Sunday, August 31, 2008


15. The Principle of Protestantism by Schaf
16. Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective by Letham


Friday, August 29, 2008

Tertullian and Iranaeus on Sola Scriptura

Tertullian (c. 155-220): Arguing with Hermogenes' teaching that matter is eternal, "But whether all things were made out of any underlying matter, I have yet failed anywhere to find. Where such a statement is written, Hermogenes' shop must tell us. If it is nowhere written, then let it fear the woe which impends on all who add or take away from the written word." Tertullian "condemns as madness" the notion that there was some kind of secret unwritten tradition of the Apostles. This was the doctrine of the Gnostics who believed that there was "secret knowledge" known and revealed only to a select few.

Iranaeus (c. 130-200) in his Against Heresies argues that the Scriptures where the safeguarding of the traditions of the apostles. According to Iranaeus, there are no unwritten traditions of the Apostles. Scripture is the authoritative record of the doctrines, teachings, and practices of the Apostles (cf. Against Heresies, III.1,1.)

These fathers did indeed teach that the Scriptures were to be understood and read in accordance with the regula fidei (the rule of faith) which was itself the received summary of what the Scriptures teach. But the apostolic tradition and the regula fidei both had their source in the Scriptures themselves.

The Shape of Sola Scriptura, 22-26)


Clement on Sola Scriptura

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215): "But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves." (Stromata, Bk. VII, ch. 16)

By the way, Matheson notes in a footnote that Clement declares the legend of Mary's perpetual virginity as false, despite the claims of some that this was a universally accepted belief.

(The Shape of Sola Scriptura, 24)


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Frankenstein Against Nature

Frankenstein opens as a series of letters from Robert Walton to his sister, Margaret Saville. Walton has determined to find a sailing passage through the north pole, and the letters detail his travels to St. Petersburg, Russia, and then on to the coast before finding a boat and a crew. The story begins on a note of impossibility and doom. Even as the sailors set out in clear water, it's autumn, and Walton notes that winter is coming on; he doesn't know if he'll be able to find a clear passage through the north pole. This sets up the setting for the whole story: a mission of doom, striving against nature, trying to accomplish the impossible. The story begins in autumn; it begins just as everything is about to freeze, as everything is about to die.


Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley (1797 - 1851) lived what appears to been be a fairly horrific life. She easily stands as a sort of icon for the romantic, feminist, intellectual and bohemian lifestyle. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, famed early feminist, died giving birth to her, her father, William Godwin, was a philosopher (enough said), her step-mother openly hated her, her step-sister was suicidal and eventually succeeded in the deed, and at the age of 19, Shelley tried to escape her familial hell by eloping with the soon-to-be literary genius of the English speaking world, (and already married) Percy Bysshe Shelly. The two of them and a sister left for the continent for a year of travels and returned with Mary pregnant with their first child that would die in infancy. Of their four children, only one survived, and Percy Shelley drowned only a few years later in a boating accident at the age of 30.

Speaking of her book Frankenstein, she writes in her Author's Introduction: "And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words which found no true echo in my heart. Its several pages speak of many a walk, many a drive, and many a a conversation, when I was not alone; and my companion was one who, in this world, I shall never see more. But this is for myself; my readers have nothing to do with these associations." (Frankenstein, Puffin Classics, 7-8)


Wednesday, August 27, 2008


"In present day usage the term commonly denotes unwritten doctrines handed down orally in the Church. It is therefore often contrasted with Scriptures. However, a remarkable scholarly consensus shows that in the early church, Scripture and Tradition were in no way exclusive concepts because they coincided with each other completely.


The concept of "tradition" when used by these [apostolic] fathers, is simply used to designate the body of doctrine which was committed to the Church by the Lord and His Apostles, whether through verbal or written communication. The body of doctrine, however, was essentially identical regardless of how it was communicated. No evidence suggests that the apostolic fathers believed they had recourse to any type of secret oral traditions. At this point in the Church's history, Scripture and the Christian tradition were coinherent concepts..."

(The Shape of Sola Scriptura, by Mathison, 19, 21)


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Was He Speaking Ex Cathedra?

Gregory the Great (Pope?) writes: "Ego autem fidenter dico, quia quisquis se universalem Sacerdotem vocat, vel vocari desiderat, in elatione sue Antichristum praecurrit, quia superbiendo se caeteris praeponit. Nec dispari superbia ad errorem ducitur, quia sicut perversus ille Deus videri vult super omnes homines; ita quisquis iste est, qui solus Sacerdos appelari appetit, super reliquos Sacerdotes se extollit."

Which roughly translates: "Therefore I fully affirm that whoever calls himself the universal Priest, or wants to be called that elevates himself to Antichrist, because he vaunts himself over all the others. Not only does this extreme arrogance lead to error, it's also perverse since this person wants to be seen as God over all people; thus whoever he is, who wants to be called the Priest alone, he exalts himself over all the other priests." (Cited in Principle of Protestantism, 169 -- Feel free to correct my translation if it needs it.)

One postscript to this quotation: This is an example of the medieval and patristic pedigree of Protestantism. It wasn't like Luther and Calvin came along and decided they really didn't like the Pope, flipped through their Bibles till they came to a bad name to call him, and them slapped "Antichrist" on the Papal See. They were in good catholic company calling the office of the "universal bishop of the Church" Antichrist. It was at least part of the teaching of the fathers.


Doug Jones on Sola Scriptura

From Doug Jones' Forward to Sola Scriptura by Keith Mathison:

"C.S. Lewis once quipped that the more medieval he became in his outlook, the farther from Roman Catholicism he seemed to grow. The history of the doctrine of sola Scriptura tends to produce the same effect in many of us. Once one gets beyond the superficial, individualistic, confused accounts of this doctrine presented in contemporary Evangelicalism, this teaching becomes very natural, organic, medieval, and apostolic.

In contrast, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox accounts fall out of rather perfectionistic and rationalistic commitments that are alien to the earthiness of biblical reality. Submitting to an infallible magisterium requires relatively little faith; everything is, in principle, neat and clean, like a doctor's office or a robot husband. A perfect husband would make for a very easy marriage; faith wouldn't be hard at all... Submission takes on much more fascinating dimensions when marriage involves sinners...

In this light, the various widely publicized departures of many Evangelicals to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have the distinct aroma of youthful haste and short-term zeal. The Sanhedrin was far better organized than the fishermen, and it had a grand liturgy, an authoritative line of oral tradition, and a succession of leaders. In a healthy church, those forms are good and holy. But to have turned to the Sanhedrin at that time would have been to embrace apostasy. Truth, beauty, and goodness were with the fishermen."


The Temporary Historical Necessity of Protestantism

Schaf insists that Protestantism earns its right to exist only for as long as we offer to the rest of the Church significant correction in areas that need it. A sect, if we are willing to admit the title, "loses its right to exist, in the same degree in which the body from which it is a secession has corrected the faults that led to it... If sects would be true to themselves, they must as soon as they have fulfilled their commission unite themselves again with the general life of the Church, that they may thus as organic members of the body acquire new vital energy; and the Church, on her side, should make special efforts to gather once more under her motherly protection and care, the children that have forsaken her and are now estranged from her bosom. To this duty the Reformed Church is specially called, as the largest part of these modern separatist movements have sprung from her communion." (134-135)


Episcopacy and the Leaven of the Pharisees

Schaf also takes the Anglo-Catholic Oxford movement to task: He suggests that many who are in this school are attracted to it by a "feeling of poetical romance" and not a few of them have aspirations to the hierarchy inherent in an episcopal system. And for all their insistence on history, Schaf says that this is the glaring hole in their system. The "utter misapprehension of the divine significance of the Reformation, with its consequent development, that is of the entire Protestant period of the Church." They have no conception of historical development, much less the great blessing of the Reformation to the broader Church. He calls their "external, mechanical conception of the Church and episcopacy" nothing more than the "old leaven of the Pharisees." He bases his assertions on the fact that there is no scriptural authority for such a rigid apostolic succession as is commonly held in those communions that insist upon it. There is not high priestly caste in the Christian Church, clergy are servant-leaders of the flock, but are in an important sense still members of the priesthood of all believers. Their's is a specific calling in the body of Christ which includes real authority, but it is not a hierarchical system of automatic authority. Finally he scoffs at those who would think that merely returning to an episcopal polity would fix all the problems of Protestantism: "Preposterous imagination! Can the Church be renovated, by putting on a new coat?" (122-126)


The Prostitution of Protestantism

Schaf decries the multiplication of denominations and sects in Christendom and insists that this is not inherent in the Protestant principle: "If such were the fact, the Reformation must stand in direct contradiction to the holy scriptures, and be adjudged by its own umpire to condemnation, as a sinful work of man... Teh sect-system, like Rationalism, is a prostitution and caricature of true Protestantism, and nothing else... Away with human denominations, down with religious sects! Let our watchword be: One spirit and one body! One Shepherd and one flock!... Rationalism and Sectarianism are the most dangerous enemies of the church at the present time. They are both but different sides of one and the same principle, a onesided, false subjectivity, sundered from the authority of the objective. Rationalism is theoretic Sectarianism; Sectarianism is practical Rationalism." (119, 121)


Monday, August 25, 2008

Get Rid of Your Own Popery First

Schaf identifies rationalism as a problem that has infected both Protestant and Roman Churches. Of course keeping in mind that Schaf was writing in the mid nineteenth century, this is still fairly prophetic as things have tended. But whatever the case, he suggests that whatever common enemies and problems we have ought to be solved first. Before taking aim at eachother there ought first to be a concerted effort to eradicate common philosophical problems. He says, "Luther and Calvin, if they should make their appearance now, would act very differently, in the altered state of things, from what they did three hundred year ago. Their main zeal would be directed no doubt against such purely negative pseudo-protestantism [Protestant Rationalism], as something altogether worse than popery itself..." And turning to the Protestant problem with rationalism he exhorts us: "Let us first with united strength expel the devil from our own temple, into which he has stolen under the passport of our excessive toleration, before we proceed to exorcise and cleanse the dome of St. Peter." (p. 104-5)


Really Alive

My children are alive. They burst with sounds and action. They cannot be stilled.

