Over against it stands the gospel of Christ, the euangellion, which contains nothing less than the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise, which comes to us from God, has Christ as its content, and conveys nothing other than grace, reconciliation, forgiveness, righteousness, peace, freedom, life, and so forth.”

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 4, pp. 252-253

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Spurgeon (a Baptist) on Law & Gospel

This is post #2 in a series compiled to disprove the assertion of an erstwhile Lutheran who has 'swum the Tiber' that the distinction between Law and Gospel is a peculiarly Lutheran doctrine, with the none too veiled insinuation that it is actually sectarian.
By providing quotations from non-Lutherans on the distinction between Law and Gospel that are in harmony with Lutheran teaching, I hope to show that this is not a sectarian doctrine but one which is subscribed by notable theologians and preachers across confessional boundaries and down through the centuries. This evidence, I contend, shows not only that the doctrine has ample claim to be considered catholic, but even more importantly it points to the fcat that many have considered the doctrine to be drawn from scripture, the only infallible rule of faith in the church.

Charles Spurgeon was, of course, the great Baptist preacher of 19th century London. There are some important doctrines on which Lutherans would disagree with Spurgeon, but we can at least approve his understanding of the distinction between Law and Gospel as it is on display here in one of his early sermons. Spurgeon's preaching had great power and drew masses of people who otherwise might have neglected church attendance. It was also later the subject of a book by a Lutheran theologian well-known for the ability of his preaching to reach the masses in post-war Germany and beyond, Helmut Thielicke.

"There is no point upon which men make greater mistakes than upon the relation which exists between the law and the gospel. Some men put the law instead of the gospel; others put the gospel instead of the law; some modify the law and the gospel, and preach neither law nor gospel; and others entirely abrogate the law, by bringing in the gospel. Many there are who think that the law is the gospel, and who teach that men by good works of benevolence, honesty, righteousness, and sobriety, may be saved. Such men do err. On the other hand, many teach that the gospel is a law; that it has certain commands in it, by obedience to which, men are meritoriously saved; such men err from the truth, and understand it not. A certain class maintain that the law and the gospel are mixed, and that partly by observance of the law, and partly by God's grace, men are saved. These men understand not the truth, and are false teachers."
(A Sermon (No. 37) Delivered on Sabbath Morning, August 26, 1855, by the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.)

Saturday, 20 February 2010

A Poem on Law & Gospel

This post - the first of a series to be posted in the coming days - is by way of response to an erstwhile Lutheran who has 'swum the Tiber' and who now claims that the Law-Gospel hermeneutic is a peculiar doctrine unknown outside of Lutheranism.

While the source may be somewhat obscure to all but those familiar with Scottish church history, the light with which it displays a knowledge of the workings of Law and Gospel for our salvation is brilliant.

It may not be great poetry either, but it can be acknowledged that the author's purpose of enlightening the common Scottish folk of the time as to evangelical doctrine through rhyming verse is well-executed.

Ralph Erskine (1685-1752)
Scottish Presbyterian, Educated at Edinburgh University, Minister at Dunfermline.

A Poem on Law & Gospel (from Erskine's 'Gospel Sonnets', 1745)

The law supposing I have all,
Does ever for perfection call;
The gospel suits my total want,
And all the law can seek does grant.

The law could promise life to me,
If my obedience perfect be;
But grace does promise life upon
My Lord's obedience alone.

The law says, Do, and life you'll win;
But grace says, Live, for all is done;
The former cannot ease my grief,
The latter yields me full relief.

The law will not abate a mite,
The gospel all the sum will quit;
There God in thret'nings is array'd
But here in promises display'd.

The law excludes not boasting vain,
But rather feeds it to my bane;
But gospel grace allows no boasts,
Save in the King, the Lord of Hosts.

The law brings terror to molest,
The gospel gives the weary rest;
The one does flags of death display,
The other shows the living way.

