Category Archives: Theology

Quote of the Day

zwingli834…  Since the universe must come from something else, we are brought, whether we will or no, to the one and only source of all things [i.e., God, our Creator], from which everything runs forth as if from the starting place of a race course.– Huldrych Zwingli

Divine Permission: Or, Why Do We Do Things God Doesn’t Wish Us To Do?

“Permission is an act of governing Providence, by which God does not employ hinderances which no finite agent can overcome, or knows how to overcome, to restrain rational creatures, inclining themselves of their own accord to sin, from an evil forbidden by the law, but, for just reasons, permits them to rush into sins, Ps. 81:12; Acts 14:16; Rom. 1:24, 28.” – Quenstedt.

Zwingli Was Right About What Must Be Done With Heretics

When he wrote, in a disputation-

So far am I from yielding to you that unless you leave me and mine—that is, the sheep of Christ—in peace and quiet, I shall proceed to deal with you far more roughly, without fear of your words or your frowns. You must deal with me by means of the Holy Scriptures bestowed upon us by God (and do not forget that point), and they must not be twisted. You must not use things devised by the vanity of man, and you must come to close quarters and not fight by laying mines. As soon as I perceive any tricks, I shall expose them.

There it is.

Perspectives on Forgiveness: Contrasting Approaches to Concepts of Forgiveness and Revenge

This new volume looks incredibly interesting:

Demands for forgiveness, even in the face of horrific crimes, were common to the late twentieth century and remain critical aspirations for persons and communities in the early twenty-first century. Research on forgiveness and revenge has nevertheless revealed that many people hold divergent moral and pragmatic beliefs about forgiving, and most survivors express longstanding skepticism about when forgiveness is appropriate and when it is not. By taking an interdisciplinary approach to these issues, the current volume considers the complexities of forgiveness and revenge in the modern world. The chapters address some of the most critical inquiries today: How is forgiveness facilitated or obstructed? What is the role of truth, restitution, reparation or retribution? When is forgiveness without restitution appropriate? Is forgiveness in the true sense of the term even possible? Through empirical, theoretical and literary analyses, this volume addresses the power of revenge and forgiveness in human affairs and offers a unique outlook on the benefits of interdisciplinary discussions for enhancing forgiveness and deterring revenge in multiple aspects of human life.

Brill have provided a review copy and I’m keen to read it.  More anon.

Why Christians Ought to, Need To, Get To Worship Services

From an essay in the Raleigh News and Observer:

Here are the reasons why, all things being equal, Christians must go to church:

Christianity is a team sport. Permit me a humble analogy. You might see yourself as a terrific baseball pitcher. But if you only throw baseballs in your backyard at a plywood cutout, you won’t progress. You’re not even really playing baseball.

To discover the full extent of your abilities, to understand the true game, you need a catcher, a coach, infielders and outfielders — and even someone standing in the batter’s box ready to swat your best fastball right back at you.

Same with being a Christian. You can’t do it well by yourself.

Communion is among our faith’s central sacraments, a ritual that celebrates Christians as members of a spiritual, God-ordained community. We’re many individuals who, joined together with Jesus and each other, form one great cosmic body. It’s in our spiritual DNA that we rely on one another; no one stands alone.

Attendance is commanded. The writer of Hebrews, for instance, warns us never to forsake assembling together with our brothers and sisters.

It’s not all about you. We’re sent to church to serve others as much as we’re sent there to be served. Believe it or not, you possess gifts and talents your brothers and sisters need. If you’re not present, you’re denying them benefits God intended them to enjoy.

Your fellow parishioners, including your pastor, will make you mad, hurt your feelings and get on your last nerve. This is exactly what’s supposed to happen. Finding ourselves offended and disappointed lets us see just how shallow and petty we are. It sands down our rough edges. We discover that, by gosh, we’re no better than all those other hymn-warbling yahoos!

Also, watching God work miracles through the smelly, imperfect, hypocritical men and women who make up a congregation reveals to us the unfathomable depths of God’s grace and love. It renews our faith. We realize he can use anybody — even us.