My son is four years old. He's four years old and forty-one pounds. His bedroom is an arsenal of swords, guns, and armor. He is a fighter.

The other day we had company coming for dinner. This company was coming in the form of a family blessed to have four boys, and the prospect of war games throughout the night was clearly on my son's mind. A little while before the guests arrived, my wife and I found him in the living room lining up the guns and swords and various pieces of armor. I could almost hear him saying to himself, 'And we might need this, and this, and this...' Of course his mother ordered him to return the weapons to his room; he could display them there to his heart's content.

It was not long after that when my son tore into the room where I was standing. He was armed to the teeth and brandishing a sword over his head and cried out in his fiercest voice, "I'll cut you in half, and leave you in one piece!" After I had laughed a good bit, I explained what he had just said, and he thought it was good fun too and has since made it part of his regular warrior litany.

But my son is not just a fighter. He's also a teacher. I was blessed to overhear a recent conversation he was having with his 2 year old sister that went something like this:

"Felicity, do you know about mosquitoes?"
"You know that they suck your blood?"
"You have blood under all your skin."
"And there's bones that are hard under your skin.
"Skin goes all over your body."
"And you have bones too, under your skin."

And at this point, River began striking various bones on his chest and arms and head to demonstrate, and Felicity thought this was hilarious and began mimicking her masochistic brother. But I was pleased that blood-sucking mosquitoes turned into a fairly worthwhile conversation about human anatomy.

My daughter still defies most story telling. She sucks a pacifier like Maggie Simpson, and although she does speak, it is still in fairly simple, disjointed sentences. So much of her style is in the tone of her voice, the expressions on her face, and the legacy she has created in emotions and creativity.

Sometime last spring she amazed us with her sleeping trick:

My daughter is not the most plump of toddler girls. In fact, I would describe her as on the petite side of petite. And this is probably related in some degree to the fact that she is fairly particular about her eating habits. Which is to say that she is often not interested in eating. Undeterred, her mother and I, are nevertheless convinced that eating is one of those things that isn't as optional as she would prefer, and thus, we often find ourselves at dinner tables together negotiating with spoons and forks and whatever edible substances we can maneuver into her mouth. On one occasion while we were working our way through the dinner liturgy, my daughter suddenly leaned her head back in the high chair, closed her eyes, and went suddenly still. She was asleep. Of course this was a daring and completely unexpected theatrical stunt, and we all approved of its creativity. After some cheers and approbation, we told her to fall asleep again, and then told her to open her mouth. We found that she was still able to take bites while sleeping upright in her high chair.

Of course there are three of them now: Tovia Ann has been this side of the uterus for just over five months. For those of you keeping stats at home, she's just about ready to push over eleven pounds. She has elbow dimples and happy thigh rolls to prove her mother's milk goodness. Today however, we reached an even more significant threshold. I must say that this little lady has already outdone herself in the smile department. A few words, a hello, or a smile in her direction is all it takes for a big open-mouthed grin to break across her face. And when this woman smiles, her body gets into it. When she smiles, most of her body writhes with joy. Smiling is a full contact sport for Tovia. And of course she's also very capable of various joyful noises as well. She 'talks' and coos and babbles like the best of infants, and Jenny has even had moments where her happy cooing is something very close to a giggle. But all of that was put behind us today. Today we arrived in the real world: wide-open, full-bodied laughter. We should have known that it would be the kids. River and Felicity are so much more funny than we are. And so it was bath time and the kids were doing their thing in the tub, and the next thing you know, Tovia is giggling and chuckling at her older siblings. They were laughing at her and she was laughing at them, and Jenny and I were laughing at them all. Her laugh sounds like it was pre-recorded. It's such a small, tiny baby laugh, and of course on her body, that's not too surprising.

I continue to be amazed by these three people that live in my home. They've moved into our lives and taken up residence; it really is quite the trip. These three semi-permanent guests really are full of life, and our home is so much more lively with them. Our dinner table is a constant ruckus, our living room often looks like the remains of elementary school classroom with crayons and books and papers scattered about. The house just sounds alive; those precious few hours of silence at night with a possible pause in the afternoon are just the recharging hours. They're just getting ready to live again. They're just getting ready to come back from the dead, getting ready to teach us resurrection life again. And really, sometimes I wonder if they aren't all just being nice to us. Maybe they're all like my daughter, and they've just decided to act like their sleeping. They're just being nice to their tired old parents and humoring us for a bit. They close their eyes and lean back in their beds and pretend to sleep. But it's really just part of the show. They're really alive.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fifteenth Sunday of Trinity Season: Toward a Theology of Other People 5: Pss. 122, 124, & Mt. 28:16-20

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you that you have invited us here yet again. We thank you that you speak to us again, despite the fact that we are quick to forget what you have said, and despite the fact that we have often ignored what you have said. Empower your Word now, by your Spirit, and give us ears to hear, hearts to treasure your words, and the ability to obey. Through Christ our Lord.

We continue our consideration this morning of a theology of other people. Today we consider those other people closest to us in space and time: our families. These neighbors live in the same house as you, and some of them sleep in the same bed as you. These people are no less gifts to you, they form a central part of your tradition, and they are the first place you are called upon to express catholicity.

The Home as Firstfruits of Church
While there is always the danger of overemphasizing the importance of family and devaluing the Church, the writers of Scripture continually point at the family as one of the central evidences of whether Christians are getting it. If you understand the gospel and what is going on here every Lord’s Day that flows out into your homes, and if you don’t understand what God is bestowing upon you here, that too will be evident in the culture of your family. The home is the firstfruits of the Church. So this week and next week, we will use portions of the liturgy as our sermon text.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19-20)
We are called to worship in the Triune Name week after week, and this is because it is your new name, the name applied to you when you were baptized; it also the name that was given to your spouse, your children, your roommates, and your borders. This initial call to worship is also based upon the apostolic authority given by Jesus when he sent his disciples into the world. As the baptized disciples of Jesus Christ, you and your households gather here in submission to the authority of Jesus Christ, and you affirm this and commit yourself to this reality when you declare your ‘Amen!’ to this call. This baptism marks your entrance into the holy people of God and requires you to view the other saints in your home as holy ones. Holiness is not a heavenly glow that circles your head; it means that you and your house are summonsed by the God of the universe to be his servants in worship and in the world. Those saints who you live with are part of God’s Church, and your words and actions towards one another reflect a certain view of the body of Christ. And Christ’s commission concludes with a promise that is both a blessing and warning: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The Lord Be With You (Ruth 2:4, Ps. 122:1-2, 124:8)
The opening call to worship is followed by a series of greetings and declarations of our intent to worship God. We begin by blessing one another. ‘The Lord be with you’ is an ancient Hebrew greeting and blessing (Ruth 2:4, 1 Sam. 17:37, 1 Ch. 22:16, 2 Th. 3:16). We worship in the power of the Spirit of the Lord, and therefore it is necessary for us to have the Lord and his blessing for our worship to be meaningful and pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God our Father. The following declarations are taken from the Psalms of Ascent (122:1-2, 124:8). These psalms are those which were sung and chanted as the Israelites ascended to Jerusalem for the feasts and worship. Like them, we ascend to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem with the great cloud of witnesses and the angels. We are going to the Lord’s house, and we are doing it with joy. And we have every reason to believe that we will be received and blessed because Yahweh is our creator and redeemer. Once again, we appeal to the Name of God, the God of the Exodus, the God of Creation, the God who has mercy upon his chosen nation. All of this is not unique for Sunday morning. On Monday you are called to bless one another as fellow pilgrims. On Tuesday, you must remember where you are going next Lord’s Day. If you call out God’s blessing upon one another here, you may not go home with a mouth full of cursing.

Conclusions & Applications
Your family and household make up the first stage of Christian ministry. In other words, ministering to your wife, husband, and children is church ministry. In baptism, those other people were joined to Christ, anointed as holy ones in the house of God, and are fellow citizens with you (Eph. 2:14-22). Genuine catholicity means being catholic toward the saints closest to you. How can you prepare to love the saints at the Nazarene Church if you do not love the saints in your own home?

Pure and undefiled religion is the care of orphans and widows in their distress (Js. 1:27). This does not end with the family, but it certainly begins there. Remember that the call to care for orphans and widows starts with your own (1 Tim. 5:8, 16). And this includes the warning against creating any in your own homes through neglect or mistreatment.

