Posts filed under ‘Common Questions’

Thoughts on Baptism

augustines-baptism

The Baptism of Augustine

Yesterday, I got to preach on an encounter that a disciple of Jesus named Philip had with an Ethiopian eunuch on a desert road.  Through Philip’s witness, this eunuch was moved to faith and to baptism.  In my message, I answered some common questions people have about baptism, but there was much I wanted to say about baptism that I didn’t get a chance to.  So, in the interest of further exploring the richness of what baptism offers, I figured I’d repost some thoughts on baptism that I wrote several years ago.  I hope you enjoy!

What is baptism?

Baptism is a divine ordinance, instituted by Christ Himself, whereby He makes disciples through water combined with God’s name.  Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  The participle “baptizing” can be translated as a participle of means.  Baptism, therefore, can be seen as a means by which disciples are made.

It is important to recognize that baptism is something God does for us and not something we do for God.  This is why Paul says of baptism, “We were therefore buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).  Notice the passive voice of the verbs:  “buried,” “raised.”  These are divine passives, indicating that God is the One burying our old, sinful natures and raising us to new life in Christ.  We are passive in the matter.  This runs contrary to the teaching of some who describe baptism merely as an act of obedience while denying its divine power.  Consider this quote from a large denomination’s confessional statement: “Baptism is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.”[1]  Two things are especially notable about this statement.  First, while obedience is emphasized, the blessings of baptism are not mentioned.  Second, this statement references Romans 6:4, but relegates Paul’s language concerning burial and resurrection to that of symbolism, emphasizing the believer’s faith rather than God’s action.  Paul, however, nowhere indicates that he is speaking symbolically in this verse.  Rather, his language indicates that he has a lively confidence in an actual new life, offered by God through baptism.

Does baptism save?

Yes, baptism does save.  Peter writes, “Baptism now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him” (1 Peter 3:21-22).  Peter could not be clearer:  Baptism saves you.  However, it is important to note not only that baptism saves you, but how baptism saves you.  It saves you “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  Without the resurrected Christ, baptism is emptied of its power and promise.

There are some who object to the teaching that baptism saves, saying, “Faith in Christ alone saves you!”  They often quote Scripture passages such as Romans 10:9:  “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  They then argue:  “Paul says that faith in Christ saves you and nowhere mentions baptism in Romans 10:9.  Therefore, faith in Christ, and not baptism, saves you.”  This type of argument engages in what I call “Bible Verse Battleship.”  In this game, people line up their favorite Bible verses to support their favorite pet positions and then, when shown Scriptural testimony which calls into question their position, rather than seeking to reconcile the verses and take into account the whole counsel of God’s Word, they simply declare, “Because my pet Bible verse is true, you must be incorrect!  My Bible verse sunk your Bible verse!”  We should never use Bible verses to “sink” other Bible verses.  Rather, we should assume that all Scripture speaks with one, harmonious, voice concerning the one, true Christian faith.  Thus, when Peter says, “Baptism now saves you” in 1 Peter 3:21, we ought to take his words as complimentary, and not contradictory, to what Paul says in Romans 10:9.

So then, how do we understand Romans 10:9 and 1 Peter 3:21 harmoniously?  Like this:  baptism does not save simply because it’s baptism, but because it has the promise of Jesus’ presence attached to it (cf. Matthew 28:19-20).  This is why baptism is regularly referred to as a “means of grace.”  God works through simple things such as water in baptism, bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, and words on a page in Holy Scripture to speak to, meet with, and provide gifts for His people.  Martin Luther explains wonderfully:  “Without God’s word the water [of baptism] is plain water and no baptism.  But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”[2]  Thus, to say that baptism saves you is simply to say that Jesus saves you because Jesus is doing His work in and through baptism!

Why do Lutherans baptize infants?

Lutherans are not so interested in baptizing infants as we are interested in baptizing all people in accordance with Christ’s commands to baptize “all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  The Bible teaches that all are born into sin and deserve God’s condemnation (cf. Psalm 51:5).  Therefore, babies need the salvation Jesus gives in baptism just as much as adults do.  The Bible nowhere prohibits baptizing babies.  In fact, we are told specifically that the promise of baptism is indeed for children: “The promise [of baptism] is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