Your fellow Christians will reveal aspects of the Lord you’ve never seen. As we get to know our fellow pilgrims, as we hear them tell and retell their sordid stories while they’re bumbling along, we find they’ve experienced God in ways we haven’t. They’ve seen revelations we’ve never imagined. Over time, all these very different visions merge into a greater portrait of him than we’d ever otherwise behold.

Your fellow churchgoers will inspire and comfort you. Sure, some Christians will let you down, because they’re human and that’s what humans do. But you’ll also find disciples who’ll sit beside you in court when your kid’s up on drug charges, and who’ll hold your hand when your spouse is lying in a coffin, and who’ll bring you soup when you’re sick with the flu. When everything’s going wrong, they’ll assure you it’s going to be OK in the end, because they — and God — have your back.

To the extent you honor your church, you honor Christ. “In as much as you’ve done it to the least of these my brothers and sisters,” Jesus said, “you’ve done it unto me.” When you dishonor or ignore his church, you’re dishonoring or ignoring him.

You’ll get plenty of laughs. You’ll sing and pray, sure. You’ll snore. You’ll grow fidgety. But as much as anything, you’ll experience joy — and mirth. Each church is a microcosm of the human comedy. When you’re not cussing about it, the sheer surreal madness of it just leaves you clutching your rib cage, shaking with laughter, tears of gratitude streaming down your cheeks.

Ancient Guidance For Terrible Times

My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days. Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and the chosen in the furnace of humiliation. Trust him and he will uphold you, follow a straight path and hope in him. You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; do not turn aside, for fear you fall. You who fear the Lord, trust him, and you will not be robbed of your reward. You who fear the Lord, hope for those good gifts of his, everlasting joy and mercy. Look at the generations of old and see: whoever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or whoever, steadfastly fearing him, was forsaken? Or whoever called to him and was ignored?  For the Lord is compassionate and merciful, he forgives sins and saves in the time of distress.

Woe to faint hearts and listless hands, and to the sinner who treads two paths. Woe to the listless heart that has no faith, for such will have no protection.  Woe to you who have lost the strength to endure; what will you do at the Lord’s visitation?  Those who fear the Lord do not disdain his words, and those who love him keep his ways.  Those who fear the Lord do their best to please him, and those who love him will find satisfaction in the Law.  Those who fear the Lord keep their hearts prepared and humble themselves in his presence. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, not into any human clutches; for as his majesty is, so too is his mercy.  (Sir. 2:1-3:1)

Fact: If Theologians Don’t Have a Bit of the Pugilist in Them, They’re Probably Not Very Useful

Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side. (Sir. 4:28)

All of the greatest theologians in the Church’s history could throw a punch when they needed to- if not literally like St. Nicolaus (who punched Arius in the face) then figuratively.

Milquetoast theologians are worthless theologians.

Tippers and Tithers

Tippers don’t fund church programs and ministries, tithers do.  A Church of tippers will always be on the verge of a crisis whilst a Church of tithers will always be able to meet the ministry and mission needs of the hour.

Preachers don’t like to talk about tithing because they don’t want to be accused of being self serving or greedy or worse, like a televangelist just feathering his own nest.  But tithing is a biblical concept and since the very beginning of both Israel and the Church, it was the means by which ministry, worship, and missions were made possible.

People might not like talking about ‘giving’ but that’s usually because they don’t do it, and talk of it makes them feel self conscious or even ‘guilty’.

But the harsh truth is that if people don’t give to support the work of their local Church, before too long there won’t be a local Church for them to attend.

Tippers and tithers.  Every Christian gets to decide which they’ll be and what sort of ministry they want to fund.

Robert Jeffress Cannot Be A Christian

A pastor closely linked to Donald Trump said he’s against sex with adult film stars but isn’t holding the alleged affair with Stormy Daniels against the president.  “Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star,” Robert Jeffress told Fox News on Thursday. “However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him.” Jeffress, who is an evangelical adviser to the president, said Trump’s personal behavior isn’t an issue. 

The problem with this pseudo-Christian’s viewpoint is that real Christians, real disciples of Christ, understand that what applies to one applies to all.  Trump is not exempt from moral expectations just because these false believers want to support his political agenda.

There’s nothing Christian about Trump and there’s nothing Christian about so called Christians who are willing to give him an ethics pass.  Nothing.