The law's a house of bondage sore,
The gospel opens prison doors;
The first me hamer'd in its net,
The last at freedom kindly set.

An angry God the law reveal'd
The gospel shows him reconciled;
By that I know he was displeased,
By this I see his wrath appeased.

The law still shows a fiery face,
The gospel shows a throne of grace;
There justice rides alone in state,
But here she takes the mercy-seat.

Lo! in the law Jehovah dwells,
But Jesus is conceal'd;
Whereas the gospel's nothing else
But Jesus Christ reveal'd.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

What Are You Giving Up For Lent?

Has anyone over the last few days asked you, "What are you giving up for Lent?" Well, as I suggested to two congregations yesterday during Ash Wednesday services, for Lutheran Christians Lent is not really about giving up chocolate, or wine, or cheese, milk, eggs and butter, or red meat, or television or blogging if it comes to that. We should eschew such a trivialising attitude to this season, as it really represents nothing more than our culture's non-comprehending and dim remembrance of a distant, pious past.
If fasting helps you cultivate a spirit of repentance and devotion in this season, then by all means fast. If abstaining from a non-essential activity in order to have more time to reflect on what Christ has done for you is a possibility for you (and who of us can say it isn't?), then by all means do so.
But guard against your acts of piety becoming the focus of your Lent.
Lent is a season for confessing our sin and seeking God's forgiveness earnestly.
It is, above all else, a season for returning to the grace of our Baptism, wherein we were united with Christ in His suffering, death, burial and resurrection for our salvation.

“ Now, therefore,” says the LORD:
“ Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
Rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love...
(Joel 2:12-13)

A Blessed Lent To All Visitors to the Old Manse.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Slow Slide into a Culture of Death

In the beginning, Australian advocates of euthanasia promoted it as a humane exit for people with terminal illnesses. Now, apparently, euthanasia is becoming acceptable to its advocates as a way out for people who are simply "tired of life" (read:depression!), and now for the first time we have clear evidence that people who take their lives through a self-administered dose of the barbiturate nembutal, as recommended by euthanasia advocates, are often in their 20s and 30s. Click on the post title to read an article about these findings in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald.

Note: Euthanasia is illegal in Australia, as is assisiting people to accomplish it, even through the electronic or telephonic provision of advice on how to do so. Actual prosecutions, however, have been negligible. One can perhaps understand the difficulties the authorities face in undertaking such prosecutions, but they must be alert to the development of a de facto tolerance of euthanasia which will further our slow slide into a culture of death.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Update on the French Lutheran Hymnal

We have an update on the new French Lutheran hymnal from the Rev. David Saar, a member of the hymnal committee from the Lutheran Church - Canada which produced the combined hymnal and service book. David has answered some questions posed by commentators on my last blog post on this subject, and, I must say, has whetted my appetite to see the book 'in the flesh'. As I suspected, some of the service orders included in the new hymnal have their origins outside of the English language 'Common Service' tradition that most Anglophone Lutheran churches use, which feature alone makes the hymnal of great interest. And at the very reasonable price of US$20, even I can afford a copy! Thanks David.

Here is David's comment:

"Thanks for the plug for our French hymnal. I think you're the first person to blog about it and we appreciate your comments.

To answer Dan's questions about liturgies, yes, as you've noted, Divine Service setting 4 from Lutheran Service Book is the only translated liturgy. "Suite liturgique A" is uniquely French, and 20th century. "Suite liturgique B is mostly classical Lutheran music from the 16th century, and familiar to users of the Common Service.

About half the hymns have a corresponding equivalent in Lutheran Service Book. The link that Rahn from Minnesota gave to our synod's web site has a PDF you can download that shows the correspondence between the French hymnal and LSB.

The hymnal is available from CPH for $20US.

If you or anyone you know has any questions, please email me at:

Thanks again for bringing our French hymnal to the attention of the blogosphere.