There are some who maintain that a profession of faith must precede baptism.  And because a baby cannot profess his faith in Christ, he should not be baptized until he is old enough to make such a profession.  In response to this objection, I would point out three things.  First, I would question the assumption that a profession of faith is a necessary prerequisite of baptism.  It often happens that that a person in Scripture confesses his faith before he is baptized, but common occurrence doesn’t always necessarily indicate a divine mandate.  Just because the Bible offers a description of certain things and events (e.g., a person offering a profession of faith before baptism) does not necessarily mean that the Bible is mandating a universal prescription.  Second, I would question the assumption that children cannot confess their faith.  The Psalmist reminds us, “From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise” (Psalm 8:2, cf. Matthew 21:16).  Children can and do praise God, even if it is with broken grammar and babble.  Finally, from a historical perspective, from the early days of the Christian Church, it was common practice to have parents or sponsors confess the Christian faith on behalf of their children.  The Roman theologian Hippolytus writes this concerning baptism in AD 215:  “The children shall be  baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family.”[3]

Baptism is a joyous gift from God.  For through it, God meets us with His gifts.  Luther sums up the joy and promise of baptism nicely when he writes:  “We see what a very splendid thing baptism is. It snatches us from the jaws of the devil, makes us God’s own, restrains and removes sin, and then daily strengthens the new man within us.”[4]  Thus is the blessing and gift of baptism!


[1]The Baptist Faith and Message,” VII.

[2] Luther’s Small Catechism, “Baptism,” 3.

[3] Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 21.4.

[4] What Luther Says, Ewald M. Plass, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959) 61.

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September 26, 2016 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Common Question: How Were People Who Lived Before Jesus Saved?

Credit: Anthony van Dyck, 1622

Credit: Anthony van Dyck, 1622

Last weekend at the church where I served, we talked about Jesus’ audacious claim that faith in Him and Him alone is the way to salvation. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus says. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

The truth that salvation is through faith in Christ alone raises a perennial theological question – one that, once again, came to my attention in an email I received after last weekend’s services:  If people can be saved only by faith in Christ, how were those people who lived before Christ saved?

At the heart of this question lies an assumption – that people before who lived before Christ were somehow saved in a different way than those who lived after Him. The apostle Paul, however, would beg to differ. He points to one of the most famous characters in the Old Testament, Abraham, and specifically asks the question, “How was Abraham saved?” His answer is unmistakably clear:

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)

Paul announces, “Here is how Abraham, perhaps the most famous character in the Old Testament, was saved: by faith.” How does Paul know this? Genesis 15:6, of course: “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” Importantly, Paul says that God “announced the gospel in advance to Abraham.” In other words, before Jesus came to save sinners, God announced that Jesus would come to save sinners.  For example, the prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before Jesus’ advent, speaks of a servant who will be sent by God to take away the sins of the world:

Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

So how were people saved, forgiven, and made righteous before Jesus? By believing that Jesus would come to save, forgive, and make them righteous. How are people saved, forgiven, and made righteous now? By believing that Jesus has come to save, forgive, and make them righteous. In other words, people both before Jesus had come and now that Jesus has come are saved in the same way. They are saved by Jesus.

Oftentimes, people harbor a misconception that people who lived before Christ were saved by following God’s Law while people living after Christ’s advent are now saved through faith in Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. People have always and only been saved by Jesus Christ and His work, even as Jesus Himself says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” God’s gospel has always been the only plan for our salvation.

If your life is anything like mine, plans are constantly changing. While writing this blog, I had to move an appointment because things on my calendar changed. Last week, as I was coming home from a trip to Dallas with some friends, we got a flat tire and plans, due to circumstances beyond our control, changed – we got home later than we expected.  Plans are constantly changing. And oftentimes, it can be frustrating.

The promise of the gospel is that even if our plans change, God’s plans are sure and certain. The plan for our salvation always was, is, and will continue to be Jesus. There’s no need to look for another plan.

April 20, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Common Question: What’s the Deal with the Apocrypha?

Apocrypha 166 books. That’s how many books are in the Good Book.  At least, that’s what I had always been taught.  But then, a Roman Catholic friend of mine in high school claimed there was more to the Bible than the 66 books I had read since I was a little boy.  There were actually 73 books, he explained.  And these additional books had strange names like “Maccabees” and “Judith” and “Tobit” and even “Bel and the Dragon.” As he showed me these books, I was flummoxed.  “Why hadn’t I ever heard of these books?” I asked myself.

These mysterious books to which I was introduced in high school are widely known as the “Apocrypha,” a Greek adjective meaning “hidden.”  And though many Christians do not regularly read these books, they are indeed a part of the Roman Catholic canon of Scripture.  In fact, one of the questions I often receive as a pastor is, “Why do Roman Catholics have ‘extra’ books in their Bible?”