All of this is a call to be the Church. You are no less the Church when you are driving home in the car together, when you are sitting at the dinner table together, or when there is miscommunication, misunderstanding, and sin. Remember, we are the people of God who confess their sins week after week. As we learn this liturgy of blessing and forgiveness in God's house, we become this liturgy in our homes.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, you have been so kind to us. You have forgiven us and loved us in a far deep way than we even understand. You continue to show your grace to us week after week, and for this we are thankful and amazed. You are good. Therefore, we ask you to continue your kindness by giving us grace to love you and those you have put in our homes and lives. Through Jesus who taught us to pray, singing…


Friday, August 22, 2008

Faith and the Invocation of the Saints

Central to the Reformers' objections to certain practices in the Roman Church was the issue of faith. And here I'm not referring initially to the issue of sola fide, though that does come in later. The issue was worship, and the question had to do with worshipping in faith.

So let's take the question of the invocation of departed saints: Mary, Peter, John, etc. Whether this invocation is done through icons or not, the issue has to do with the question of faith.

It is not faith to believe that if you jump off the Empire State Building you will grow wings and soar into the air like an eagle. And it won't do to start quoting Bible verses like the devil, insisting that angels will bear you up if you should happen to not grow wings. Jesus answered that kind of twisting of Scripture in his own temptation. But the point is that faith always clings to the Word of God. It is not faith if God has not spoken. It is not faith to believe that you are still in your sins and God is out to damn you because the clear proclamation of the Scriptures is Jesus is risen, there is now no more condemnation, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Likewise, it is not faith to believe that the world is going to end any minute now as soon as the antichrist shows up and most of the world begins worshipping him and offering their children on neo-pagan altars. Faith sees the world in all its goodness, in all of its ugliness, in all of its glory, in all of its mess, and believes that Word of God which says Christ shall reign until all of his enemies have been made his footstool, the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, and that God did not send his own son into the world to condemn the world but that through him the world might be saved.

The point is that faith clings to the Word of God. And furthermore, the apostle Paul says that it is the Word that actually creates faith. "How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?... So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10:14-17)

The problem with prayers to the saints or invocation of the saints is not that they can't hear us, don't care about us, and are otherwise unavailable and uninterested in the affairs of the Church on earth. The problem is that God has not spoken to us about this. The Scriptures tell us many things, and they indicate a great deal about death, the intermediate state, the resurrection, and the communion of the saints. But for all that, if invoking the saints and calling upon them to offer prayers on our behalf was so important, so normal, so natural, why is it not at least referenced one time in passing? Why don't we have at least one example of some apostle calling on the Mother of our Lord to intercede on their behalf? Granting that the saints in heaven *might* be able to hear all of us in some miraculous way through the power of the Spirit is not the same thing as having the Word of God tell us clearly that this in fact is the case.

This means that by definition the saints cannot be called upon in faith. Brothers and sisters who call on the departed saints do so in an unbelieving way. Or to put it another way: they must do so trusting someone or something else besides the Word of God. But there is no faith apart from the Word of God, and whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). Do the math.

We do know that the saints are in heaven worshipping God. We do know that they pray for us, and that we join in with them in worship as we join that great cloud of heavenly witnesses.

But for all that, we have not been invited, encouraged, or lead in any direct way to talk to them. And the weight of Scripture actually pushes us in the other direction.

At the same time, I would be one in favor of recovering a more robust Protestant celebration of the saints. Remembering their lives, their gifts, their struggles, and all that they have added to the Body of Christ is something we need to recover. Songs, poetry, stories, and art are all ways that cultures remember. Furthermore, a more robust recognition of their presence in worship, giving thanks to God for them (by name), and asking God to give us their courage and faithfulness. Protestant amnesia is certainly a significant problem, and it cannot be surprising that our children continue to grow up and leave the faith, almost as if they have forgotten us. But they have learned the lessons well: we do not remember that great cloud of witnesses and so neither do they.


Schaf: Justification and Sanctification

Central to Schaf's work (The Principle of Protestantism) is the insistence that the Church as the body of Christ on the earth possesses the fullness of Christ now in no less or greater a degree than when Christ first ascended into heaven and poured out the Spirit of the Father on the Church. And at the same time, this reality is still being worked out in history. In other words, the task of the Church is to grow into and more fully develop what is already there, what has already been given in the gift of the Spirit. Of course the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and therefore in him, the fullness of the Trinity is bestowed upon us. Yet, there is a continual working out of this reality. The Christ whom we have become one with in the Spirit must still be impressed upon us more and more. At the end, when the kingdom is delivered to the Father, and Christ is fully and obviously all in all, then this gap will be closed. The reality will have worked its way out into all of reality.

In Protestant terminology, this is the relationship between justification, sanctification, and glorification in individual soteriology. But this pattern that exists in individual Christian lives, is the same basic pattern of the Church. And this relates to all of the most significant issues of conversation between Rome and the Reformation. The place of the Scriptures and Tradition is a question of this story, the relationship between sanctification and justification. The Reformers have always insisted that at the moment of regeneration, the fullness of salvation is bestowed. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the action of God giving himself. Participation in the Triune Life is Eden restored, forgiveness of sins, a righteous standing before God, and the joy of eternal life. At the same time, this reality must be worked out in time. The holiness, justice, and grace of justification must be impressed upon the entire life of a believer, until no gap remains, until the reality becomes reality (glorification).

So similarly, the Church too has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost was the justification of the Church as a whole. Against her, the gates of Hades will not prevail come what may. Yet, the Spirit was poured out in order to build up the Church, to equip the saints for ministry, to fit the saints together until they have formed the one new man in Christ, until the gospel has filled the earth, until all the enemies of God have been made the footstool of Christ. This is the sanctification of the Church, the growing up of the Church, the continual reformation of the Church. This is the principle of protestantism, as Schaf sees it. It is the principle of working out the reality of salvation, the reality of the kingdom in every area of life.

The challenge is always to avoid the extremes of either stagnation, assuming that what has been given is the end of the story, or revolution, forsaking what has been given in the name of "growth." On the one hand, some think thirteen was a great age or maybe sixteen, and they are trying to stay there. Maybe we even liken it to a medical condition where someone's body stops growing. On the other hand, others really like the tumor that is growing out of the side of their head and don't want to operate. Both are highly problematic conditions. And Schaf wants to argue for a catholic continuity while insisting that the Church must grow up. But of course it must grow up into Christ, who is already present in the Church by the Spirit in reality. The reality must put on reality. Christ must put on Christ. The Body of Christ must become what she is.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Schaff on Tradition and the Jesuits

More Schaff:

"[Tradition is] the regenerated reason, the Christian consciousness of the Church; which stands not beside the scriptures as an independent fountain, but is simply the stream of their contents reaching to us through the life of the Church, embracing always only what is contained in the scriptures themselves." (91)

And to the claim by some that it is only by Tradition that we know the contents of the Scriptures, Schaf responds with a quotation from one Nitzch: "The Church has not made the scriptures genuine by acknowledging them, bu the scriptures have demonstrated themselves to her, and now make the Church genuine." (92)

And to the accusation that a demotion of Tradition to a level below that of scripture will invite all manner of subjectivity and chaos in interpretation (everyone reading their bibles and thinking, O horrors!), Schaff replies: "It is prodigous injustice to ascribe all clearness to man's word, and all darkness to the word of God." (93)

In a grand suggestive moment, Schaff suggests that the Roman Church is entrenched in various forms of rationalism. He asserts in one place that the "Jesuits first proclaimed the principle of the sovereignty of the people, which produced the French Revolution, and by their casuistry opened the way for the formal overthrow of all morality, with which all religious faith also must necessarily fall at the same time." (103)

(The Principle of Protestantism, by Philip Schaff or Schaf)


Monday, August 18, 2008

Fourteenth Sunday of Trinity Season: Theology of Other People 4: Ephesians 2

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we ask that you would remind us this morning of all that you have done for us, how far you have brought us, and how merciful you have been to us all along the way. And having reminded us of your grace, give us the courage and wisdom to understand where we are now, and where we are going. Through Christ our Lord, Amen!

We’ve considered the fact that the people God has given to us are gifts, and that they form the tradition that God has bestowed upon us. We also considered the command to pursue like mindedness. And we insisted that unity of mind is not the beginning of apathy but the beginning of sacrificial transfiguration. Today we consider the place of Trinity Reformed Church in the broader body of Christ, and the fact that this transfiguration of the world includes the entire body of Christ together.

Overview of the Text
Paul begins by reminding the Ephesians where they have come from, who they once were (Eph. 2:1-3). But the rich mercy and grace of God has made them alive together and raised them up together and seated them with Christ together (2:5-6). Based on what comes after this, the ‘together’ is referring to the Jews and Gentiles being saved together (cf. 2:11-18). God has equipped them all to walk in good works and this is his ‘workmanship’ in them (2:4-10). All of this kindness should remind them of the divisions and alienation they experienced from God and neighbor (2:11-13), since Christ has broken down the dividing wall, making peace, reconciling men to God through the cross. Proof of all this is the preaching of peace to those both far and near (2:14-17). And Paul repeats the idea of being “one” several times (2:14, 15, 16). This also includes mutual access to the Father through “one Spirit” (2:18), and that means that there is a common citizenship in the household of God (2:19). This household is being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with the Messiah as the cornerstone, and as this structure is fitted together it grows into a “holy temple in the Lord” (2:21). And just so the Ephesians don’t miss it, he says they are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (2:22).