Rev. David SAAR
Lutheran Church-Canada
Église lutherienne du Canada

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Hammer of God

Following on from my comments on Liberal theology in the last post, I wanted to share the following episode from the late Bishop Bo Giertz's novel, The Hammer of God, in which the crusty, conservative old rector of Ravelunda, Pr Bengtsson, leads Pr Torvik back to an orthodox, or as he puts it, 'religious' view of the Bible.

I cannot recommend this novel highly enough; those who have read it know why!

Click on the post title to access a study guide to the novel by Pr John Pless.

One last thought before the quote: is it not time that we had a fresh translation of this novel? At the very least, Augsburg Books could have thoroughly revised Nelson's old translation and removed the grammatical errors in it before publishing the so-called 'revised edition' in 2005. That they did not do so is testimony to their carelessness in regard to this classic novel to which they hold the English-language rights.

...Torvik sat lost in his thoughts. He began to feel at last that he had gotten under the shell of the question that faced him and to the kernel of it. After all, it had to do with the Word. Could he accept the Word as Christianity's self-evident foundation?

In the conversation that followed, in which Britta also put in an occasional word, his objections to certain doctrines were honestly presented, but he was at a loss to defend them against the Scriptural convictions and insights of the rector. Only one objection remained.
"But must we not, nevertheless, hold to a historical view of the Bible?" he asked.
"What is that?"
Torvik was amazed at the question.
The old pastor answered it himself.
"There is room for anything and everything in that phrase. It can be pure rationalism, which considers everything in the Bible to be relative, uncertain, and extensible, so that the final result is that you need not agree at any point unless you wish to do so. The authority of the Bible is in that case rejected, and man himself, his reason, his conscience, his modern scientific spirit, and everything else that is blind and straying, has become the guiding star of religion. It can of course, include some other things that are much finer and better, this historical view of the Bible. But as far as salvation is concerned, I do not think that it matters whether one has a historical or unhistorical view of the Bible. Everything depends on whether we have a religious view of the Bible.

Now it was Torvik's turn to ask, "And what does that mean?"

"That is faith in the Bible as the voice of God, so that if you read it to hear what God would say to you, you actually hear God speak. For my part, I have the simple belief that the Bible is exactly as God wanted it to be. That does not mean, perhaps, that every detail is set forth systematically for science, as in an academic treatise. But it means that every little detail has been given such form that a human being who seeks salvation will be helped to find the truth."

Friday, 12 February 2010

The Last Anglican

According to a report (click on post title to read) from the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail, "if present trends continue", by 2061 only one Anglican will be left in Canada!

The report indicates that all Christian churches in Canada are experiencing decline, with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church, whose small increase in nominal membership is attributed to immigration. But, it notes, the Anglican situation is aggravated by the decrease in Canadian "tribalism", i.e. Canadians of English descent no longer necessarily identify with a church seen as a local branch of the Church of England. There is also a marked de-confessionalisation, more often referred to as "post-denominationalism" by the sociologists of religion, which means that church bodies cannot rely on the future loyalty of worshippers as they did in the past.

Now, while those two factors may partly explain the decline of Anglicanism in Canada, I don't "buy" the argument that this is the whole story. While I am not intimately familiar with Canadian church life, I personally think the decline has a lot to do with the process of liberalisation that began in Western churches in the 1960s (and let's also acknowledge the antecedent liberal movements in the late 19th century and the
1920s, which weakened the doctrinal foundations of the mainstream churches across the world) which resulted in the abandonment of the proclamation of the Gospel as the raison d'etre of the church and the accompanying adoption of social democracy as an ersatz religion. The Canadian churches were at the forefront of this movement. (Not that social democracy is necessarily a bad thing per se, my point is that its promotion is not the church's calling - if the mainstream churches ceased their preoccupation with social democratic causes, social democracy would still be furthered by others, but if the church ceases proclaiming the Gospel...?)

