Archive for February, 2012
This weekend in worship and ABC, we kicked off a series called, “King Me! Life Lessons from Israel’s Lieges.” In this series, we are taking a look at some of Israel’s kings and seeking to learn from both the good and the bad of their rules and reigns. The theme verse for this series comes from Judges 8, where, after leading a valiant charge against the Midianites, the Israelites want to install their judge, Gideon, along with his family, into an Israelite royal dynasty. Gideon responds, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you” (Judges 8:23). Gideon understands that, ultimately, it is the LORD who is King over all. No earthly king can dare or deign to take God’s place. Indeed, the subtitle for this series, “Life Lessons from Israel’s Lieges,” alludes to this. A “liege” can be either one who rules or one who is ruled. Earthly kings are both. They may rule over others, but they themselves are inescapably and inexorably ruled by God. For God is King over all.
Like Gideon, Martin Luther understood that God rules and reigns over all. In his writings, Luther often spoke of two kingdoms. On the one hand, Luther explains, there is a left hand kingdom, which incorporates the world and its rules and rulers. On the other hand, there is a right hand kingdom, or a spiritual kingdom, which consists of all those who have faith in Christ and are guided by the Gospel. When teaching on these two kingdoms, I will often refer to the right hand kingdom as the Kingdom of God and the left hand kingdom as the Kingdom of Man. “Who rules the Kingdom of God?” I will ask when I teach on this topic. People quickly and confidently respond, “God.” But then I follow up, “Who rules the Kingdom of Man?” Many respond, “Man.” But the glory of the Kingdom of Man is that, despite its name, it is not ruled by man, but by God! The Lutheran Confessions explain: “It is taught among us that all government in the world and all established rule and laws were instituted and ordained by God for the sake of good order.” This statement echoes the words of the apostle Paul: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). Because God institutes and establishes the rulers in the Kingdom of Man, He is also the ultimate ruler over the Kingdom of Man. As the prophet Daniel says, “God sets up kings and deposes them” (Daniel 2:21). There is no kingdom – be it the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Man – where God does not reign and rule.
Though God reigns and rules over both the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man, it should be noted that God rules differently in these two kingdoms. Luther explains:
One must carefully distinguish between these two governments. Both must be permitted to remain; the one to produce righteousness, the other to bring about external peace and prevent evil deeds. Neither one is sufficient in the world without the other. No one can become righteous in the sight of God by means of the temporal government, without Christ’s spiritual government. Christ’s government does not extend over all men; rather, Christians are always a minority in the midst of non-Christians. Now where temporal government or law alone prevails, there sheer hypocrisy is inevitable, even though the commandments be God’s very own. For without the Holy Spirit in the heart no one becomes truly righteous, no matter how fine the works he does. On the other hand, where the spiritual government alone prevails over land and people, there wickedness is given free rein and the door is open for all manner of rascality, for the world as a whole cannot receive or comprehend it.
Thus, God rules in the Kingdom of God by the redemption of men through the cross of Christ and He rules in the Kingdom of Man by suppressing the wickedness of men through the auspices of earthly rulers. We thank God for both kingdoms. And we thank God that He is King over both. He is King over us.
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This past weekend in worship and ABC, we wrapped up our series, “Unresolved,” looking at how we, as Christians, are called to relate to our world. This question of how a Christian interacts with the world is a longstanding quandry, and was perhaps most famously addressed in 1951, by Yale theology professor H. Richard Niebuhr in what would become the defining work of his career, Christ and Culture. In this seminal work, Niebuhr outlines five ways in which Christianity has responded to culture, or the world:
- Christ against culture. Niebuhr summarizes this response as one which “uncompromisingly affirms the sole authority of Christ over the Christian and resolutely rejects culture’s claims to loyalty” (45). Thus, this response to culture eschews most encounters with culture. For instance, “political life is to be shunned…Military service is to be avoided because it involves participation in pagan religious rites and the swearing of an oath to Caesar” (54). This way of thinking, then, takes a stance of deep suspicion and antagonism toward things of the world.