Soteriology is Ecclesiology
What theologians call “soteriology”, the study of salvation, is central to Paul’s argument regarding what the church is and what she is called to (“ecclesiology”). This comes out more if we consider the tabernacle/temple imagery throughout the passage: we are his building project (2:9), brought near by the blood of Christ (2:13), fellow citizens with the “holy ones” of the house of God (2:19), a holy temple and dwelling place of God (2:21-22). With this context the theme of being made “one” echoes the building of the tabernacle which was to be made into “one” (26:6, 11, 36:13, 18). Likewise preaching peace to those who are far and near is a quotation from Isaiah 57 which falls on the heels of God’s resolution to have a house of prayer for all nations on his holy mountain (Is. 56:7, 57,:13). Making alive, raising up, and sitting in heavenly places together has everything to do with being built up into the house of God. “We” are his building project together; in other words, salvation is being the house of God together with all of God’s people. Or, we might say that there is only one person who is made alive, raised up, and seated in heavenly places, there is only “one new man” and “one body” which has access to the Father through the “one Spirit.” This should cause great humility, thankfulness, and hope in us as we consider the past, present, and future.

Trinity in Context
Our immediate story is shaped significantly by Christ Church. We need to continue to work at humility, gratitude, and hope in this relationship. We are a little sister congregation, and we need to guard against the sins of little sisters. A robust, enthusiastic thankfulness for what God has done and continues to do with our brothers and sisters there needs to be the key note in our words and thoughts and actions. If there are accusations, we want them to be of the sort that would reveal a deep respect and love for those saints and nothing short of that. We are being built into the temple of God together with them.

We are also part of the broader Church in Moscow. Paul says that the unity we share in the body of Christ is a citizenship in the household of God. This city of God in Moscow is bound together by one Spirit. We are being built up into the temple of God; therefore we ought to get used to getting along. Together we are responsible for the state of our city. We are all being built up into one new man.

We are also related to the broader catholic church throughout the world. We are bound by oaths to the CREC, and this serves as broader accountability, encouragement, and fellowship. But we are also part of the historic Reformation tradition which has its roots in the Medieval and Patristic Church and includes many different communions and churches. We seek to build upon the foundation of the “apostles and prophets” (2:20) until we are all built up into the house of God through the Spirit.

This recognition of who we are in the broader context needs to be done, not so that we become muddled or rootless. Meeting your neighbors shouldn’t make you forget where you live. This recognition needs to be made so that we can be thankful, and so we can begin to know how God might lead us to serve others. And it should not be forgotten that your husband, wife, children, and roommates are some of the closest neighbors you are called to serve. Do this in humility, gratitude, and hope.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, we ask that you would remind us of who we are and where we have come from not so that we might be haunted by sin but so that we might revel in your kindness to us. Therefore we thank you and we praise you for your mercy and for your wisdom. And we ask you to cause us to walk in thankfulness, through Jesus who taught us to pray...


Proverbs 22:26-23:3

The broader context of these verses is ten prohibitions like the original Decalogue (22:22-23:11).

This section has a beginning and ending inclusio that includes the promise that the Lord, their Redeemer, “will plead their cause” (22:23, 23:11). And this forms the overall theme of this Proverbial Decalogue – the ten commandments relating to the poor and finances in general.

The inclusio also forms the moral context for the commands: Yahweh pleads the cause of the poor and is able to touch anything – ie. the “soul.” But this also reminds us that the consequences of foolish actions and dealings are not random. They may be predictable sometimes, but they are still the acts of the “Redeemer.”
The first four “commandments” are prohibitions (22:22, 24, 26, 28), the fifth is a positive implied command (22:29), and the last five are prohibitions (23:1-3, 4, 6, 9, 10).

The second and third ‘commandments’ have to do with forming relationships with relation to money. Anger isn’t good for business and if you learn the angry man’s ways, you won’t be blessed either (22:24-25). The warning against becoming a ‘surety for debt’ is repeated throughout the Proverbs (Pr. 6:1, 11:15, 17:18, 20:16, 22:26, 27:13). In one place the warning is particularly related to “foreigners” (11:15), but 17:18 warns against becoming surety for a “friend.” This warning is not just about loaning someone money or starting a business with someone. It’s about the ignorant mindset that goes into business dealings with eyes closed. The situation would also arise as a result of being asked for money. And this son of Solomon is royalty. He’s a rich guy with a bed to sleep on, but the wise man warns against being the financial backstop for business gurus who come along looking for help. This is also protection for the poor who were not to be charged interest in loans (Lev. 25:37). This general warning may also be a warning against three-party deals.

The “ancient landmark” was originally related to the boundaries set in the land of Israel after the conquest (Dt. 19:14, 27:17). The “landmarks” were sacred because of how they fulfilled the covenant promises of God to Israel. But the economy was also tied to the land carefully. Every 50 years in the year of jubilee the land reverted to its original owner, and the ancient landmarks would have been permanent markers of which land belonged to whom (Lev. 25:8-17) and those provisions have everything to do with care for the poor of the land (25:23ff). This same command is repeated in the ‘tenth commandment’ in 23:10, more explicitly warning against oppressing orphans and widows.

The fifth commandment is the only positive command of the ten. The implied command is: work hard and you will stand with kings and famous men (22:29). This is a promise in a couple of ways: first, the obvious promise that God blesses hard work. But within in this context, “hard work” is tied to the proper care of the poor. The implication is that care for the poor, that kind of hard work, is the way to stand with kings. He who has an open hand is given more, he who serves is great, and he who is faithful over a little will be given much.

The theme of kings pushes us into the sixth commandment that warns against being deceived by appearances. The specific warning is with regard to the “delicacies” of the rich, their food, eating with a ruler (23:1-2). But the prohibition is particularly not to desire his riches (23:3). This is because things are not as they seem, appearances are deceptive. It’s likely that being invited to dinner at a ruler’s house is not merely for chit-chat. This would be a great honor, but it is most likely an interview, a test, a trial, etc. Remember other banquets that were for this very purpose: Naboth (1 Kgs 21) or Esther (5:4ff). Remember the fruit of the tree that was a test for Adam and Eve, and the Lord’s Supper is a banquet of this sort as well (1 Cor. 11:27-34). The “put a knife to your throat” is reminiscent of the Lord’s hyperbolic commands about plucking out eyes and cutting off hands to avoid sin. The point is to walk circumspectly. Live and walk with discernment.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Trinity Reformed Church Statement on Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Reformed Catholicity

The following will be up on the Trinity Reformed Church web site when our new site is up and running, but since there were a few folks interested in seeing it sooner, I post it here for your convenience.

One holy, catholic and apostolic Church
Trinity Reformed Church recognizes itself as part of the ancient Christian Church established by the apostles, rejoicing in the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jud. 1:3). We are thankful for the fellowship we share with all the faithful in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church throughout the ages. We affirm with the apostle that there is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:5). Therefore with the holy fathers, we confess that one faith as it has been handed down in the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, and Athanasian Creed. On this basis we cheerfully recognize the Trinitarian baptisms of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, receive them (and all others who confess this ancient faith) to our celebration of the Eucharist, and warmly welcome them into membership in our congregation. Because there is one body and one Spirit, we insist that the unity of the body of Christ is fundamentally something to be preserved through humility, gentleness, and love in the Holy Spirit and is not dependent upon institutional forms, church polity, or bureaucratic decisions (Eph. 4:2-3).

Likewise, in submission to the apostle’s instructions, we seek ecclesiastical maturity which rejoices in all of the ways the saints are being built up and equipped for ministry, striving for the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, until we reach mature manhood, the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:14). Standing firmly in the Reformed and Protestant branch of the Church, we are committed to enriching and deepening our understanding, practices, and doctrines, fully expecting continued reformation and renewal in the entire body of Christ.

Gratitude for the rich and fruitful heritage of the Reformed faith
At the same time, this tradition of “semper reformanda” (“always reforming”) has periodically been a subject of confusion and misrepresentation. The Reformed tradition at its best, far from willfully dividing and abandoning the one true Church, seeks to preserve that Church which the apostolic, patristic, and medieval fathers established and has continued in the lives of all the faithful throughout Christendom. Yet, some within the Reformed tradition itself today misinterpret ongoing reformation and preservation of this rich catholic heritage as an abandonment of historic Reformed principles. Some think they see a trajectory in our reformational progress which leads back to Roman Catholicism or leans toward Eastern Orthodoxy. Individuals who claim that we are moving this direction after having studied and worshipped and lived in our community have dramatically misread our aims and purposes. Furthermore, such interpretations fail to appreciate the deep catholicity found in the Reformed tradition and display ingratitude for the great sanctifying work our sovereign God has done in His Church by the faithful labors of protesting catholics over the centuries. While we affirm our fundamental unity with all the saints within the body of Christ, including those in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, as well as our great appreciation for the many gifts, insights, and contributions they bring to the broader Church, we equally affirm our great thankfulness for our own history and tradition. Our commitment to the Reformation and those central claims of the Protestant Reformers is unwavering and as robust as ever, and our thankfulness for this rich and fruitful heritage has only deepened as we have grown. In particular, we are grateful for and committed to those summaries of the faith found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, The Three Forms of Unity, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. At the same time, we do not understand this gratitude to be at odds with a genuine catholicity and love for the saints throughout the body of Christ. Rather, we are most thankful for the insights and concerns of the Reformed tradition because of how hopeful we are that God will be pleased to use us to bless and build up the broader Christian Church.