Because the Apocrypha is a source of a lot of confusion, I thought it would be worth it to offer a brief history of these books along with an analysis of them from a Lutheran Christian perspective.

The books of the Apocrypha were written between the close of the Old Testament in 430 BC and the beginning of the New Testament.  These books include historical accounts, supplements to famous Old Testament books such as Daniel and Esther, and wisdom books akin to the Proverbs.

From the beginning, these books were never fully embraced by the Church as inspired Scripture. Paul Maier, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, explains:

The Apocrypha … were not included in the final canon of the Hebrew Bible, which was debated by rabbis at Jamnia (near Jerusalem) in AD 93. Thus they were also not included among the very 39 books that comprise the Old Testament in Christian Bibles today …

Early on … churchmen such as Origen of Alexandria noted a difference between the Apocrypha and the Hebrew Scriptures.  Cyril of Jerusalem and Jerome also drew a line of separation between the two, using the term Apocrypha for the first time in reference to these writings.  To be sure, Jerome included them in his Latin translation if the Bible, the Vulgate, but advised that the Apocrypha should be read for edification, not for supporting church dogma.[1]

Jerome’s warning against using the Apocrypha as a basis for Christian doctrine is especially important. His doctrinal concern is perhaps best illustrated by 2 Maccabees 12:44-45 when the Jewish liberator Judas Maccabeus prays for some who have died, seeking to make atonement for the sins they committed while they were still alive.  From these verses, the Roman Catholic Church derives its doctrine of Purgatory, a place where deceased believers undergo a final purification from sin that readies them for the bliss of heaven.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the doctrine of Purgatory thusly:

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death the undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect.[2]

This teaching runs contrary both to the broad teaching of canonical Scripture, which declares that a person enters either paradise or hell immediately upon death (e.g., Luke 16:19-31; 23:39-43), and to the gospel, because it adds to Christ’s perfectly purifying work on the cross our own work of purification in Purgatory by which we may “achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” By adding our achievements to Christ’s achievement, the doctrine of Purgatory belittles and undermines the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.  Thus, the universal Church does not treat the Apocrypha as divinely inspired.

Interestingly, the Apocrypha was not even fully embraced by the Roman Catholic Church until the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent in 1546.  In this session, it was declared:

But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.[3]

With this decree, the Roman Catholic Church effectively erased the distinction between ancient books that should be read for private edification and inspired books that should be appealed to for Christian doctrine – a distinction that Jerome, the very one who translated the Latin Vulgate, which Rome was here declaring to be its official translation, had made!  Thus, Rome took Jerome’s translation, but disregarded his distinction. And the Church has been the worse for it over the years.

All of this is not to say that the Apocrypha should be altogether disregarded. Maier notes that “Clement of Alexandria, Polycarp, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian, and Augustine” cited heartily from the Apocrypha.  These books give us much valuable historical insight into this time period and chronicle for us the origins of the religious parties we meet in the New Testament, such as the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Thus, the Apocrypha is worth our time and study.  We need to know about these books.  Indeed, Martin Luther superscribed the books of the Apocrypha like this: “Books that are not be regarded as the equal of Holy Scripture but are nonetheless profitable and good to read.”[4]

If you’re looking for a good book, then, pick up the Apocrypha.  If you’re looking for a divinely inspired book, however – that book still has only 66 books.

__________________________

[1] Paul Maier, “Foreword,” The Apocrypha:  The Lutheran Edition with Notes (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 2012), xv-xvi.

[2] See Catechism of the Catholic Church (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1994), §1030-1031.

[3] The Fourth Session of the Council of Trent (April 1546).

[4] Martin Luther, What Luther Says, Ewald M. Plass, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 1512, n. 20.

April 7, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Angry At A God Who Isn’t There

God - MichelangeloThe other day I heard the story of a distressed parent.  Their son had gone away to college as a Christian and had returned as an atheist.  They wanted to know what they could do to bring their son back into the fold.

Honestly, hearing this boy’s story distressed me.  After all, nothing less than this young man’s very salvation is at stake.  I was tempted to break out into a rant about how far too many colleges and universities deliberately and relentlessly undermine faith while uncritically peddling a deluded vision of a far-flung utopian secular humanistic paradise, but I stopped myself and instead asked a simple question:  “Why?  Why did your son become an atheist?  Was it because of something he heard in some class from a professor, or was it because of something else – something deeper?”