The Decent Cry As Soon As They Do An Evil Deed- The Wicked Cry Only When They Are Punished

The smirk wiped from his face, a crying Martin Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison for securities fraud Friday in a hard fall for the pharmaceutical-industry bad boy vilified for jacking up the price of a lifesaving drug.

Shkreli, the boyish-looking, 34-year-old entrepreneur dubbed the “Pharma Bro” for his loutish behavior, was handed his punishment after a hearing in which he and his attorney struggled with limited success to make him a sympathetic figure. His own lawyer confessed to wanting to punch him in the face sometimes.

This guy isn’t alone.  Most people lack the decency of a guilty conscience and only feel sorrow when their sins come home to roost in judgment.  They aren’t sorry for what they’ve done- they’re sorry they have been caught.

Sentence tears are pointless tears.  If you want to shed tears that mean something, shed them moments after your sin.  Those are repentant tears and they’re the only tears of regret that matter.

Zwingli For Today

reformers1.jpgThe promiscuous pairing of animals, even in our judgment, is not base, though such pairing of human beings is most base. But what is it that absolves them but condemns us? The Law. For by the divine law we are confined within the barriers of matrimony.— Huldrych Zwingli

The Local Non-Denom Mega Church, ‘Faith Promise’, and Its Failure to Understand Basic Doctrine

There’s a large church down the road in Knoxville which has gotten itself a bit of publicity lately because a lesbian couple attending were denied membership although, and here’s the ignorant part, the church had baptized them.

Here’s the story:  a lesbian couple started attending Faith Promise Church some time back.  They apparently enjoyed it and were gladly baptized.  They then requested Church membership, which the Church declined (given that the couple was living in an open lesbian relationship).  The couple let the news media know that it had been denied membership in said Church and wished all to know of their dismay therefore.

The media crawled all over the story but it was apparent to those of us observing the doings that two things were in progress:  first, the Church doesn’t understand even the most basic doctrine of baptism, as that act itself is the act of incorporation into the local Body of Christ, the church.  The church baptized people that didn’t meet its membership requirements and those people were and are not willing to adjust their behavior to meet that church’s standards.

And second, the couple in question is clearly simply seeking to make a political statement at the expense of the church.  They knew, they had to have known, that they would not be allowed membership since the church is quite up front with its membership requirements (although it fails miserably to understand baptism itself).  Thus, their aim all along was never to join the Church but to hold it up to public ridicule.

I know this to be the case because several lesbian friendly churches in the area invited the couple to join them and the couple refused.  They had just been ‘too hurt’ to want to have anything to do with the church any longer.  This is odd, however, given their proclamations to the contrary and their stated love of the Christian faith.  Were any sincere couple denied membership in one location I can assure you, they would seek membership somewhere else if their faith really mattered to them.

But the couple isn’t alone in being susceptible to blame.  The church never should have baptized them if they didn’t meet membership standards.  Period.  Baptism isn’t a game, it is an act of inclusion in the community of faith.  Any baptism that is not that, is no baptism at all.

Everyone should be welcome to attend any church they wish.  Period.  But not everyone should be welcomed into membership unless they understand 1) what the members are expected to believe and do; and 2) what they can then expect from the Church.  People who, on the one hand, are simply using the church as a platform for their own ideology should never be allowed baptism.  And on the other hand, churches which baptize just any old soul without realizing that they by doing so have included that old soul in its membership should live with the consequences of that foolhardy baptismal act.

In sum- the lesbian couple baptized by Faith Promise church belong, by virtue of their baptism, to that church.  They never should have been baptized if they didn’t meet the standards of the church; but the church bears the onus of responsibility in this matter and needs very seriously to evaluate its baptismal practices.

Mega churches lack – on the whole – any theological sense.  Faith Promise has shown that in spades and I hope they mend their baptismal ways before they baptize a Satanist and are stuck with the public disdain that will engender.

Luther: On Prayer

luther_glass“When we pray we have the advantage [of the promise] that what we ask will be granted, although not according to our wish. If it weren’t for the promise I wouldn’t pray. God does well, moreover, that he doesn’t give us everything as we wish, for otherwise we’d want to have everything on our own terms.