The links between doctrinal and numerical decline have been the subject of several studies in recent decades, ever since the phenomenon first appeared, going back to Dean Kelley's Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, published in 1972, which looked at the phenomena from the other side of the equation. A more recent popular study is Thomas Reeves' The Empty Church, The Suicide of Liberal Christianity.

Possibly still the best theological study of the corrosive nature of Liberalism's impact on the faith of mainstream churches is the book written by a partisan in the heat of the second battle over liberalism in the 1920s, the American Presbyterian scholar J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism. The fact that Machen's passionate work is kept in print by Eerdmans is testimony to its enduring value. Machen's thesis was that Liberal Christianity, far from being merely a necessary and justifiable accomodation of orthodoxy to the demands of the modern world, was in fact a different religion entirely. His is an incisive argument worth reading (an on-line version is available here: - provision of this link is not an endorsement of the website in general).

Whatever the causes of Anglican decline in Canada may be, one thing seems clear, the accomodation of the church to the liberal agenda of the wider society, which was originally proposed as an antidote to irrelevance, seems to contribute to decline rather than provide a panacea against it. The Anglican Church of Canada, like mainstream churches elsewhere which have diluted their message with liberal theology, has ended up maintaining the form of religion, but denying its power.

Will the last Canadian Anglican to leave the church please switch out the lights?

Note: The term Liberalism as used in this post does not refer to the generous and open spirit which has underwritten the good fortunes of Western society over the last several hundred years and to which all civilised men and women aspire, but rather to the paradoxically narrow and intolerant ideology which is subversive of all order and true liberty in the world, and which, in the church, openly challenges the authority of God's Word in the name of a humanism severed from the transcendental values which alone can guarantee human liberty.

Postscript: "If present trends continue", by 2061, every Anglican in Australia will be an Evangelical connected with the Sydney Archdiocese. Almost all other Australian Christians will be Roman Catholics. The Lutheran presence will be even more negligible than it is now..."if present trends continue". May God help us!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

C.S. Lewis: Doctrine leads to Doxology

"For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand."

C.S. Lewis, from his introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation.

That the study of doctrine ought to lead to doxology, or the praise of God, is a truth that has been too readily forgotten by Christians. That there is nothing like the disciplined study of Christian dogmatics to expand the mind and lead on to praise of the the Holy Trinity is one of the first and greatest truths I discovered when I returned to the Christian faith. To take what our friend Richard wrote in the last post regarding the Gospel and apply it also to this subject, it could be said that without the firm backbone of doctrine, Christianity becomes a flabby, spineless, emotion-based pietism, which is just the type of Christianity I encountered and rejected during my youth.

Well, having said that, I can only add that I was naturally delighted to stumble across this quote from C.S.Lewis saying the same thing!

Monday, 8 February 2010

An Anglican Discovers the Gospel

"While the World is a beautiful place, I have seen enough of it to believe there is something very very wrong. As I grow older and better understand myself, I also realized that I am no better than the World around me.

In a world of radical evil in every direction, the only thing that can expunge that evil is blood atonement provided by an innocent.

We are fortunate in that God has chosen to expunge that evil by his own blood, in a horrible humiliating death upon the Cross.

Without the centrality of this Gospel, all Christianity is pietistic, and the pietist can pick his poison. The pietist can:

-buy an indulgence, attend a Latin daily Mass, and shop for every trinket Mother Angelica sells

-sell your car, cut off the electric, and grow a beard

-move to the desert, learn the Jesus prayer, and fast on raw vegetables

-Stop drinking and smoking, quit dancing, comb your hair like a helmet, and litter the countryside with Bible tracts thrown from your car window

-Focus on earthly justice for any of the oppressed nations or classes du jour

None of these practices are bad things, dependent upon ones individual circumstance (Except perhaps the littering). While I personally did not try them all, I always looked for something to do. However, none of these things will ever save us. Before my thick head finally got the Gospel, my experience with Christianity was a seesaw from enthusiasm/Pharisaic to depression/despair. Perhaps ironically, I first heard the Gospel in a way I could understand it from Lutherans; not Anglicans (Thank you Todd Wilken and Issues, etc. You changed my life forever)"

Read the whole reflection over at 'The River Thames Beach Party' by clicking on the post title. Have a look around while you're there, there is much of value for Lutherans in the classical Anglican tradition. Meantime, I have a widget linking to 'Issues Etc.', the Lutheran radio program from the US that was instrumental in the conversion of the author of the above words, in the right-hand column.