Many atheists like to present themselves as cool and collected, calmly examining empirically verifiable data and coming to the inevitable and emotionally detached conclusion that there is no God.  But the reality of atheism is far less viscerally clean.

A couple of years ago, Joe Carter penned an article for First Things titled, “When Atheists Are Angry At God.”  In it, he notes a strange phenomenon: many people who do not believe in God find themselves angry at God:

I’ve shaken my fist in anger at stalled cars, storm clouds, and incompetent meterologists. I’ve even, on one terrible day that included a dead alternator, a blaring blaring tornado-warning siren, and a horrifically wrong weather forecast, cursed all three at once. I’ve fumed at furniture, cussed at crossing guards, and held a grudge against Gun Barrel City, Texas. I’ve been mad at just about anything you can imagine.

Except unicorns. I’ve never been angry at unicorns.

It’s unlikely you’ve ever been angry at unicorns either. We can become incensed by objects and creatures both animate and inanimate. We can even, in a limited sense, be bothered by the fanciful characters in books and dreams. But creatures like unicorns that don’t exist – that we truly believe not to exist – tend not to raise our ire. We certainly don’t blame the one-horned creatures for our problems.

The one social group that takes exception to this rule is atheists. They claim to believe that God does not exist and yet, according to empirical studies, tend to be the people most angry at Him.[1]

But why is this?  Why would people who don’t believe in God become angry at God?  Carter goes on to cite Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University:

Studies in traumatic events suggest a possible link between suffering, anger toward God, and doubts about God’s existence. According to Cook and Wimberly (1983), 33% of parents who suffered the death of a child reported doubts about God in the first year of bereavement. In another study, 90% of mothers who had given birth to a profoundly retarded child voiced doubts about the existence of God (Childs, 1985). Our survey research with undergraduates has focused directly on the association between anger at God and self-reported drops in belief (Exline et al., 2004). In the wake of a negative life event, anger toward God predicted decreased belief in God’s existence.

In other words, atheism is not as viscerally clean as many atheists would like to have you believe.  Atheism is not always the product of cool, clean, detached observation of empirically verifiable date.  Instead, atheism is often the product of not disbelief in God, but rebellion against God because a person feels slighted by God in some way.  Atheism, although it may hide between a veneer of intellectualism, is also heavily emotional.  It’s hardly a wonder that the Psalmists says of the atheist:  “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).  Atheism is not just a matter of the head.  It’s also a matter of the heart.

I never quite did get to the root of the atheism of my friend’s son.  But I suspect it was more than just some smooth-talking college professor that led him down the road to unbelief.  That’s why, when sharing my faith, I not only try to speak to a person’s head; I try to minister to his heart.


[1] Joe Carter, “When Atheists Are Angry At God,” First Things (1.12.2011).

January 20, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Tornadoes and Satan

Moore TornadoCrises have a strange way of calling people to faith.  In a day and age where many are bemoaning that our nation is becoming increasingly secular, the devastating EF 5 tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma on May 20 gave rise to an abundance of prayers and cries to God.  Ed Stetzer paints the scene well in his article for USA Today, which is worth quoting at length:

Times of grief reaffirm our identity as a religious nation. Shortly after the horrific news of the tornado devastation in Oklahoma, “#PrayforOklahoma” quickly rose to the top of Twitter’s trending list as millions shared their prayers for the people who lost loved ones and had their homes destroyed.

In times of prosperity, far removed from tragedies, many people in our culture reject expressions of faith. In the moments of hopelessness, however, the desire to reach out to a higher power is an instinctive reflex.

Some may say, “But that’s Oklahoma – it’s the Bible Belt.” Yet, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I was struck by the comment made by Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy referencing our collective religious heritage:

“In the coming days, we will rely upon that which we have been taught and that which we inherently believe: that there is faith for a reason, and that faith is God’s gift to all of us.”

Many are embarrassed by this national identity – until it is time to grieve.  Then, politicians, celebrities and reporters can unashamedly say they are praying for those affected.  News networks will show church bells ringing in memory of those lost.  Nightly news shows feel the need to broadcast excerpts from sermons delivered by pastors in the area.  Journalists interview religious leaders about how God can help us through.

And yes, that is where the discussion often begins. We consider why this would happen. Some people representing faith groups may speak quickly (and unwisely), assuming they can connect the dots between something in our culture and the most recent tragedy.