That our Lord God is the same in life and death I have often experienced. If our prayer is earnest it will be heard, even if not as and when we wish. This must be so or our faith is vain. Consequently it’s difficult to pray. I know well what a prayer requires of me. I haven’t committed adultery, but I’ve broken the first table against God’s Word and honor. On account of my great sins [against the first table] I can’t get to the others in the second table.” — Martin Luther

Fun Facts from Church History: Luther’s Dread

luther65Luther left the Wartburg on March 1, 1522, arriving at Wittenberg on March 6. One of the first things he did was to preach a series of eight sermons, during the week beginning March 9, in an effort to counteract the extreme reforms which had been forced through by Karlstadt and Gabriel Zwilling.  Luther was by no means opposed to reform measures, but he held that they should be brought about by persuasion, not compulsion.*

One of those sermons was on marriage, which Luther commences thusly:

How I dread preaching on the estate of marriage! I am reluctant to do it because I am afraid if I once get really involved in the subject it will make a lot of work for me and for others. The shameful confusion wrought by the accursed papal law has occasioned so much distress, and the lax authority of both the spiritual and the temporal swords has given rise to so many dreadful abuses and false situations, that I would much prefer neither to look into the matter nor to hear of it. But timidity is no help in an emergency; I must proceed. I must try to instruct poor bewildered consciences, and take up the matter boldly.

And then of course he does.

*Luther’s works, vol. 45 : The Christian in Society II p. 13.

Karl Barth: On The Legitimacy, and Illegitimacy, of ‘Killing in Self Defense’

564426_w185If you’ve never read Barth’s discussion of ‘killing in self defense’, you ought to.  Especially now, when killing seems to be something of a sport for some and self defense is urged to such an extent that Christian people are told, with straight faces, that it is proper for them to meet violence, or even potential violence, with murder.

Barth’s treatment of the subject of self defense is the best in all of theological literature, and can be found in his Church Dogmatics, III,4 (p.427ff).

He writes, for example, quite provocatively

This cannot mean that somewhere and somehow… the imperative reaction of self-defence and therefore the primitive instinct to protect our possessions is right after all.  As forcefully as it can, the command of God tells us that this instinct is wrong and not right (p. 433).

Again, the entire section is absolutely brilliant.  Do read it before you say yes to retaliation and vengeance.

Quote of the Day

“When early Christian bishops were made of gold, their crosses were made of wood. But bishops became like wood when their crosses appeared as gold.  The more that there was simplicity in the administration of the Word of God and the sacraments, the more that pastors were small and humble in the eyes of the world, and the church had fewer troubles. And who can dare to despise poverty in a faithful servant of God in the presence of the prophets, apostles, confessors and martyrs, and Jesus Christ himself—who were all poor?”  —Simon Goulart

The Bankruptcy of Philosophical Theology

lutherSome wag said to Luther, whilst discussing difficult theological concepts-

“It is asserted in the Creed, ‘he descended into hell.’”

Luther responded,

“This must be believed. We can’t understand it. That’s the way it is. There will be debate about how the Trinity is in the unity (when there’s no relation between the infinite and the finite), how nature can produce such a strange marvel as a God-man, etc. [While occupied thus with disputation] men will let the article concerning justification go.

If only we would study in the meantime how to believe and pray and become godly! We’re not content with that which we can understand and insist on disputing about something higher, which we can’t possibly understand and which our Lord God doesn’t want us to understand. That’s the way human nature is. It wishes to do what is forbidden; the rest it ignores and then starts asking, Why? Why? Why?

This is what happens when philosophy is introduced into theology. When the devil went to Eve with the question Why? the game was up. One should be on one’s guard against this. It’s better to fall on one’s knees and pray an Our Father. This will help more. “Dear Lord God, protect us from the devil, and also from ourselves!”

There’s something glorious in simplicity and honesty that eclipses pretensions to false knowledge.

Quote of the Day

Zwingli’s Statue at the Wasserkirche

Even if you hear the gospel of Jesus Christ from an apostle you will not follow it unless the heavenly Father teaches and draws you by his Spirit. The words are clear: God’s teaching clearly enlightens, teaches and gives certainty without any intervention on the part of human knowledge. If people are taught by God they are well taught with clarity and conviction. If they had first to be taught and assured by men, they would be more correctly described as men-taught rather than taught by God.– Huldrych Zwingli