Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Danny made an interesting comment to me in a discussion that we were having the other day, on the nature of the New Covenant. I said, "The conflict of the judaizers against Paul in the Book of Acts illustrates that the break with the Old Law is also a break with culturally-based law, and the Law of the Spirit is not a replacement, but a new kind of law that is grace-based and less specific." Although I didn't say it that concisely. He disagreed, saying that the commands in the New Testament are a replacement or update of the Old Law, for instance those regarding the place of women in the church (feel free to post your arguments, Danny ... obviously I'm not going to be able to do them justice).

I thought I might illustrate my idea/theory with a brief look at Galatians Ch. 5 (NASB). Actually, I was thinking of supporting my argument with v.1 and then I said to myself, "Um, maybe I should actually read the whole passage to try and make sure it really says what I think it's saying, rather than just using it to support my theory." I'm posting my process of study here.

1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.

Ok, what is the freedom he's talking about? Freedom from circumcision first of all, and the Law by extension. What does he mean when he says they don't have to keep the law? He probably talks about it later -- I don't imagine that he means, "Hey, go ahead and start stealing and killing and etc."

4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.

So, now maybe he's talking about justification, putting your hope of salvation in the law? Here he warns of the danger of trusting the Law rather than grace, but we've still got to wonder what the freedom he's talking about is. Maybe, freedom from obligation to the Law? But which parts? Just circumcision is probably not what he's talking about.

6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
8 This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.

Ok, so now he says "faith working through love" is the means of salvation. But it's not just that following the Law is unnecessary: he says that they are being "hindered from obeying the truth".

9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.
I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.
But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.

What is the stumbling block of the cross? It is that salvation is received not through following the law, but by grace. He's being persecuted because he encourages Gentiles to seek Christ without adopting the Jewish Law.

I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.

Read this one in NIV for a good laugh. This is coming from the same guy who admonishes against "coarse joking" in Ephesians. For everything there is a season, eh?

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."

Interesting that he doesn't mention the precursor "Love God" component. This may be the part where we can really start answering my question, "Is it a replacement law, or a new kind of law?" If, following on the heels of a declamation of putting your trust in following the letter of the law, he comments "The whole law is fullfiled in this" ... perhaps he might be pointing to a new principle that replaces the old rules, because it transcends them? Not as a libertinous opportunity to do all sorts of bad things ("don't turn to opportunity for the flesh"). But maybe something like the speed limit in Montana? There's no speed limit, they just expect you to drive no faster than is safe. :)

15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Hm. Indeed.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Well, that is something interesting. "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." That, if anything, justifies my "Spirit of the Law" = "Law of the Spirit" idea. This is not mere knowledge of the correct set of beliefs and practices. This is an injunction to "walk by the Spirit". Of course, I'm sure all of us can call up images of some adulterous husband saying, "Well it felt right to have an affair. I'm sure God wanted me to." Etc. I guess we can only deduce they are mistaken ... ?

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Yikes ... try to find anyone who doesn't show up in that list somewhere. I know that it's orthodox to take passages like this in the context of other "grace-oriented" passages, but I still always feel a little uncomfortable reading them.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

How often can mere study produce these? The fruit of the Spirit requires the Spirit.

24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Now, that's another interesting thing. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. A command and a separation of the two concepts. Basically saying that we all live by the Spirit (if we are saved, I guess), but we need to take it a step further and walk by the Spirit. Interesting.

26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

Haha! I've got to watch out for that one too.

So did the passage support my idea? I think so, but you're welcome to disagree. Later on I may delve more into what I think my idea actually consists of ... that may not even be entirely clear. I came up with it while studying the Jerusalem Council in Acts, and also passages about eating meat sacrificed to idols, etc. More to follow.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Sola Scriptura Gloria

Let me tell you first of all the position I am arguing against. It goes like this: "The Reformation was in essence a Restoration. It put the church back at the place it had been at the onset of the middle ages, and restored it to its former near-perfect balance." On the other hand, there is this: "The Reformation was a Revolution. It took many ideas which had never been mainstream and tried to define the church by them." I believe the truth is that it was both, and therefore open to conjecture as to which elements of the Reformation are essential and which are not. I think that an objective (of course, totally impossible for us) study of history and philosophy would bear out that claim.