Others simply ask the question, “How could God allow this to happen?”[1]

Tragedies of the sort that struck Moore, no matter how supposedly “secularized” our nation has become, call forth faith.  And, as Stetzer duly notes, they also call forth questions.  Most often, tragedies like the one in Moore call forth the question that Stetzer poses:  “How could God allow this to happen?”  But in the wake of the tragedy at Moore, I received another question that, though less common, is certainly worthy of a moment of our reflection:  “Can Satan cause a tornado?”  When a tragedy strikes, most people wonder about God’s power to prevent tragedies and His ultimate purpose in allowing them.  But it is also worth asking what kind of prerogative Satan has to wreak havoc in our world.

Satan does seem to have some power to cause trouble in our world.  One needs to look no farther than the story of Job.  In nearly an instant, Job’s life goes from riches to rags.  A quick sequence of four calamities, instigated by Satan himself, robs Job of nearly everything he has.  The fourth of these calamities is especially instructive for our purposes:  “Yet another messenger came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house.  It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you’” (Job 1:18-19)!  Notice that it is a windstorm that Satan sends to destroy Job’s family.  Satan, it seems, does seem to have limited power to incite natural disasters.

It is important to note that, as the story of Job clearly delineates, Satan incites calamities on a person not because a person is somehow particularly sinful or deserving of such calamities, for Job was “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).  No, Satan incites calamities out of depraved delight – he enjoys watching people suffer.

Certainly we cannot know, nor should we speculate on, the transcendental cause of Moore’s devastating tornado.  The most we can say is that natural disasters are part of living in a sinful, fallen world and Satan takes cynical delight in the effects of sin on our world.

But there is hope.  For even if Satan can incite calamities, his ability to do so is severely – and blessedly – limited.  Jesus describes Satan as a “strong man” whose fate is sealed:  “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man” (Matthew 12:29)?  Satan may be a strong man.  But Jesus is the stronger man.  And He came to tie up Satan by defeating his favorite calamity – death – on the cross.

Ultimately, then, no matter what the spiritual causes of the natural disasters that plague our world may be, in this we can take consolation:  no matter how much strength sin and Satan may have for ill, Jesus is stronger.  He’s so strong, in fact, that “even the wind and the waves obey Him” (Matthew 8:27).  He has things under control.  And He holds Moore’s victims in His heart and hands.  May we hold them in our prayers.


[1] Ed Stetzer, “We still cry out to God when tragedy strikes: Column,” USA Today (5.22.2013).

June 3, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Is Cremation Okay?

From time to time, I receive questions concerning the practice of cremation.  After all, cremation certainly has its benefits:  it is less costly than a traditional burial and, if someone desires, he can keep a loved one’s ashes in his home rather than shipping them off to a cemetery.  But some people are reticent about the practice though, oddly enough, they often do not know why they have reservations.  When asked about cremation, I have heard more than one person say things like, “I heard the church doesn’t like cremation,” or, “Doesn’t the Bible teach against cremation?”  The responses to these statements are “no” and “no,” though these responses do come with some qualifications.

Cremation became increasingly popular in the nineteenth century because of a growing fear that one could be accidentally buried alive.  Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University, writes about this phobia:

Newspapers regularly featured stories of individuals, given up for dead, waking up from trances just before being lowered underground.  And witnesses to exhumations testified repeatedly about finding corpses that had turned on their sides, gouged out their eyes, and even fractured their bones in what one medical encyclopedia termed “desperate struggle for escape.”[1]

The thinking went that it was better, if one was accidentally pronounced dead, to be quickly burned to death in a crematorium than to be slowly suffocated to death in a coffin.  Nevertheless, cremation, though widely touted in the secular society of the nineteenth century, was not universally embraced – especially by those in the church.

The Christian emperor Charlemagne elevated cremation to the level of a capital crime in 789 because it parroted the practices of ancient pagans.[2]  The Roman Catholic Church prohibited the practice in the 1917 Code of Canon Law which read, in part, “The bodies of the faithful must be buried, and cremation is reprobated. If anyone has in any manner ordered his body to be cremated, it shall be unlawful to execute his wish.”[3] In 1963, however, Pope Paul VI lifted this ban, noting:

There has been a change for the better in attitudes and in recent years more frequent and clearer situations impeding the practice of burial have developed. Consequently, the Holy See is receiving repeated requests for a relaxation of church disciplines relative to cremation. The procedure is clearly being advocated today, not out of hatred of the Church or Christian customs, but rather for reasons of health, economics, or other reasons involving private or public order.[4]