- The Christ of culture. People who adhere to this system of theologizing “feel no great tension between church and world, the social laws and the gospel, the workings of divine grace and human effort, the ethics of salvation and the ethics of social conservation or progress. On the one hand they interpret culture through Christ, regarding those elements in it as most important which are most accordant with His work and person; on the other hand they understand Christ through culture, electing from His teaching and action as well as from the Christian doctrine about Him such points as seem to agree with what is best in civilization” (83). Thus, this response is liberal and affectionate to the zeitgeist of a culture.
- Christ above culture. This, historically, has been a majority position in the Church, and posits that “the ‘world’ as culture [cannot] be simply regarded as the realm of godlessness; since it is at least founded on the ‘world’ as nature, and cannot exist save as it is upheld by the Creator and Governor of nature” (117-118). In other words, though Christ is not opposed to culture inherently because He in some sense created it, He nevertheless reigns above it and is certainly grieved by the sin that has crept into it. As Niebuhr writes, “The fundamental issue does not lie between Christ and the world, important as that issue is, but between God and man” (117), for man is sinful.
- Christ and culture in paradox. Like the response of Christ above culture, this view sees the fundamental issue as one between God and man: “The issue lies between the righteousness of God and the righteousness of self. On the one side are we with all of our activities, our states and our churches, our pagan and our Christian works; on the other side is God in Christ and Christ in God…It is not a question about Christians and pagans, but a question about God and man” (150). How does Christ deal with men who are against Him? By means of His law and His gospel. Niebuhr says this is the position of great theological luminaries such as Augustine and Luther.
- Christ the transformer of culture. This response “is most closely akin to dualism [i.e., Christ and culture in paradox], but…what distinguishes conversionists from dualists is their more positive and hopeful attitude toward culture…[Conversionists have] a view of history that holds that to God all things are possible in a history that is fundamentally not a course of merely human events but always a dramatic interaction between God and men” (190-191, 194).
Although Niebuhr never explicitly endorses any of these five views, he offers no criticism of the fifth view. Many scholars, then, believe that this is the view to which Niebuhr gives his tacit approval.
So which view is correct? On the one hand, save the second response, all of these views have something valuable to offer to orthodox Christians. On the other hand, to simple accept each view as equally valid quickly degenerates into an anachronistic and individualistic pluralism. That is, accepting each view indiscriminately enables each individual Christians to respond anachronistically to different situations in their lives using whichever model they arbitrarily deem best at the time. This will not do. The question we must ask, then, is, “Which of these five views is normative for the other four?” The Lutheran response would be, “Christ and culture in paradox.” Why? Two reasons come to mind. First, this view understands the root of our problem, which is not culture per se, but us. The reason there is even any discussion concerning how Christ relates to culture is because the people of culture are sinful and depraved, hostile to God. Second, because this view is realistic about human sinfulness, it does not fall into self-righteousness, for it understands that “all of us are in the same boat,” as it were, and therefore encourages us to love our neighbor and serve in our respective vocations, just as Christ commands. Thus, we, as Christians, in our life’s stations, are called to proclaim the “gospel of faith in Christ working by love in the world of culture” (179). This understanding, in turn, frees us up to decry the evil not only of culture, but of ourselves, as does the view of Christ against culture. Yet, it does not fall into separatism. It allows us to herald the transcendent gospel as the solution to this world’s problems as does the view of Christ above culture. Yet, it does not fall into dualism or even a soft Deism. And it allows us to serve in our vocations for the good of our neighbors, transforming culture, as does the view of Christ the transformer of culture. Yet, it still realizes that we, as culture is transformed, are by no means able or responsible for creating a utopian society.
Perhaps the biggest strength of the view that Christ and culture are in paradox is simply this: it acknowledges and allows the tension between Christ and culture. And it admits that we can never remove this tension or relegate it to a non-issue. This, in turn, empowers us, as Christians, to engage our world thoughtfully and humbly, for we, like the rest of the world, are sinners, but we are also joyfully and freely redeemed by Christ.
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 H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1951).