PS Thanks to the author, Richard, for kindly allowing me to post this excerpt from his longer reflection here at the old manse.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Sasse on the 'Lex Orandi...'

"Confession and liturgy belong inseparably together if the church is to be healthy. Liturgy is prayed dogma; dogma is the doctrinal content of the liturgy. The placement of liturgy above dogma, for which one hears calls in the liturgical movements of all confessions with the well-known saying "lex orandi lex credendi"..., has been opposed in the Roman Church by the present Pope [Pius XII] in his encyclical "Mediator Dei", in which he points out that one can also turn this saying around and that in all circumstances dogma should be the norm for the liturgy. If that is already known in Rome, how much more should it be known in the church that makes...the right understanding of the Gospel also the criterion for the liturgy."

Hermann Sasse, The Lutheran Understanding of the Consecration, in We Confess the Sacraments, trans N. Nagel, Concordia, 1985.

See 'What Sasse Said' (link under 'My Other Blogs' in the column to the right) for more Sasse quotes.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Juxtaposition: Orthodoxy and the Two Anglicanisms

Here's an interesting juxtaposition:

The primate of the Orthodox Church in America, a multi-ethnic, Americanised but originally Russian church body with its roots in Uniatism, was, in June of last year, to be found in Texas announcing the end of ecumenical dialogue with the local American representatives of the worldwide Anglican communion, The Episcopal Church, and courting Anglican traditionalists who have - for valid reasons, let it be acknowledged - separated from this communion in order to pursue their own vision of Anglicanism (the Orthodox generally, in my experience, proselytise shamelessly among other Christians in the name of "mission").

Here's a pic of the Metropolitan chatting with the soon-to-be consecrated Bishop of the Anglican traditionalists, Robert Duncan:
Then, on January 30th this year, Metropolitan Jonah was in New York at St Vladimir's Seminary in his role as president of said august institution (a seminary, let it be known, of the Orthodox Church in America, of which he is primate), presiding over the award of an honorary doctorate to none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, head of the world-wide Anglican communion whose local representatives Jonah "dissed" in Texas. Williams (whose doctorate was a study of Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky) was invited to address the seminary on aspects of Orthdodox theology in the annual Schmemann Memorial Lecture, held to honour the memory of theologian Alexander Schmemann, who has on occasion been quoted in the pages of this blog.

Here's a pic of Jonah with Rowan:
As the Americans say, "Go figure!"

Some would say Jonah was being diplomatic, others might say he was being equivocal.

Whatever the case may be, I suspect there are more than a few ex-Anglican (not to mention ex- Lutheran) Orthodox converts expressing their consternation at this turn of events.

The Decline of Microsoft: A Geek Tragedy?

Does the advent of Apple's iPad tablet computer signal the end of Microsoft? Maybe. Former Microsoft vice president Dick Brass certainly thinks Microsoft's failure to keep pace across the field of personal computing with competitors like Apple and other innovators like Google reflects an anti-innovation culture that has taken root in the corporate giant - click on the post title to read his op-ed piece in the New York Times.

If Microsoft is terminal, as Brass suggests, I, like, I suspect, most non-geeky personal computer users, will view the prospect of their demise with mixed feelings. Microsoft made personal computing accessible and affordable for ordinary folk like me, but its very success in that endeavour made it too big, too arrogant, and apparently too slow to respond to innovation from other companies and even from within the ranks of its own technical departments. The story has all the elements of a Greek tragedy, or, should that be a "Geek tragedy"?.

