Posts tagged ‘Roman Catholic’

A Cathedral of Crystal

Credit: Wikipedia

Yesterday marked a new day for one of the most famous architectural landmarks in the United States and, really, in the world.  Yesterday, the Roman Catholic Church celebrated its first Mass in what was once dubbed the “Crystal Cathedral.”

The Crystal Cathedral was the brainchild of famed televangelist Robert Schuller.  He moved to Orange County, California in 1955 to plant a church.  And oh, did he ever.  He launched his congregation at the Orange Drive-In Movie Theatre, where he preached from the roof of the snack bar to people as they sat in their cars.  “Come as you are; pray in the family car,” was his slogan.  From there, he went on to launch and build Garden Grove Community Church.  Though his new church building featured a more traditional sanctuary, it still allowed worshipers to remain in their cars in the parking lot and listen to worship if they did not wish to go inside.

By the 1970s, the church had outgrown its current facility.  Thus, in 1977, Robert Schuller joined with famous architect Philip Johnson to construct the Crystal Cathedral at a cost of $18 million.  What began as a drive-in movie theatre mission plant was now a world-famous megachurch.  During the 1980s, the TV program that Robert Schuller hosted from his Crystal Cathedral, The Hour of Power, was the most watched religious program in America.

But trouble and turmoil bubbled up when it was time for the church’s founding pastor to hand over the reins.  At first, his son was to become the new senior pastor.  Then his daughter led the congregation for a short time.  Then his grandson took over.  The tumultuous transition took a severe toll on the congregation, which had to file for bankruptcy.  What was once, arguably, the most famous worship space in America soon fell silent on Sunday mornings.  Yesterday, however, the Crystal Cathedral sprung back into action as a space for worship, although it has been remodeled and renamed by the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Orange as Christ Cathedral.

The story of the Crystal Cathedral is a cautionary tale of the kind of damage rocky leadership transitions can do to tender congregational ties.  It is also a cautionary tale, however, of the danger of having a larger-than-life pastoral personality displace the person of Christ in a congregation.  It doesn’t really matter whether the displacement takes place intentionally or unintentionally.  The effect is the same.  When the people in the pews become more enamored by a church’s leader than by the Lamb of God, when the leader leaves, the people will, too.

As a pastor, I know how difficult it can be to lead strongly while also pointing humbly to Jesus.  It can be difficult because people naturally tend to gravitate toward someone they can physically see, like a pastor, instead of someone they cannot, like the One who is now enthroned in the heavenly realms.  It can also be difficult, however, because there is a part of me that wants people to look at me and to me – to love me.  It is at these times that I must remind myself that the goal of ministry is not to get love for me, but to encourage love for Jesus.

John the Baptist once said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  This is a statement of how to do ministry, yes, but it is also a reality of ministry.  If you’re a pastor, like it or not, you will eventually decrease.  No one’s ministry lasts forever – except for Jesus’.  So, point people to the Minister and the ministry that will long outlast yours.  His ministry will stand, long after our world’s cathedrals of crystal close.

July 29, 2019 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Thoughts on the Martyrdom of Rev. Jacques Hamel

FRANCE-ATTACK-CHURCH-HOSTAGE

A French police officer stands guard by Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray’s city hall.
Credit: AFP Photo / Charly Triballeau

France is under assault.  Less than two weeks after 84 people were killed in Nice when a terrorist drove a large van at high speeds through a crowd of revelers who were celebrating Bastille Day, word comes that an 85-year-old priest, Rev. Jacques Hamel, had his throat slit in front of his congregation in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray as he was concluding a Tuesday morning Mass last week.  ISIS quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, though there is no evidence that the attackers had been been able to make contact with the radical group.  In response to the killing, French President François Hollande remarked, “We must realize that the terrorists will not give up until we stop them.”[1]  But stopping them is proving more difficult than anyone imagined.  It turns out that, in this attack, one of the killers was wearing and electronic tag that tracked his motions because he was under house arrest after he attempted to travel to Syria in 2015.  But his tracking device did nothing to thwart his murderous rampage.