Catholicity and the ultimate, infallible authority of Holy Scripture
In keeping with this hope, we reject views which place the ultimate, infallible authority of the Scriptures in competition with other sources of authority since Christ is Lord over all, and His Word cannot be broken (Jn. 10:35). The sixty-six books of the Bible in their entirety are this perfect, God-breathed Word and comprise the only ultimate, infallible source of tradition for the Christian Church (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Thess. 2:15, 3:6, 14).

With the Reformers, we insist that liturgical idolatry is a most dangerous temptation and sin for many within Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. This includes the veneration of man-made images, statues, relics, Eucharistic elements, the invocation of the saints, as well as other practices and traditions which are not according to Scripture. Likewise, we warn all the faithful to flee those doctrines or practices which, whether in doctrine or in practice, undermine the fundamental and sovereign graciousness of God in salvation.

Finally, while we consider divisions in the body of Christ most grievous to the calling of the Church, and we confess that the Reformed tradition has contributed its own failures to this state of affairs, we do not believe that abstract considerations of church polity, apostolic succession, or institutional unity rise to the level of weightier matters of the law. Therefore, however helpful the study of those issues may be, they must not jeopardize genuine Christian fellowship, justify the denunciation of the least in the kingdom of God, or result in disparaging the validity of the ordinations or sacraments of other churches that worship our Triune God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Individuals who join communions that effectively excommunicate their Protestant brothers and sisters contradict their search for catholicity, and ironically, the goal of unity comes at the expense of further divisions in the body of Christ. We desire to be of one mind with all the saints, not by coercion, but by the same patient love of our brothers and sisters shown by Christ in His patient love for His Bride, the Church.

Toward greater unity and purity of the body of Christ
As we hope and pray and continue to work toward the greater unity and purity of the entire body of Christ, we do so committed to the most central callings of the Church: humble submission to Scripture and the proclamation of the gospel, the centrality of faithful worship and celebration of the sacraments, and loving God and neighbor with all that we are, which includes caring for the poor as well as widows and orphans in their distress. And this, we confess, is the way to grow up together with all of Christendom “into Him, who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).

Adopted by the Elders of Trinity Reformed Church on Thursday, August 14th, 2008


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Faith, Tradition, and Pandora

Schaf says that there are several ways in which Protestant and Roman Catholic views on justification and authority overlap. He says, that the "word of God answers to faith, and tradition to love." In both instances, the Protestant insistence is that the first and ultimate instrument of justification is faith which alone receives and rests upon the gracious work of Christ, and likewise, the Scriptures, in the Protestant view are the only ultimate and infallible rule of doctrine and practice.

At the same time, the Reformed tradition has always insisted that works are necessary for salvation and naturally flow from authentic faith. Faith without works is deadbeat assent. Likewise, tradition is inescapable and far from being a threat to sound doctrine and practice, it is actually "absolutely indispensable." True and faithful Christian tradition "is not part of the divine word separately from that which is written, but the contents of scripture itself as apprehended and settled by the Church against heresies past and always new appearing; not an independent source of revelation, but the one fountain of the written word, only rolling itself forward in the stream of Church consciousness." Thus, just as good works do necessarily flow from faith and are essential for salvation, so too, faithful tradition flows from and is necessary for the life of the Church through the centuries.

The Protestant complaint with Roman Catholicism is what Martin Chemnitz called the Pandora Box phenomenon. It's one thing to honor tradition, referring to ways in which the Church has meditated on the Scriptures and then spoken authoritatively on various issues. But it's quite another to use 'tradition' as a multipurpose grab bag out of which all manner of evil may proceed justified by the whims of wicked men who happen to find their names on a genealogical chart that traces back to St. Peter.

(The Principle of Protestantism, 71-72, 87)


Deliverdict in Schaf

Schaf says that one of the objections Roman Catholics have (or had) with the doctrine of justification by faith alone is that it involves God's "declaring a man to be what he is not in fact." Schaf goes on to point out that this is not so absurd since there are several instances of this very thing in Scripture. God loved us even while we were still sinners not for something he saw already in them, but for that which he intended them. Likewise, Abraham was called the father of many nations before he actually was.

But Schaf goes further and says that the Reformed "always acknowledged the true element here in the catholic doctrine, without sanctioning its pelagianistic trait." Thus, Schaf insists that God is not merely making a lone, abstract judgment that is unrelated to reality. On the contrary, the declaration of righteousness rests upon the objective union with Christ that exists, the "actualization of this principle in his person, is itself conditioned by the declaratory act, creative at the same time, going before." In other words, simultaneous to the declaration of righteousness is the creative union of the believer with the risen Christ, thereby enacting and performing the reality of the declaration.

(The Principle of Protestantism, 67-69)


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Calvin and the Thunderbolt of Anathema

"In bearing with imperfections of life we ought to be far more considerate. For here the descent is very slippery and Satan ambushes us with no ordinary devices. For there have always been those who, imbued with a false conviction of their own perfect sanctity, as if they have already become a sort of airy spirit, spurned association with all men in whom they discerned any remnant of human nature."

"There are others who sin more out of ill-advised zeal for righteousness than out of that insane pride [like Cathari, Donatists, and Anabaptists]. When they do not see a quality of life corresponding to the doctrine of the gospel among those to whom it is announced, they immediately judge that no church exists in that place. This is a very legitimate complaint, and we give all too much occasion for it in this most miserable age. And our cursed sloth is not to be excused, for the Lord will not allow it to go unpunished, seeing that he has already begun to chastise it with heavy stripes. Woe to us, then, who act with such dissolute and criminal license that weak consciences are wounded because of us! ... For where the Lord requires kindness, they neglect it and give themselves over completely to immoderate severity. Indeed, because they think no church exists where there are not perfect purity and integrity of life, they depart out of hatred of wickedness from the lawful church, while they fancy themselves turning aside from the faction of the wicked." (ICR IV.1.13)

Calvin points to the example of the apostle Paul and the Corinthians who were corrupt in morals and in doctrine: "What does the holy apostle -- the instrument of the Heavenly Spirit, by whose testimony the church stands or falls -- do about this? Does he seek to separate himself from such? Does he cast them out of Christ's Kingdom? Does he fell them with the ultimate thurderbolt of anathema? He not only does nothing of the sort; he even recognizes and proclaims them to be the church of Christ and the communion of the saints! Among the Corinthian quarrels, divisions, and jealousies flare, disputes and altercations burgeon together with greed; an evil deed is openly approved which even the pagans would detest; the name of Paul (whom they ought to have honored as a father) is insolently defamed; some mock the resurrection of the dead, to the destruction of the whole gospel as well; God's free gifts serve ambition, not love; and many things are done without decency or order. Yet the church abides among them because the ministry of Word and sacraments remains unrepudiated there. Who, then, would dare snatch the title "church" from these who cannot be charged with even a tenth part of such misdeeds? What, I ask, would those who rage with such churlishness against present-day churches have done with the Galatians, all but deserters of the gospel, among whom this same apostle still recognized churches?" (ICR IV.1.14)


Calvin the Schismatic

While Calvin insists that "ministry of the Word" and "celebrating the sacraments" in purity are the marks of the true Church, he maintains that so long as any church retains those two principles, we may "safely embrace" them as a church "even if it otherwise swarms with many faults."

He continues: "What is more, some fault may creep into the administration of either doctrine or sacraments, but this ought not to estrange us from communion with the church... I say that we must not thoughtlessly forsake the church because of any petty dissensions. For in it alone is kept safe and uncorrupted that doctrine in which piety stands sound and the use of the sacraments ordained by the Lord is guarded. In the meantime, if we try to correct what displeases us, we do so out of duty. Paul's statement applies to this: 'If a better revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent'. From this it is clear that every member of the church is charged with the responsibility of public edification according to the measure of his grace, provided he perform it decently and in order. That is, we are neither to renounce the communion of the church nor, remaining in it, to disturb its peace and duly ordered discipline." (ICR IV.1.12)


Ezekiel Staying Alive

Ezekiel's commission is an utterly terrifying task. His job is to tell the wicked that they are going to die. And if Ezekiel fails to warn them, they will die in their sins, but their blood will be required at the hand of Ezekiel (3:18). However, if he does warn them and they die in their sins, Ezekiel will have delivered his own soul (3:19).

The reverse is also true: If a righteous man turns away from righteousness and pursues iniquity, and God lays a stumbling block before the man, Ezekiel is responsible for warning the man. If Ezekiel does not warn the man and the man dies in his sin, God will require the man's blood at the hand of Ezekiel (3:20). But if Ezekiel does warn the man and delivers him from his sin then Ezekiel has delivered his own soul (3:21).

There are several terrifying things in this job description. First, the obvious fact that Ezekiel's soul is on the line. His own future has everything to do with his faithfulness in warning both the wicked and the righteous. Failing to warn them of what is coming results in their blood being required of Ezekiel. Faithfulness in this task results in Ezekiel delivering his own soul. The payoff for a job well done is that Ezekiel gets to stay alive; failure results in blood guilt being required of Ezekiel, the son of Adam.