A couple of weeks ago, a man came into my office wanting to know what Concordia Lutheran Church was all about. My answer? “Concordia is all about the gospel – that Jesus died on a cross in our place to forgive our sins, and there is nothing we can do to earn this forgiveness. Rather, it is received only by faith.” He seemed satisfied with my answer. But he had a follow up question: “I’ve heard weird things about what Lutherans teach about the Lord’s Supper. What does Concordia teach?” I surmised that this question was the real reason he stopped by my office. And I was happy to share with him what we teach about the Lord’s Supper. After all, this is not an uncommon question. Indeed, because it is so common, I thought I would address it in the “Common Questions” feature on my blog.
What do Lutherans teach concerning the Lord’s Supper?
Martin Luther himself summarizes the nature of the Lord’s Supper when he writes: “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and drink, instituted by Christ Himself.” In other words, we believe that when Jesus breaks bread and takes a cup of wine and says to His disciples, “This is My body” and “This is My blood” (Matthew 26:26, 28), Jesus means precisely what He says – the bread and wine are His true body and blood.
The classical term for this teaching is the “sacramental union.” Again, Luther clarifies this term well:
Out of two kinds of objects a union has taken place, which I shall call a “sacramental union,” because Christ’s body and the bread are given to us as a sacrament…Therefore, it is entirely correct to say, if one points to the bread, “This is Christ’s body”…Thus also it is correct to say, “He who takes hold of this bread, takes hold of Christ’s body; and he who eats this bread, eats Christ’s body; he who crushes this bread with teeth or tongue, crushes with teeth or tongue the body of Christ.” And yet it remains absolutely true that no one sees or grasps or eats or chews Christ’s body in the way he visibly sees and chews any other flesh. What one does to the bread is rightly and properly attributed to the body of Christ by virtue of the sacramental union.
Thus, the sacramental union refers to the fact that Christ’s true body is present “in the bread, under the bread, with the bread” and likewise with Christ’s blood and the wine.
What the sacramental union is not…
Because so many Christians teach so many things concerning the nature of the Lord’s Supper, it is important to briefly touch on some things which the sacramental union is not, lest there be any confusion.
The sacramental union is not transubstantiation
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper cease to be bread and wine and instead become the body and blood of Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes transubstantiation:
By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ Himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: His Body and His Blood, with His soul and His divinity.
Central to the doctrine of transubstantiation is an Aristotelian distinction between the “substance” of a thing and its “accident.” The “substance” of a thing is its fundamental essence. It is that which, if it ceases to be, the thing loses its identity. The “accident” of a thing is an attribute which may or may not belong to a substance without affecting its core essence.
The doctrine of transubstantiation teaches that, when a priest recites the Words of Institution at the Lord’s Supper, the substance of the bread and wine transform into the substance Christ’s body and blood and the bread and the wine are no longer essentially present. They are only outward, “accidental” forms. In this sense, then, the forms of the bread and wine are “faking us out,” for they are not really, essentially there. All that is there is Christ’s body and blood.
Luther responds to the doctrine of transubstantiation thusly:
The Evangelists plainly write that Christ took bread and blessed it, and when the Book of Acts and the Apostle Paul in turn call it bread, we have to think of real bread and real wine, just as we do of a real cup…Therefore it is an absurd and unheard-of juggling with words to understand “bread” to mean “the form or accidents of bread,” and “wine” to mean “the form or accidents of wine”…The church kept the true faith for more than twelve hundred years, during which time the holy fathers never, at any time or place, mentioned this transubstantiation (a monstrous word and a monstrous idea), until the pseudo philosophy of Aristotle began to make its inroads into the church in these last three hundred years.
The sacramental union is not symbolism
There are many church bodies which teach that when Christ said, “This is My body” and “This is My blood,” what He really meant was, “This symbolizes my body” and “This symbolizes My blood.” For instance, “The Baptist Faith and Message” confesses, “The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.” Notice that this confessional statement refers to the Lord’s Supper explicitly as “a symbolic act” and does not even make mention of Christ’s body and blood.