But then, perhaps Microsoft's decline is not the result of a fatal flaw, but a just punishment from the computer gods for inflicting Vista on millions of unsuspecting users?

Friday, 5 February 2010

New French Lutheran Hymnal

Something of a publishing milestone has gone relatively unnoticed in the Anglophone world to date, namely the production of a new French Lutheran hymnal, Liturgies et cantiques lutheriens , published by the Lutheran Church-Canada, a sister church of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and a church with whom the Lutheran Church of Australia has close, fraternal relations.

As one descended from Huguenot ancestors (French Protestants persecuted by Louis XIV in the late 1600s and later exiled to Holland, England, North America, South Africa and elsewhere), I take a particular interest in this event. The hymnal is apparently the largest French hymnal ever produced, either by Protestants or Roman Catholics, and promises to be of great service not only to French Canadian Lutherans but also in other Francophone Lutheran settings, for example in Africa, not to mention France itself.

Now, one must ask, if a relatively small church like the LCC - which is roughly the same size as the Lutheran Church of Australia - can successfully engage in such a venture in order to srve only a portion of its membership, why cannot the LCA take heart from their success and resolve to produce a new English-language hymnal for Australian Lutherans which will preserve the best of our hymnody from the past while introducing Australian Lutherans to some of the excellent modern Lutheran hymnody? Such a hymnal is sorely overdue in our church (our last LCA hymnal was published c. 1971 and s supplement to it in c.1986).

Here is an illustration of the new hymnal, which also contains approved liturgies, and a report made available by the Lutheran Church-Canada:
The French-language hymnal Liturgies et cantiques luthériens went to press the week of last year’s Reformation Day. This Lutheran Church-Canada project has spread excitement around the French-speaking Lutheran churches worldwide. The most recent hymnal was printed in 1975 and is no longer available and any existing copies are well-worn.
No other French-language hymnal has been so comprehensive and reflective of Lutheran practice and doctrine. Liturgies et cantiques luthériens has 864 pages and includes 434 hymns, three settings of the Divine Service, Matins, Vespers, and Compline, Holy Baptism, Marriage, and Funeral services among many other liturgical resources.

“In real and important ways this volume restores and edifies and strengthens and establishes evangelical Lutheran practice and teaching in francophone churches as never
before,” says Rev. David Somers, who along with Rev. David Saar have created this new resource. “Never before has such a complete service book and hymnal been available in French for members of any church body, Protestant or Roman Catholic'".

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Ruskin on the Five Intellectual Professions

"Five great intellectual professions, relating to daily
necessities of life, have hitherto existed -- three exist
necessarily, in every civilised nation:
The Soldier's profession is to defend it.
The Pastor's to teach it.
The Physician's to keep it in health.
The Lawyer's to enforce justice in it.
The Merchant's to provide for it.
And the duty of all these men is, on due occasion, to die for it.
"On due occasion," namely: -
The Soldier, rather than leave his post in battle.
The Physician, rather than leave his post in plague.
The Pastor, rather than teach Falsehood.
The Lawyer, rather than countenance Injustice.
The Merchant-what is his "due occasion" of death?
For, truly, the man who does not know when to die, does not know how to live."
John Ruskin, Unto This Last, 1860.