Second, notice who the other actor in the story is. God puts himself squarely in the middle of the narrative. It is God who is speaking and he says, "When I say to the wicked, thou shalt surely die..." (3:18) and "When a righteous man turns from his righteousness... and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die..." (3:20). Ezekiel's job is to warn both wicked and righteous alike of what God is up to with them. In both cases God is threatening death. God delivers the sentence against the wicked; God sets a stumbling block before the righteous erring. And it is Ezekiel's mission to warn both alike.

Third, it would seem that the difference between wicked and righteous has everything to do with the ability to heed the warning. The wicked will die, warning or no warning, but God requires them to have a fair chance at repentance. The righteous however could go either way. Without a warning they will die and no one will remember their righteousness (3:20). The implication seems to be that they will be remembered as wicked since no one will remember the righteous deeds they had done. But if the righteous man is warned about the stumbling block, he will surely live because he is warned.

Notice that the difference between the wicked and the righteous is not whether or not they do wicked things or fall into sin. The difference is whether they will heed warnings and repent or not. The wicked willfully turn their headphones up louder and close their eyes to all warning signs. The righteous man hears the warning and changes course. This would of course include repentance and restitution for the acts which got him off course to begin with.

Lastly, while this mission seems to be unique to Ezekiel in some regard, there is something reminiscent of this in Hebrews 13 where the writer exhorts Christians to obey and submit to those who rule over them since "they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief..." Christian leaders have a responsibility to watch over the souls of their flock since they will give an account for their dealings. A Christian leader who fails to warn a member who is playing with moral nukes in his basement will have blood on his hands.

But more generally, all Christians are required to love their neighbors, and this means warning the wicked and the righteous. Whether they listen to you or not, whether they die in their sins or not, the weight of Scripture is that neighbors have some level of responsibility for one another. If you see your enemy's car in the ditch, you may not close your eyes or look the other way. Neither may you smile serenely while he casually drives his soul off a cliff. If you'd tell your neighbor when his house was on fire and encourage him to get out, it's no less kind to suggest similar things regarding his soul.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Adam Eats the Book and Is Sent to a Relative with Alzheimer's

Ezekiel is addressed as the "son of man," the "son of Adam" throughout his prophecy. This comes of course after having seen upon the heavenly throne "the likeness as the appearance of a man [Adam] upon it" (1:26). While there's a good bit of allusion and symbolism in the vision of God that Ezekiel sees, the recurring reference to the "firmament" is striking since that isn't a very common word, and apart from a couple of psalm appearances, this is the only other place it shows up with some frequency outside of Genesis 1.

Likewise, Ezekiel is being sent as the son of Adam, and he is instructed to not be afraid of the briers and thorns or the scorpions, allusions to the curse of sin, all of which seem (here) to be symbols of the words and looks of Israel. Yahweh says that they are a rebellious house, and Ezekiel should expect that sort of reception (2:6).

Of course, God spreads out his Word in the form of a scroll of a book before Ezekiel. It is a Word full of lamentations, mourning, and woe (2:10). And God says to Ezekiel, the son of Adam, "eat this roll" (3:1). And God says, "cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee." Gotta love the KJV on this sort of passage. Of course Ezekiel obeys, and he says that as he ate the book it was like honey in his mouth (3:3).

This new Adam, like the old Adam, finds himself in the glory-presence of the Creator God, where the firmament is not a division between heaven and earth but the very point of union and communion between God and Man. And like the Adam of old, this new Adam is given instructions regarding food. Eat this book, he says.

Last, God points out that if Ezekiel were sent to a foreign land, to a people who spoke a different language than Ezekiel, they would stand a far great chance of understanding Ezekiel than the house of Israel (3:5-6). Their hard-heartedness is so far gone, their foreheads are so thick, and their faces so flinty that they cannot listen Ezekiel (3:7-9).

Sin does this sort of thing. Sin is not merely a bad idea; it makes people stupid. Sin makes people deaf and blind to truth, and when it comes and looks them in the eyes and talks to them, it sounds like a foreign tongue. And this becomes even more troubling when dealing with family and friends dear to us who have hardened their hearts; it's like trying to communicate with an old relative who has Alzheimer's. It's the same person you've always known but something is terribly wrong and they don't know who you are or what you're talking about.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Tasting Death

Our sermon text from this morning ends with the promise of Jesus that some standing there would not taste death till they had seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom (Mt. 16:28). In one sense Jesus is probably talking about the judgment of Jerusalem in 70 AD, when he will reward everyone according to his deeds. But in another sense, Jesus is still teaching about the way the Kingdom works. He has just finished explaining his extreme discipleship program. He says if you want to follow him you must follow him with a cross on your back; the way to save your life is to lose it first. The kingdom of Jesus is all about tasting death. After 70 AD, Christians were still being persecuted, still being betrayed by family members, still being killed for their faith, still getting sick and dying. But Jesus says that this is the way of the kingdom: in order to follow him, you need to have a cross. You need to have splinters in your back. You need to have the taste of death in your mouth in order to live His resurrection life. If you want to have life, if you want to really live, you have to do it by eating and drinking death. This is because Resurrection is always on the other side of death. If you don’t know what death tastes like you haven’t been brought back to life. At this meal, Jesus says to give thanks, to rejoice, in the death of Jesus which is the death of all death, but this means that you need to see all your hardships, all your suffering, all your confusion, all your worries and fears, and all of your burdens in light of this reality. The writer of Hebrews says that “we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.” Christ has taken up into himself all of the curse of sin, he has tasted death for everyone, and this means that he died for all your hardships, all your suffering, all your death. Not so that you might be magically delivered from all of it right away, but so that you like him might overcome it, that you might learn obedience through suffering, that you might commit yourself to your faithful Father who raises the dead. So come eat, drink and rejoice: you are tasting death, but you are tasting the death of Christ who has already gone before us and he assures us that this is the way to life. If you want to find your life, come here and taste death that you may truly live.


Students are Neighbors Too

Every year around this time we begin to have a new set of neighbors descend upon this community. Students come to Moscow and Pullman from all over the northwest and from all over the world. A number of students will come here to Trinity, and this adds dimensions and dynamics to the kind of congregation we are. And, there are any number of reasons people might have for not being excited about this. College students are loud and obnoxious, they think they know everything, they get into trouble, they can be socially cliquish or awkward, it’s harder to find seats on Sunday morning, or it’s just difficult to find the people you’re trying to see and talk to, and the list goes on. But the exhortation from Scripture is to be imitators of God as beloved children and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:1-2). These students are people that God is bringing us to love. Each year, he gives us brothers and sisters to care for, to bless, to encourage, and to befriend. Do not see these young people as getting in the way of our community or fellowship; see them as the community and fellowship that God is calling you to embrace. And do not forget as you do so that there are many others outside who will not show up on Sunday. These are the students piled into the coffee shops, the students being loud at all hours of the night, the students who think main street is a drag strip, the students who steal your parking places and walk around town looking lost and confused. And you are no less called to minister grace to them. Jesus looked on the multitudes with compassion because they were like sheep having no shepherd and he said the harvest is plentiful, pray that the God of the harvest would send workers for the harvest. Therefore walk in love as Christ has loved you and given himself for you, and give yourself to loving these neighbors, caring for their needs, and befriending them and showing them kindness. Be grace to them.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Effective Resistance

In the first of a collection of letters, Lewis responds to an article on 'Conditions for a Just War.' His primary point is once again related to authority and who has the duty to assess information and make decisions regarding going to war and the like. This does not mean that "private persons must obey governments commanding them to do what they know is sin, but perhaps it does mean (I write it with some reluctance) that the ultimate decision as to what the situation at a given moment is in the highly complex field of international affairs is on which must be delegated."

Lewis goes on to argue that extreme pacifism effectively divides the Christian world and results in "no clear Christian witness." A far better strategy would be for Christians to insist upon what they do know and all agree upon. "A man is much more certain that he ought not to murder prisoners or bomb civilians than he ever can be about the justice of a war. It is perhaps here that 'conscientious objection' ought to begin. I feel certain that one Christian airman shot for refusing to bomb enemy civilians would be a more effective martyr (in the etymological sense of the word) than a hundred Christians in jail for refusing to join the army."

(Timeless at Heart, 126-127)


Pacifism and the Historical Jesus

Interestingly, Lewis likens the search for biblical grounds for pacifism to the modern search for the "historical Jesus." He says, "I think there are people who will not find this sort of thing difficult to believe, just as there are people ready to maintain that the true meaning of Plato, or Shakespeare, oddly concealed from their contemporaries and immediate successors, has preserved its virginity for the daring embraces of one or two modern professors... Any theory which bases itself on a supposed "historical Jesus," to be dug out of the gospels and then set up in opposition to Christian teaching, is suspect."