Additionally, take for instance the Eucharist. Although Luther supported it, the Reformation in general shot it down. I don't believe in the Eucharist, but the truth is that it was a quite early and generally accepted doctrine. Early practice/doctrine does not equate to correct practice/doctrine. And, unless we are to throw out the Reformation entirely, scholarly and ecclesiastical consensus does not add up to correct doctrine, either. Bear in mind that the consensus of the church that the Reformation challenged on many doctrinal issues was also the same that established our current canon of scripture.

Ok, switching horses midstream ...

The Reformation had a lot of benefits, indeed. Making scripture the "constitution" against which "laws" are judged, and by which "judges" are limited is definitely a good idea. But, like many mostly good principles, it contains in itself the seed of a bad principle, which flowers when the good is taken to excess.

In the case of "Sola Scriptura", this takes place when scripture is elevated to godhood.

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life."
John 5:39-40
The scriptures have an important place in the life of the Christian. They are useful, but they are a means and not and end. They are a pointer to Christ. According to every even remotely Orthodox Christian sect, there are three persons in the godhead, but they're not The Father, The Son, and the Holy Scripture.

There is a great temptation that results from Sola Scriptura in our current Protestant milieu. It is to slip into a religion that wears the mask of faith, but is in truth an intellectual and anti-supernatural worship of the words of the Bible, rather than its Author. When Bible reading is given precedence over prayer, when rote memorization is given precedence over the godly action that should result, when the Holy Spirit is transformed from our comforter and leader, indwelling us, into a phantom that is only accessible through intellectual pursuit, then you know you've passed beyond a healthy respect for God's word into the realm of idolatry.

Look, indeed, at Jesus' life and example. Though he was quite familiar with the Scriptures by the time he began His ministry (whether this was through study or direct knowledge as the Son of God is anybody's guess) there is virtually no record of Him taking time to study the scriptures in the gospels. He takes the opportunity once of reading from the scriptures in the synagogue, "In your hearing this prophecy is fulfilled, etc." but most instances of spiritual discipline recorded about Him are of prayer rather than study and scholarly explication.

The same mindset that led the Pharisees to take "bind these Words on your hand and your head" far too literally is just as dangerous today. The devil is not picky, he will take any opportunity you give him to undermine the fruit God has prepared for you.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

"Do not let your heart be troubled"

John 14:1-11

"Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.
"In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.
"If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
"And you know the way where I am going."
Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?"
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
"If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him."
Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us."
Jesus said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father'?
"Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.
"Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.

What must have been going through the minds of the disciples on this night – this last supper with the Master. It all began with a call, “Follow me”. They had followed – they had left everything behind to follow this man – they had seen the extraordinary signs and wonders – they had seen Jesus feed thousands, heal every sickness and disease, cast out demons, walk on water, calm a raging sea – and even raise the dead to life. They started their journey with someone they thought was a great man, a great teacher – and now, on this night – they knew – they believed with all their heart, that this man, this great teacher, this prophet, was the Son of God, God in flesh - the Christ – the Messiah – the Anointed One that had been promised so long ago.

But it was different than they had expected it. They had originally thought that Jesus would conquer the Romans and free their nation from bondage and that they would reign with Him in a great kingdom after having put down all their foes. But it was different – death was in the air. Jesus had mentioned on several occasions that He would suffer and be killed, but they always pushed it to the back of their minds – I mean, Jesus couldn’t die – could He? He’s the Messiah! He’s God!