There are some who, holding to a symbolic understanding of the Lord’s Supper, accuse Lutherans of being anachronistic when we insist that the word “is” when Christ says “This is My body and “This is my blood” indicates that Christ’s body and blood are truly present with the bread and wine. One friend made this argument to me: “When I show you a picture of my family and say, ‘This is my family,’ I mean, ‘This is a picture of my family.’ When Jesus held up bread and wine, He meant to say the same thing: ‘This is a picture of My body and blood!’” I’ll grant that it would strain the bounds of good exegesis to base the doctrine of the sacramental union entirely on the word “is.” But Lutherans do no such thing. Rather, we take into consideration three additional factors. First, we take into account who is speaking these words. Because Christ is speaking these words, it is of no difficulty for Him to make His body and blood miraculously present in, with, and under the bread and wine. The difference between me saying, “This is a picture of my family” and Christ saying, “This is My body and blood” is the speaker! One speaker can work miracles and speak truth into existence. The other cannot. Second, we take into account how Scripture itself interprets these words. The apostle Paul indicates a lively confidence in the sacramental union when he asks, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:16)? Paul believes that when we eat the bread and drink of the cup, we are actually participating with the body and blood of Christ. This hardly leaves room for a symbolic reading. Negatively, Paul warns, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). Paul warns that partaking of the Lord’s Supper without self-examination and repentance (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:28) can lead to sin against Christ’s body and blood. How can such thing happen? Because in the Lord’s Supper, we actually receive Christ’s body and blood. Third, we take into account how the church has interpreted these words throughout the centuries. The Lutheran Confessions, in their defense of the sacramental union, cite the second century Christian apologist Justin Martyr:
This we receive not as common bread and common drink. We receive them as Jesus Christ, our Savior, who through the Word of God became flesh. For the sake of our salvation He also had flesh and blood. So we believe that the food blessed by Him through the Word and prayer is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Taking these three factors into consideration, then, Lutherans believe that we have solid Christological, exegetical, historical, and ecclesial grounds for interpreting Jesus’ words as we do.
The sacramental union is not just a spiritual presence
Calvinists will regularly teach that Christ’s body and blood are present in the Lord’s Supper, though only in a spiritual sense. Consider, for instance, this passage from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion:
The presence of Christ in the Supper we must hold to be such as neither affixes Him to the element of bread, nor encloses Him in bread, nor circumscribes Him in any way (this would obviously detract from His celestial glory); and it must, moreover, be such as neither divests Him of His just dimensions, nor dissevers Him by differences of place, nor assigns to Him a body of boundless dimensions, diffused through heaven and earth. All these things are clearly repugnant to His true human nature. Let us never allow ourselves to lose sight of the two restrictions. First, let there be nothing derogatory to the heavenly glory of Christ. This happens whenever He is brought under the corruptible elements of this world, or is affixed to any earthly creatures. Secondly, let no property be assigned to His body inconsistent with His human nature. This is done when it is either said to be infinite, or made to occupy a variety of places at the same time.
Calvin’s argument for a spiritual presence in the Lord’s Supper is this: Christ had both a human nature and a divine nature. His human nature is circumscribed by the normal spatial restriction that a person cannot be physically present in more than one place simultaneously. Therefore, Christ’s body, as part of His human nature, cannot be present in the Lord’s Supper, for Christ’s body is in heaven, seated at the right hand of God. Jesus can only be spiritually present according to His divine nature. Luther responds to such an argument thusly:
We merge the two distinct natures [of Christ] into one single person, and say: God is man and man is God…[You] will not and cannot prove that the two propositions, “Christ is in heaven, and His body is in the Supper,” are contradictory. So the words, “This is My body,” remain to us just as they read, for one letter of them is better and surer to us than the books of all the fanatics, even if they should fill the world with the books they write. Again, since they do not prove that the right hand of God is a particular place in heaven, the mode of existence of which I have spoken also stands firm, that Christ’s body is everywhere because it is at the right hand of God which is everywhere, although we do not know how that occurs. For we also do not know how it occurs that the right hand of God is everywhere. It is certainly not the mode by which we see with our eyes that an object is somewhere, as the fanatics regard the sacrament. But God no doubt has a mode by which it can be somewhere and that’s the way it is until the fanatics prove the contrary.