(Timeless at Heart, 64)


Turn the Other Cheek

On Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount, Lewis suggests three possible interpretations. The first is the absolute literal hermeneutic of the pacifist, the second is the hyperbolic interpretation which assumes that Jesus was not being literal but overstating his point for effect (much like the exhortation to cut off limbs and pluck out eyes that cause one to sin). Not satisfied with either of the first two, Lewis suggests a third option which he explains:

"I think the duty of non-resistance is here stated as regards injuries simpliciter, but without prejudice to anything we may have to allow later about injuries secundum quid. That is, in so far as the only relevant factors in the case are an injury to me by my neighbor and a desire on my part to retaliate, then I hold that Christianity commands the absolute mortification of that desire. No quarter whatever is given to the voice within us which says, 'He's done it to me, so I'll do the same to him.' But the moment you introduce other factors, of course, the problem is altered. Does anyone supposed that Our Lord's hearers understood Him to mean that if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of his way, I must stand aside and let him get his victim? ... I think it equally impossible that they supposed Him to mean that the best way of bringing up a child was to let it hit its parents whenever it was in a temper, or, when it grabbed at the jam, to give it the honey also... it seems unlikely that they [Christ's audience] would have ever supposed Our Lord to be referring to war. War was not what they would have been thinking of. The frictions of daily life among villagers were more likely to be in their minds."

(Timeless at Heart, 62-63)


More Lewis on War

Lewis says that a significant part of the question of war has to do with the question of authority. He asks how one could arrive at the conclusion that "I must disobey if I am called on by lawful authority to be a soldier." He summarizes the various forms of authority as "special or general" and "either human or divine."

Special human authority is the "society to which I belong," says Lewis. Here, Lewis cites his English heritage of Arther, Alfred, Burke, Shakespeare, and everything in between. General human authority would include the the broader scope of human history including the likes of Homer, Virgil, Plato, Cicero, and the Bhagavad-Gita. Thus far human authority.

Lewis cites Hooker who said that there were basically two reasons for disregarding human authority. The first was the blind optimist who as a matter of course simply believes that the latest is the wisest. Time is progressive de facto, and so there is nothing improbable for this fellow that the "whole world was wrong until the day before yesterday and now has suddenly become right." But the second avenue of discounting authority is found in a Christian accounting of history which recognizes the reality of sin and the fall, such that the human race can and does err and therefore unanimity amongst the human race does not guarantee veracity.

Thus Lewis turns to "Divine Authority."

(Timeless at Heart, 58-60)


Lewis on War

In the essay Why I'm not a Pacifist, C.S. Lewis writes: "Nor am I greatly moved by the fact that many of the individuals we strike down in war are innocent. That seems, in a way, to make war not worse but better. All men die, and most men miserably. That two soldiers on opposite sides, each believing his own country to be in the right, each at the moment when his selfishness is most in abeyance and his will to sacrifice in the ascendant, should kill each other in plain battle seems to me by no means one of the most terrible things in this very terrible world. Of course one of them (at least) must be mistaken. And of course war is a very great evil. But that is not the question. The question is whether war is the greatest evil in the world, so that any state of affairs which might result from submission is certainly preferable. And I do not see any real cogent arguments for that view." (Timeless at Heart, 57)


Friday, August 08, 2008

A Continual Sacrifice

Hughes Oliphant Old points out that the worship of the Temple was daily worship. Every morning and evening there were sacrifices in the temple and "these daily temple sacrifices were called the tamid, the continual sacrifice." One of the places Old is referring to is Exodus 29 where Yahweh commands Moses regarding the sacrifices that are to be offered at the Tabernacle. The priests are to offer two lambs, "day by day continually" (Ex. 29:38). One lamb was to be offered in the morning and the other was to be offered in the evening, and He explains that this morning and evening sacrifice is to be "a continual ascension offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the face of Yahweh" (Ex. 29:42). This morning and evening pattern is perpetuity; this rhythm is continual worship, day by day, following the pattern of creation, morning and evening, morning and evening.

Old also points out that the daily sacrifices "were accompanied by prayers and particularly the singing of psalms." Perhaps this originates in practice following the golden calf incident where Moses moves the tent of meeting outside the camp, and from that time on when the glory of God's presence descended upon the tent, the people would all worship from afar, falling down on their faces in the doorways of their tents (Ex. 33:7-11). But Old says that the "Christian discipline of daily prayer is ultimately derived from these continual sacrifices." Old cites Daniel who would maintain the Temple sacrifices even in exile, "There three times a day, at the regular hours of the Temple sacrifices, Daniel went to his room, opened his window toward Jerusalem, and said his prayers..." Related to this was the command in Deuteronomy to recite the Shema "when you lie down, and when you rise up...," every morning and every evening. Thus the faithful meditate on the law of God "day and night" (Ps. 1:2).

Old says that surely this is what the Apostle has in mind when he exhorts Christians to pray "continually" (Rom. 12:12), "without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17), offering "supplications and prayers night and day" (1 Tim. 5:5). And it's therefore no wonder that from the earliest centuries of the Church, Christians were known for these daily sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving and prayer. While Old recognizes the great work of monastics in preserving and glorifying the daily prayer services throughout the middle ages, he also notes that by the time of the Reformation it was necessary to restore prayers to the laity. Thus, in Geneva, Strassburg, and Augsburg, and apparently throughout the continent, morning and evening common prayers were restored to the people, often including sermons from the Reformers. In England and Scotland, the practice of daily prayers was emphasized in particular connection to the family which is probably related to the growing interest in covenant theology as well as the complex religious and political circumstances facing reformers at various points. Fathers were charged with the sacred duty of diligently instructing their families and leading them in the morning and evening prayers. Pastors would make regular visits to parish families to inquire about daily prayer habits and encourage fathers and mothers to grow in this practice. With the coming of Pietism, this practice degenerated into an individualistic "quiet time" which became the standard of Evangelical piety.

As we recover this pattern of continual prayer, it will surely take on slightly different forms in various places depending on many factors, but it is a gift of our heritage to be recovered nonetheless.

(References from Worship Reformed According to Scripture by Hughes Oliphant Old, 147-151).


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Protestantism: The Greatest Act of the Roman Catholic Church

Schaff argues that just as "the Jewish dispensation looked always towards the gospel... in like manner the discipline of the Roman Church involved an inward struggle, that became satisfied at last only in the evangelical emancipation of Protestantism." Thus, he says that the immmediate genesis of the Reformation was not in any number of political, scientific, or theological developments as much as it was bound up "in the very center of the religious life of the Catholic Church itself, as it stood at that time." He concludes: "The Reformation is the legitimate offspring, the greatest act of the Catholic Church; and account of true catholic nature itself, in its genuine conception: whereas the Church of Rome, instead of following the divine conduct of history has continued to stick in the old law of commandments, the garb of childhood, like the Jewish hierarchy in the time of Christ, and thus by its fixation as Romanism has parted with the character of catholicity in exchange for that of particularity." (The Principle of Protestantism, 48-50)


When Shepherds are Wolves

Documenting the deep roots of Reformation thought in the catholic tradition, Schaff quotes John von Gerson, the Chancellor of the University of Paris (d. 1489) who insisted that the apostle be heeded when he says 'Let every sould be subject to the higher powers...' But he insists that this is not an absolute requirement and when real authorities so abuse their responsibilities, duty to them ceases. He says, "I conclude then that obedience to superiors ceases to be a duty, where their works are openly bad and a source of scandal to the whole Church; where the shepherds are shearers; not sheep, but wolves; not sober, but drunken; not prelates, that give their lives for the sheep, but Pilates, that serve the lusts of others; casting forth their net, not to catch souls, but money." (from De reformatione ecclesiae in concilio universali, cited in The Principle of Protestantism, 46).


Pentecost as Reformation Day

Schaff begins his argument for the catholicity of the Reformation by pointing out that Christianity is all about reformation. "Chrisianity was such a Reformation, not simply of Judaism, but of Humanity as a whole." He goes on to insist that what Luther gave utterance to was already "darkly present to the general consciousness of his age, and brought out into full view that which thousands before him, in his own time, had already been struggling in various ways to reach. Genuine Protestantism is no such sudden growth, springing up like a mushroom in the night, as the papist, and certain narrow minded ultra-protestants, would fain have us believe. Its roots reach back to the day of Pentecost." (The Principle of Protestantism, 37)


All Things New

At the end of the introduction, Nevin compares this progressive sanctification of the Church to the life of individuals and says that they are not only analogous, but they are completely codependent. In other words, the ultimate sanctification and salvation of individuals is in the salvation of the Church as a whole.

"Only indeed as it is comprehended in this general process, can the particular process by which the salvation of the single Christian is accomplished, from the new birth to the morning of the resurrection, be carried successfully forward. He is saved in the Church, the mystical body of Christ; and can become complete, only as the whole is made complete which he is a part. His resurrection accordingly, the last result of the organic power of his nature, will be reached only in connection with the consummation of the life of the Church as a whole, when in the fullest and most glorious sense, old things shall have passed away and all things become new." (The Principle of Protestantism, 25-26)


Reformed Apostolic Succession

Again, Nevin: He insists that the Reformation did not go back and start over at the fourth or fifth century. Rather, the Reformation was the continuation of that true Catholic Christianity that had run all the way up to the Reformation. He says, "If Protestantism be not derived by true and legitimate succession from the Church life of the Middle Ages, it will be found perfectly vain to think of connecting it genealogically with the life of the Church at any earlier point." (The Principle of Protestantism, 23).


The Womb of the Reformation

Nevin again, speaking in support of an optimistic view of the progress and growth of the Christian Church down through the ages says that this does not mean there is never regression or apostacy along the way, but rather "Truth can be said to advance, only as error is surmounted and thrown into its rear. But this requires that the error should always, in the first place, make itself known and felt... In this view the Middle Ages form properly speaking no retrogression for Christianity. They are to be regarded rather as the womb, in which was formed the life of the Reformation itself." (From the Introduction to The Principle of Protestantism by Philip Schaff, 21-22)


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Protestant Catholics

I can't remember how many times I've heard it said that we call ourselves "Protestants" because the Reformers were "protesting" the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.