A couple of thoughts - or glosses -in response:

a) No-one writes like this anymore - more's the pity!

b) How many lawyers today would die rather than countenance injustice? Certainly, we have seen Pakistani lawyers bravely risking their lives to protest against a dictatorship in recent years, but the very sight of lawyers taking to the barricades in support of liberty appeared fantastic to Western eyes.

c) How many pastors would die rather than teach falsehood? Certainly, Luther lived most of his adult life with a death sentence hanging over his head, and the Lutheran Church of Australia was founded by two pastors who did risk imprisonment, their livelihoods and their lives, rather than teach falsehood, but how many today value the true Gospel enough to risk their all for it? More than a few, we hope!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Juxtaposition: Schmemann & Ruskin on Value

The only real fall of man is his non-eucharistic life in a non-eucharistic world . . . Man was to be the priest of a eucharist, offering the world to God, and in this offering he was to receive the gift of life . . . When we see the world as an end in itself, everything becomes itself a value and consequently loses all value, because only in God is found the meaning (value) of everything, and the world is meaningful only when it is the ‘sacrament’ of God’s presence.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 1970.

The best and simplest general type of capital is a well-made
ploughshare. Now, if that ploughshare did nothing but beget other ploughshares, in a polypous manner, however the great cluster of polypous plough might glitter in the sun, it would have lost its function of capital. It becomes true capital only by another kind of splendour, when it is seen "splendescere sulco," to
grow bright in the furrow; rather with diminution of its substance, than addition, by the noble friction. And the true home question, to every capitalist and to every nation, is not, "how many ploughs have you?" but, "where are your furrows?" not "how quickly will this capital reproduce itself?" but, "what will it do during reproduction?" What substance will it furnish, good for life? what work construct, protective of life? if none, its own reproduction is useless if worse than none, (for capital may destroy life as well as support it), its own reproduction is worse than useless; it is merely an advance from Pisiphone, on mortgage not a profit by any means.

John Ruskin, Unto This Last, 1860.

For some time I've been thinking of a new category of posts, "juxtapositions", which involves setting side by side extracts from authors who are either thinking the same thought but expressing it in remarkably different ways, or dealing with the same subject but disagreeing.

This is the first, juxtaposing the Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann and the English art critic and thinker, John Ruskin. Both are, in these extracts, concerned with basically the same subject, the life of the world in light of eternal verities, to be specific the concept of value and how it comes to be misjudged in the modern world because we have largely disconnected the world from God and forgotten our divine calling. Schmemann addresses the topic as a theologian and Ruskin as a social theorist.

A further reflection: Luther on Cupidity and Concupiscence
The disordered valuing of created things over the Creator is tied up with what theologians used to term "cupidity", and has its root in original sin. Luther does not discuss cupidity much, but he has a lot to say about concupiscence, a related term. As with many facets of the old catholic faith, Luther breathed new evangelical life into a term which under scholasticism was being subsumed into a neo-Platonic frame of thought; he extended the meaning of "concupiscence" from its original reference to sexual lust to include the disordered lust for created things in general which characterises fallen man (this was a definite advance in theology, freeing it from the ancient and medieval preoccupation with sex and widening its scope).

R.H. Tawney provides some interesting historical background to Christian attitudes to cupidity in the marketplace in his classic work, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1927). He sees Luther as a social conservative, wanting to preserve the medieval order, while Calvin he regards as providing a theological rationale for a "secular asceticism" that sanctifies business but only if it re-invests profit in the means of production and does not use it for conscpicuous consumption. As Calvinism receded in influence in Western societies, the religious constraints on consumption were removed, and thus we ended up with the modern economy, which is driven by consumption - or would it be more accurate to say cupidity/concupiscence? It is surely not accidental that today we see the lust for material things and the lust for sexual pleasure exploited to sell goods. Luther and Ruskin would have been as appalled at this as any medieval schoolman, had they lived to see it, and Schmemann presumably was, because he did.

Now, the really interesting thing here is that more recent studies have traced the origins of capitalism to the medieval monasteries, the home of the old view that concupiscence was the lust for sexual pleasures, and we know that religious orders and the church generally were the most conspicuous consumers of goods in the medieval period. Perhaps the monks' preoccupation with sins of the flesh blinded them to the more spiritual sins of cupidity and idolatry? Whatever the case may be - and it would be an interesting subject to follow up - it all goes to show that theology and the social life of human communities - how they organise their life together - are always closely related.