But this night – it was becoming clear – all the other times that Jesus had mentioned His soon coming death were coming to a point. Worse than that, one of their group – one of the closest followers – one of His friends will betray Him – will give Him over to the enemy to be killed.

Jesus was going to be leaving them – was this it? Was this the end? Was Jesus truly God in flesh? Was He truly the Messiah that they had all been waiting for?

Peter raises his voice:

John 13:36-38
"Lord, where are You going?" Jesus answered, "Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later."
Peter said to Him, "Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You."
Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.

What do you think Peter felt when these Words left the lips of the Master? He was willing to die for Jesus – and Jesus replies, Really? Would you die for me? Actually, you will cower like a little girl and deny me, not once, not twice, but three times – three times you will say that you do not even know me.

The impact these words must have had on Peter – the crushing feeling that must have overtaken him! The aching that he must have felt in his heart! The sorrow, and the shame…

But now, listen to the Words of Jesus, “Do not let your heart be troubled”

Life is filled with troubles – filled with things that we can worry about – things that scare us, things that depress us, things that make us want to cry, pain that causes us to want to be alone.

What is your trouble this morning? Is something outside of your control – is there something that you’re just not sure how to deal with?

“Do not let your heart be troubled”

There is but one solution to a troubled heart. And Jesus tells that way in this passage. There is only one way to overcome a heart wrought with the pain and disappointment of this life.

The world whispers in our ear that it has the answer – just believe in yourself, they say – you can do it! You don’t need anyone else, you have the power within yourself to overcome any problem – don’t put yourself down – you are the solution! You have the power!

But the world has been deceived by the lord of lies – their solution is no solution at all but leads only to death.

As it says in Jeremiah 17:5
Thus says the LORD: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.

But the words of Jesus, the Words of Truth give us the true solution to a troubled heart.

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”

Belief in God and in His Son Jesus Christ is the one and only solution to a troubled heart. Are you troubled this morning? Believe in God, believe also in Jesus.

Psalms 42:11
Why are you cast down [Why are you depressed], O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me [Why are you upset?]? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God [For I will again give thanks to my God for his saving intervention].

Jesus then gave us three reasons why we should be comforted – three reasons why we should hope in God and give thanks to Him for his saving intervention in our lives.

1. He was going to His Father’s house before them

2. He was going there to prepare a place for them

3. He would come back in person to bring them to heaven

1. He was going to His Father’s house before them

Even though they would see Him beaten, whipped, mocked, bleeding, hung on a cross – even though they would see Him die and laid in a tomb – believe! For after all of this He was going to His Father’s house. To a place where He would be honored above all – where His power is above all – never to suffer and die again – to be clothed in glory with the Father. He says later in chapter 14, If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”

Be not troubled – for Jesus is King! He reigns in heaven – there is nothing outside of His control! He is above all things – nothing can put a stop to His plans.

“Do not let your heart be troubled”

2. He was going there to prepare a place for them

Not only is Jesus in heaven – but He is there preparing a place for all those who believe in Him – for all His chosen people. If you are afraid that there is no place for you – believe in Him and be troubled no more!

Jesus went to heaven as the forerunner – as the first of many to follow. He made the way clear – He took out all obstacles – not only is the way prepared, but the places for us in heaven – when we arrive, when we die, there is a place for us – specifically for me, just for you! Think of the care of Christ – that He would prepare a mansion just for you, His child. It is enough that we even get to be in the place where He is, but that He is building a mansion for us! He is saving a special place for us! That is beyond comprehension!

He is getting everything ready for you!

“Do not let your heart be troubled”

3. He would come back in person to bring them to heaven

“I will come again”
If nothing else – this should wisp all of the troubles in our hearts away. In the end, He will come and personally take us up. Can you even imagine. He will not send his angels, Jesus – the Son of God – God Himself will come and gather us up and take us to be with Him.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.
He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.
And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.
From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Revelation 19:11-16)

This is our King – This is our God – This is our Savior – and He will come for us – NOTHING can get in His way, though the whole world go against Him, He will prevail. He will come – He will come for His own.