However, not too long ago a professor pointed out to us that the Latin word protestare does not mean "to protest." It actually means to confess, to testify, to profess. It's an entirely positive term, meant to convey the affirmation of a certain stance rather than a negative term that quibbles and critiques.

Protestant Catholics are Confessing Catholics, Professing Catholics, Catholics who bear witness to the ancient faith found in the Scriptures and those faithful fathers down through the centuries who preserved and built upon it. To be a Protestant Catholic is to be committed to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, actively confessing the faith of that Church, celebrating the sacraments of that Church, following in the footsteps of the faithful who have come before us, while working towards establishing an even more glorious Christendom in the future.


The Way Forward

"The present state of Protestantism is only intermistic. It can save itself, only by passing beyond itself. In this country particularly, our sect system is an evil that may be said to prey upon the very vitals of the Church. The evil itself however is but the index of a false element, incorporated with the life of Protestantism itself. The case then is not to be remedied, by any merely external change. We are not called to a crusade against sects as they stand; as though storming them to the ground, we could do for Christianity all that is needed in this direction. Only as the sect principle can be reached and cured in the inward habit of the Church, may any such revolution, in connection with the openings and orderings of God's providence,) be expected to take place, as the existing crisis demands." (J.W. Nevin in the Introduction to The Principle of Protestantism by Philip Schaf, 17-18)


Truth and History

One other thought on Jeremiah's indictment of Israel's false prophets:

Not only is Truth a question of present and future, but given what Jeremiah says concerning the requirement of prophets to expose the sins of the people, Truth has everything to do with the past as well. Exposing sins is a task which includes recounting what has already taken place in a particular way. Confessing sins is the act of telling the story like God does and not massaging the facts to appease our conscience.

Truth, in order to be Truth, must bind up past, present, and future together.


Truth and Eschatology

The prophet Jeremiah explains the "false and deceptive visions" of the prophets of Israel in these words: "They have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading" (Lam. 2:14).

The falseness and deceptiveness of the visions and oracles is not merely a question of the factual truth or falsity of their words. It is primarily found in the trajectory of their words, where they lead. The immorality of their words is in their refusal to expose the sins of their people and thereby deliver the people from the judgment of God. False visions are false because they lead people into judgment. True visions are true because they lead people to restore their fortunes, they lead to the blessing of God.

In this sense, a prophet could say *true* things all day long about politics, the weather, religion, and history and still be a false prophet full of deceptive visions and oracles that are misleading. Truth is not merely a question of factual reality. Truth is a question of trajectory and eschatology.


Abstraction and Incarnation

Truth is a person. Truth has a story, brothers and sisters. Truth has a mother and father.

As I continue to meditate on the concerns of my friends who are grappling with issues related to what the Church is called to be and their place in it, more and more, the concerns I have boil down to a fundamental aversion to abstraction and rationalism.

If Truth is a person, a man with 32 teeth and a score of fingers and toes, a man with a story, history, context, this means that it is not enough to merely ask factual questions. It’s all well and good to ask questions about “apostolic succession,” “veneration of icons,” “episcopal polity,” the role of “tradition,” the “authority of the church,” and a whole host of other issues, but all of these are abstract ideas which have not yet touched down. Those factual questions are only half of the work, half of the question. And furthermore, no one comes to those ideas with clean slates; you cannot come to these questions with an ecclesiological tabula rasa. You were born into a story, a family, a tradition, and all of these questions have their own stories and complexities. In other words, to take one example, there is no such thing as “apostolic succession” in general. There are only particular bishops who consecrate particular bishops in a particular sequence, and we may generalize concerning this activity over time using various terms as short hand for historical events, but we’re talking about a story with main characters, minor characters, heroes and villains, a plot, a climax, and various levels of resolution.

And this is not an apologetic for a relativistic version of truth. On the contrary, it is to argue for the most absolute form of truth that can or does exist, truth that is so absolute it resides in a single person, the Word of God Incarnate, Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. And because you were made in his image, you also have a story, a context, a history, pastors, parents, friends, and neighbors. It is not enough to merely ask if something is a fact or exists or is *true*, floating up there in the cerebral ether. The next step must be made in understanding how it is true, how it has been applied, understood, abused, and so on.

To refuse to ask the how question is just straight up rationalism. The rationalist can only see the world in black and white. The rationalist can only see the world through open and shut, abstract categories, the world in ones and zeros. Everything is a true or false question on the exam of life. Humanity is a brain which operates according to simplistic logical categories. Of course there are certain questions which may always be asked and answered with straight up yes or no results. But – and this is the point – that is always because God has already spoken authoritatively on those points. But life is lived in the messiness of flesh and tears and blood and laughter. Being human means embracing this image of God in our living, in our breathing, in the parents the bore us, in the communities that reared us, in the Church that regenerated us. But this means appreciating the dynamics of the story.

For a Protestant to suddenly look up and say, “The Pope said it, that settles it,” is not only to give multitudes of faithful fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters in the Protestant Church the fig, it is to do the same to history. It is an anti-intellectual fundamentalism of the worst sort. Similarly on the question of icons: Protestants need to realize that the seventh ecumenical council really did happen, and the Church did in fact mandate the use of icons in Christian Worship and we also need to recognize that there were some distinctions being made between veneration and idolatry. True. Yet, it simply will not do to completely ignore the heathen superstitions that have plagued both Orthodoxy and Romanism down through the years. Russian Orthodox shrines with totem poles in them is not a legitimate application of the communion of saints, and for all my love of Eskimos, it will not do for a purse lipped priest to solemnly start explaining the difference between worship and veneration. Calvin’s catalogue of relics would be funny except for the fact that it was true. And the countless sheep led astray by that kind of foolishness as well as the gadfly bishops and archbishops prodding their people on while filling their pockets with filthy lucre is part of the story. Answering the other questions must be done in the context of this story in order to arrive at Truth.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Broken for Tomorrow

In the sermon text this morning, Jesus warned the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He insisted that his provision of bread was sufficient for the disciples. Not only is their leaven dangerous, but the disciples shouldn’t need it. But this only makes sense if we understand how leaven worked in the ancient world. In the past, leaven was not a packet of yeast you bought at the grocery store. Leaven was actually a chunk of dough left over from the last loaf of bread you made yesterday. Leaven was actually dough from yesterday’s loaf. Leaven was a bit of leftover dough that you saved so that you could have bread not only today but also bread for tomorrow. And this is perhaps why Jesus points to the leftovers he has provided for his disciples. He has plenty of dough, plenty of bread for the disciples. But notice also how this leaven works. It is broken off from the main lump today in order to make a new loaf tomorrow. And the next day another part of the dough will be broken off for the bread on the following day. And this is precisely how Jesus taught about his own life and death. On the night in which He was betrayed he took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples and said that it was his body broken for them. Later, Paul says we who partake of the one loaf are one loaf, but this means that just as we are also the body of Christ, we are being called to be broken. But you are not merely being broken for the sake of brokenness. You are being broken for tomorrow. You are being broken today so that God can make another loaf of you tomorrow, so that God may give you life tomorrow and next year, and so that your children and grandchildren and neighbors might have life. And in Christ the cumulative effect of your life being broken is life for the world. Each of us has the calling to die for our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our coworkers, and even our enemies. We do this willingly and joyfully because we know that we serve the God who provides not only today, but in our brokenness he is also providing for tomorrow.


Pastoral Collars

One of the newer sights for Trinity Church folks is seeing your pastors walking around town wearing clerical collars. I’ve been wearing one and Pastor Leithart will also be wearing one regularly. And we want to make sure that you understand what that means and what it doesn’t mean. One of the first associations with clerical collars for many is Roman Catholicism, but actually for most of the church’s history, Christian ministers have been publicly set apart by their clothing. Up until about a hundred years ago Presbyterian and Reformed ministers even wore distinctive clothing. You can see Reformers in many church history books wearing distinctive shirts and collars that designated their callings as ministers of the gospel. We are seeking to align ourselves with that tradition. But the purpose of a minister wearing a collar is tied to his vocation. We are public servants both for you and for the broader Moscow community. The reason mailmen, police officers, doctors, and other vocations have uniforms is so that they can serve. When we see the uniforms we know what they are called to do, and similarly, we want as ministers to be available, recognizable, and at your service and at the service of our community. Traditionally, the collar has represented the yoke of Christ, the fact that ministers are slaves of the gospel, and called to lead their congregations and communities in submission to the Lord Jesus and as Christ’s servants called to serve his people. Finally, one of the central callings of ministers is to speak, proclaiming the gospel, comforting the grieving, calling the wicked to repentance, and declaring forgiveness to the penitent. These collars at our throats remind both us and you of that responsibility. And that’s a terrifying responsibility, but it is actually the calling of all Christians. In baptism we have all been called to take up the yoke of Christ, to be his servant for the world, and to speak gospel light into the darkness of sin and death. Consider these uniforms as simple reminders to us all of this high calling, the calling to die to ourselves, giving ourselves away for our families, neighbors, friends, and even our enemies.