For Luther, then, the sacramental union of Christ’s body and blood with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper is a Christological issue. The question Luther would have us ask is: “Do we believe that Christ’s body can be present in more than one place simultaneously, or do we insist on circumscribing His human nature by the space-time restrictions of our world?” How you answer this question reveals what you believe about what Christ, as both God and man, can and cannot do. If Christ from rise from the dead in both His human and divine nature, it is certainly not too difficult for Him to be present in the Lord’s Supper in both His human and divine nature.
Finally, Luther would remind us of the blessing of the Lord’s Supper:
The Sacrament is given as a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself…For the devil is such a furious enemy. When he sees that we oppose him…he prowls and moves about on all sides. He tries every trick and does not stop until he finally wears us out, so that we either renounce our faith or throw up our hands and put up our feet, becoming indifferent or impatient. Now to this purpose the comfort of the Sacrament is given when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heaven, so that it may gain here new power and refreshment.
May you gain such power and refreshment from the Lord’s Supper, for in it, Jesus gives His body and blood – His very self – for you!
 SC VI
 AE 37:299–300
 FC SD VII:38
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1413
 Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19
 Acts 2:46, 1 Corinthians 10:16, 11:23, 26–28
 AE 36:31
 FC SD VII:39
 Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.19
 AE 37:212–214
 LC V:26-27
Death is inescapable. It doesn’t matter how rich or how poor, how healthy or how sick, how old or how young a person is. Eventually and inevitably, death comes for each one of us. After Steve Jobs passed away, many bloggers and journalists spoke of how Jobs sought to receive “the best care money could buy.” And indeed, he did receive terrific care from world-renowned doctors. But although they may have been able to prolong his life, they were not able to save it. He passed away last year. Death came for Steve Jobs. Shortly after the world-renowned and lovably cantankerous atheist apologist Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer, he described his ailment in his characteristically colorful tone: “Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups.”
Like Steve Jobs, Christopher Hitchens turned to the most “brilliant and selfless physicians” money could buy, and though they may have been able to prolong his life, they were not able to save it. He passed away last year. Death came for Christopher Hitchens.
Death is inescapable. And yet, I find it interesting that, particularly in the case of Christopher Hitchens, it wasn’t just medical professionals who were working to prolong his life, it was Christians who were praying to redeem his life.
In worship and ABC this past weekend, we looked at the story of a demon-possessed boy in Mark 9. Initially, the disciples try to heal this boy, but they cannot (cf. Mark 9:17-18). Jesus, however, is able to drive out the torturing spirit (cf. Mark 9:25-27). Beleaguered by their embarrassing failure, the disciples ask Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Jesus’ answer is clarifying and convicting: “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:28-29). This boy could not be healed by a pill, a surgery, a physician, or an exorcism rite. Rather, persistent and consistent prayer was the key to this boy’s recovery.
For all of man’s collective medical wisdom, there are still some diseases which can be healed only by prayer. This is why James asks, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). Prayer is more powerful and potent than any human remedy. For prayer has God’s will and mercy as its answer.
Tragically, even in the face of certain death, Christopher Hitchens wrote, “Please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries.” Christopher Hitchens’ commitment to his atheism was unflappable. He refused to believe that his kind of sickness could “come out only by prayer.” Then again, after asking people not to pray for him, he added this little caveat: “Unless, of course, it makes you feel better.”
Christopher Hitchens never came to understand and see that prayer is not just for the therapy of weak minds, it is for the strengthening of brave souls. Prayer, perhaps, really could have made him feel better – not only in his cancerous plight, but in his eternity as well. For not only can God hear our prayers and sometimes grant us a temporal recovery, He will hear our prayers and always grant us a glorious eternity through Christ. And that is a gift and blessing we dare not miss.
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 Christopher Hitchens, “The Tropic of Cancer,” Vanity Fair (September 2010).
 Christopher Hitchens, “Unanswerable Prayers,” Vanity Fair (October 2010)