"O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55)

“Do not let your heart be troubled”

There is never a reason for us to be troubled in our heart – if you are – examine yourself – who are you looking to – where is your hope? Seek to believe in God and in Christ – with your whole being – then, as you believe, your heart will be filled with peace because you know what the future holds – for God has spoken and you believe – even though the troubles remain, you will stand un-buffered, your heart will be filled with praise, for you are standing on the Rock – and regardless of how big a storm you encounter in this life – you will be secure – the Rock will save you and secure you.

Our Lord is coming – “Do not let your heart be troubled” – So come Lord Jesus! Amen.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

The 11th Commandment

John 13:34-35

(34) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
(35) By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

In the early days of Christianity, a deadly sickness broke out in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. The sickness spread so easily that being in the same room with one of the sick meant you too would probably become ill, touching a victim meant almost certain death. Everyone in Alexandria was so afraid of the sickness that if someone in their house showed even the slightest signs of the sickness, they threw them out on the street to die – they didn’t even bury the dead for fear that they too would contract the disease.

But when a Christian became sick, the other Christians in the city would come and visit and care for their brother or sister who was sick. No Christian died without a fellow Christian being by their side caring for them. Even though the Christians knew that because they were in contact with those who were sick, that they too would most likely become sick, they continued to care for their sick and dying. So well did the Christians in Alexandria care for each other that outside the city were all the dead were being thrown, not one dead Christian could be found, for their fellow Christians took care of them even in their death, burying them, exposing themselves to the disease, rather than just throwing them in with the piles of other human corpses.

All the non-Christians in the city who had seen what these “Christians” were doing started asking each other – “What is the meaning of this?”

The answer went throughout all of Egypt, “They are of the Religion of Jesus of Nazareth, for these Christians love each other”

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The love that the Christians in Alexandria had so many years ago – that is the love that Christ commands us to have – and by it, the world will know that we follow Christ.

This is the clearest way to know whether you are a disciple of Christ – if you love as He loved. Are you in Christ this morning? Do you love your Christian brothers and sisters as Christ loved you? Think on that as we look more closely at this new command together.

Jesus says, that this is a new commandment – that it is not the same as what had been given in the law before He came. But is it really all that different?

We know the ten commandments:

I am the Lord thy God and you shall not have other gods besides me.

You shall not make for yourself any graven images.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Honor your Father and Mother.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet.

And the greatest commandment, what is that?

And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

And the second?

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

But, on the night Jesus has His last supper with the disciples, as a parents on their death bead gives their last words to their children, He gives them this new commandment – a commandment that is different in at least three ways from the Old Testament law.

It is different in degree, different in motive, and different in example.

It is different in degree – we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as Christ loved us – which is way more than any of us love ourselves. The love of Christ surpasses all knowledge – it is a love that is so great that we cannot even comprehend it. It is a love that suffers everything for the sake of the one it loves. It is a love that dies, that the beloved might live.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

It is different in motive – the command in the Old Testament is backed by the statement, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exo. 20:2). Israelites were to follow the commandments of God because God had freed them from bondage in Egypt, but we are to follow this new command because Christ has redeemed us from eternal punishment in hell. The salvation granted to the people of Israel at the Red Sea did not continue after they died, it was a temporal salvation – but the salvation that Christ has brought us is eternal. Nothing can separate us from the love of God for we have been saved by Christ, once for all time.

It is different in example – the commandment in the Old Testament told us to look at how we love ourselves as the example of how we should love our neighbor, but this new command tells us to look Christ as the example of how to love our brothers and sisters.

There is no longer any excuse, for the example of Christ is clear – there is no room for, “But so and so is so hard to love!” or, “They don’t love me back, so why should I continue to love them?”.