The prior ban on cremation by the Roman Catholic Church seemed to stem from a rationalistic rejection of the resurrection of the body on the Last Day by some heady antagonists and not from a theological objection to the practice per se.   There were some who used cremation as a way to defy Jesus, saying He could not raise a body from death upon His return if that body had been incinerated.  This is why even today, The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”[5]

Silly protestations against the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day aside, there is no demonstrable theological reason to reject cremation.  Scripture never explicitly addresses the practice and, for those who would be foolish enough to believe that Jesus could not raise a body burned to ash, they would do well remember God’s curse on Adam:  “Dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).  If God can raise Adam from death on the Last Day long after he has decomposed into dust, God can raise a cremated person from death on the Last Day long after he has been incinerated into dust.  And the Christian church has known this – and taught this – from her earliest days.  Felix, a Latin apologist from the second century, writes, “Every body, whether it is dried up into dust, or is dissolved into moisture, or is compressed into ashes, or is attenuated into smoke, is withdrawn from us, but it is reserved for God in the custody of the elements.”[6]  Even when our bodies return to the elements from which they were formed, Felix says, our God nevertheless retains custody over these elements and will reconstitute these elements into perfected and glorified bodies on the Last Day.

What is the upshot of all of this, then?  Each family must make their own decisions as to how to best honor a loved one after his or her passing.  Cremation is an option, as is a traditional burial.  There is no need to fret over either option theologically, for both are acceptable in God’s sight.  What God concerns Himself with is not how a person is buried, but how that person who believes will be ultimately raised to a life of eternal bliss with the Lord and with other believers.  And God’s concern should be our hope!


[1] Stephen Prothero, Purified by Fire:  A History of Cremation in America (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2001), 72.

[2] Cf. Lucy Bregman, Religion, Death, and Dying (Santa Barbara:  Praeger, 2010), 13.

[3] 1917 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1203.

[4] Pope Paul VI, Piam et constantem, 3366.

[5] The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2301.

[6] ANF 4:34.

August 20, 2012 at 5:15 am 3 comments

“For Thine Is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory” – Where Did That Come From?

“Sermon on the Mount” by Carl Heinrich Bloch

This past weekend in worship, we studied the most famous prayer of all time:  the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus offers this model prayer as part of His Sermon on the Mount:

This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

Whenever I teach on the Lord’s Prayer, someone inevitably notices that, in Matthew’s account, the doxology often included in traditional versions of this prayer – “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and glory, forever and ever.  Amen” – is missing.  Where did it go?

Interestingly, the old King James Version includes the doxology because the Greek manuscripts from which the translators of that day were working incoporated it.  As biblical textual criticism has advanced over the past four hundred years, however, we have learned that the doxology is absent from the most ancient and significant manuscripts of the Bible, including Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, both from the fourth century, and is also omitted in early patristic commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer including those of Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian.[1]  Thus, these words are not included in more modern translations with the understanding that they were probably not a part of the original biblical text.

It is important to understand that the exclusion of the doxology as part of the biblical text does not mean that it is errant or inappropriate to the prayer.  Quite the contrary.  It reflects the spirit of 1 Chronicles 29:11: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is Yours.”  Moreover, the doxology has been included as a liturgical strophe from the earliest days of the Christian Church.  The Didache, a manual of church practice from the turn of the second century, includes a truncated version of the doxology: “For Yours is the power and the glory for ever.”  The Didache goes on to encourage the faithful to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day.[2]  Christians, then, were speaking these words from the earliest days of the church…a lot!

More than likely, this doxology began as a response of the people, gathered for worship, to the words of the Lord in this prayer.  It is much like, at the end of a Scripture lesson in worship today, the reader will sometimes conclude, “This is the Word of the Lord” and the people will sometimes respond, “Thanks be to God.”  The doxology, then, was a way for those assembled to praise God for the prayer His Son had given them.  With time, however, the liturgical function of this doxology was forgotten and people began to assume that the words were part of the prayer itself.

We, along with many others, continue to pray these words because, finally, they are a statement of faith in the heavenly Father to whom we are praying.  We believe that the reason He can bring His kingdom to pass, give us our daily bread, forgive our trespasses, and deliver us from the evil one is because the Kingdom, power, and glory are at His disposal to do with as He wishes.  And His wish, as we delightedly learn from the Lord’s Prayer, is to bless and save us.  And so, we continue to praise God with this doxology and pray as Christ has taught us.


[1] See Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London:  United Bible Societies, 1971), 16-17.

[2] Didache, Chapter 8, “Concerning Fasting and Prayer.”

August 6, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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