Romans 5:6-10

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Before I close I want to show you a simple application from Scripture. It happened the same night that Jesus gave this command, but is not mentioned in the Gospel of John. Turn with me to Matthew 26 verses 21 and 22.

Matthew 26:21-22
And as they were eating, he said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me."
And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, "Is it I, Lord?"

They thought they were all brothers in that room that night. No one pointed a finger at anyone, but automatically assumed that it must be themselves because they believed with all their heart that one of the other twelve would never do such a thing.

No one suggested, “Ah, it must be Peter, he’s always been hot headed and not thinking about what he does before he does it.” Or “It must be Judas, he’s always been a little sneaky with the money bag, in fact, I think I saw him stealing money out of it the other day!”

No, there was none of that.

There was only, “It couldn’t be me - could it? Could it be? Surely it is not me - Lord, is it?”

They expected evil more from themselves than from others. They believed the word of Christ, that one of them would betray Him, and so, one by one, they asked, “Lord, is it I?”

Then Judas, trying to keep up his deception says almost exactly the same thing, but exchanges the word “Lord” for Rabbi or Teacher – giving himself away as the betrayer and hypocrite –for the word “Lord” he could not bear to say can only be said in truth of Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).

But even after all this – the disciples still suspected no one. Even after Jesus ordered Judas “to do what he was going to do quickly” they did not know.

Being with Jesus they had learned to love one another. And soon the whole world would “recognize that they had been with Jesus”.

So where are you this morning? How’s your love? Do you love your brothers and sisters as Christ loved you?

This is the love that the Spirit of Christ grants all those who believe, to those who are His own:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant
or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.

At the beginning of Chapter 13, there is a perfect summation to all of this – a summation of the example of Christ that He is calling us to follow:

“Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)

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What exactly was the Reformation?

Why did Luther challenge the church? And why did his challenge succeed philosophically and politically? I mean, the Puritans' motives are somewhat easier to siphon out. But even if you limit the Reformation just to Luther, who can say why it happened or what it was?

Was it about "freedom to study the Bible and take its authority first?" (a la "know the truth, and the truth shall set you free"). Well, yes; and no. Luther wanted everyone to read the scriptures, certainly. But the spirit of the Reformation is in its essence revolution and not anarchy. Luther didn't want the removal of ecclessiastical authority, he wanted its replacement. Luther, again, opposed many doctrines (see: the deutero-canon) that had been decided by church councils a thousand years before. In many ways, Luther wanted to replace the Pope, arbitrarily deciding the truth about Christianity.

Was the Reformation primarily an attack on corruption and self-serving church primacy? Well, kind of ... ? Initially, he did not want to change the hierarchy of the church. As he became angrier and angrier, he increasingly directed his invective against Popes, Cardinals, authorities, etc. and fought the concept that Salvation was not available outside of the Pope's blessing (quite in contrast to the policies of the Puritans, who executed members of rival denomenations, such as the Quakers). But was the Reformation really about exclusivity or corruption? Probably not. The Catholic church no longer claims exclusivity, but that has hardly served to end the feud. Recent scandals aside, the Catholic church is hardly more corrupt than any Protestant branch, but I haven't yet heard of any Protestant denomenation seeking to be re-introduced into the Catholic fold.

Another dynamic that I've heard mentioned in my various readings is that of the conflict between the more ancient, more scholarly and less populist orders and the rising trend of the "Mendicants". In some ways, Luther is both a manifestation of and reaction to the Mendicant orders. To plumb the murky depths of this issue, I would need to hold my breath for too long. Therefore, suffice to say that while conflict between the orders and their philosophies might have played a part, it could not have been the central issue, as it rarely played out upon strict sectarian lines.

What about political expression? There is certainly some truth to the statement that the Reformation rose out of Northern Europe's desire for independence. The Lutheran church is certainly a German church. The Reformation could not have succeeded except as a power play between two equal opponents (see John Huss), and those princes who defended him would probably not have done so if they had not increasingly resented Roman influence on their nascent sense of national identity. There is also something very nationalistic about the translation of a German Bible. But at most, this could only constitute the enabling factor, the historical component of a philosophical movement. I don't think anyone approaching the Reformation as a Christian would argue with that.

Probably the main factor that a hard-core Calvinist / Puritan / Reformed / Evangelical / Conservative /etc. theologian is going to point to is the concept of justification by faith through grace. Certainly an interesting point. I think this post is long enough already, so I won't go into a lengthy discussion of this issue -- but I will finish with a story related to it.

What Luther considered the crowning achievment of his theological career was a series of literary discourses he engaged in with the still-Catholic scholar Desiderius Erasmus on the determination of the will. Luther himself, in these discourses, claimed that the sum total of the Reformation and all that he had done boiled down not to papal authority or anything else, but to this: he believed that man had no free will.

A) Is that Biblical?
B) How Biblical?
C) Is that important?
D) Is that what Christ taught?
E) Is that what Christ prioritized?

P.S. Don't hate me. If it wasn't for my incendiary posts, there wouldn't have been any action on this blog for a month and a half. And besides, this is important stuff for us to think about; it has a lot of implications for the church today. Well, kind of.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Catholic v. Protestant

What are the Reformers and Puritans encouraging us to do? Christ corrected the Pharisees for spending all their time on side issues, and neglecting the real issue: "Come back when you have learned the meaning of this: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice". How is a slavish devotion to outward, intellectual conformity with one corner of Christianity's version of doctrine any different than imposing byzantine and draconian sabbath laws?

In the center is the religion Christ preached: simple, yet revolutionary; incendiary, and yet based in basic love for God and others; the religion of the sermon on the mount, the religion of the cross.

At one end is the syncretism and corruption of the Roman Catholic, tying the church too close to the world. At the other end is the bare religiosity of the Puritans, so intellectual and impersonal that there is room for the practicioner to be completely evil and yet still fill all its requirements.

In Jesus' time there were two parties that represented these concepts as well: The Pharisees and Sadducees. The Sadducees were corrupt, used the power of the church for their own ends, and would do anything to hold on to that power. The Pharisees were a reaction, seeking to purify the nation (by their standards), trying to find God in complicated lists of rules and doctrines.

Jesus rebuked them both, and demonstrated the correct path. Unfortunately, it is narrow and there are few who find it.

Really, I am not advocating an absence of beliefs or knowledge. It's just that I'm advocating a different set of beliefs, or at least a different priority of beliefs. When you hear from the pulpit that you probably aren't a Christian if you don't jibe with their interpretation of a few particularly contentious passages about women, or that you're probably not a Christian if you have ongoing psychological problems, it's a far cry from "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" or "As I have loved you, so love one another."

I think it's really easy on this blog to talk past each other. Without context, a lot of times we'll miss what the other person is saying. I can tell you, I did arrive at these conclusions by studying the Bible. They are beliefs. But two people can approach the same Bible with different perspectives, and come out with different priorities and beliefs. I'm not advocating an absence of knowledge, I'm advocating the knowledge that is found only in the foolishness of God, that is an embarrassment to the world. I'm advocating the things about Christianity that I think are important, not just to me but to Christ, who is the representation of God to us. No one has seen the Father, but the Son has revealed Him. Etc.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

What do you believe?!

Shouldn't faith be a bit more than group-think? It's so riddled with hypocrisy, it stops making sense with a fierce velocity. In light of conflicting claims, most of which have similar feet of clay, how can we think that choosing one equally valid and invalid type of Christianity over another is pivotal. Do you really think that Christ is going to quiz you on the minutiae of theological effluvia? I'm not Catholic, but balance is so dramatically crucial. The true essence of Christianity is found in St. Francis before it is found in Jonathan Edwards. The courage of God is found in Thomas More, more than it is found in Martin Luther. I believe that actions speak louder than words.

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