France, of course, is gripped by fear. ISIS and its sympathizers seem intent on starting nothing less than a holy war.  And managing an effective military and police defense seems next to impossible.  This is why it is important that, as Christians, we remember that even though physical defenses can fail us, we have a spiritual defense that is sure.  The apostle Paul writes:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power…Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10, 13-17)

Paul’s famous words speak of the spiritual defense we have against every kind of evil attack.  Against lies, we buckle a belt of truth.  Against wickedness, we stand with the breastplate of righteousness.  Against violence, we charge forth with the gospel of peace. Against faithlessness, we take up the shield of faith. And against the devil’s attempts to speak condemnation over us, we wear a helmet of salvation and wield the sword of God’s Word.  We are impressively outfitted.

But Paul is not yet done.  He continues:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:18-20)

Even though the NIV translates Paul’s words here as a new sentence, the Greek syntax of this passage lends itself toward being one, long run-on sentence that begins in verse 17 when Paul calls on us to take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.  In this way, then, Paul’s words in verses 18 through 20 tell us how we are to wield the weapons he outlines in verses 14 through 17.  We are to wield them prayerfully.  When we fight against evil, we are not to do so angrily or bitterly or pridefully, but prayerfully.

Granted, fighting against evil’s attacks prayerfully will not always appear to be effective.  Look at Paul!  The very man who is extolling the prayerful use of the weapons of God notes that he is “in chains” (verse 20).  He is being persecuted for his faith and his persecutors appear to have the upper hand.  But Paul knows things are not always as they appear.  Just like Christ when He was crucified, a person who appears to be a victim can ultimately prove to be the victor.  Indeed, one of the fascinating things about the Christian’s posture toward martyrdom is that although it is not to be sought, it is also not necessarily always to be fought.  The apostle Peter, who himself was eventually martyred for the faith, wrote, “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16).  Peter says a Christian can find joy even in things as ghastly as suffering and death.  When a Christian fights, therefore, he fights more for the truth of Christ than he does against his own suffering and death.

None of this is to say that the death of Father Hamel is anything less than tragic.  Prayers for his family, his friends, and the parish at which he served are certainly in order.  What happened last week was evil.  And Father Hamel’s voice is now added to the voices under Revelation’s altar that cry out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood” (Revelation 6:10)?  The cry of Father Hamel’s blood will not fall on deaf ears.  When Christ returns, there will be a reckoning for his unjust death.

Shortly after last week’s events in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a friend of mine posted a quote from the great Danish theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard: “The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.”[2]  This is most certainly true.  This gentle, aged priest, though he no longer leads in a parish, is now ruling “in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).

And for that, even as I am sorrowful, I am thankful.

________________________

[1] Adam Nossiter, Alissa J. Rubin and Benoît Morrene, “ISIS Says Its ‘Soldiers’ Attacked Church in France, Killing Priest,” The New York Times (7.26.2016).

[2] Søren Kierkegaard, Papers and Journals, Alastair Hannay, trans. (London: Penguin Books, 1996), 352.

August 1, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Justice Antonin Scalia: 1936-2016

Antonin ScaliaHe was a man who combined a first-class intellect with a caustic whit.  The world lost not only a legal titan, but a brilliant mind when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away.  Sadly, some cheered his death in a macabre display of twisted politically-driven hatred.  Others – even those who disagreed with him politically and legally – were far more charitable.

Justice Scalia was fiercely devoted to Constitutional originalism.  He defined his originalism this way:

The Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead, or as I prefer to call it, enduring. It means today not what current society, much less the court, thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted.[1]

His originalism came out in many ways, especially in his dissents. His famous 2001 dissent in PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin, for instance, is the stuff of legend.  Mr. Martin was a golfer who wanted to participate in the PGA Tour, but could not because had a degenerative leg disorder that prevented him from walking any considerable distance.  PGA rules required golfers to walk all 18 holes.  He sued the PGA under The Americans with Disabilities Act.  The high court ruled in his favor, noting, contrary to the PGA’s assertion, that using a golf cart does not “fundamentally alter the nature of the competition,” but its majority opinion did not find favor with Justice Scalia who believed the Court should not get involved in defining what does and does not constitute actual golf.  In a sarcastic dissent, he wrote:

It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme Court of the United States, laid upon it by Congress in pursuance of the Federal Government’s power “[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States,” U. S. Const., Art. I, §8, cl. 3, to decide What Is Golf. I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution, aware of the 1457 edict of King James II of Scotland prohibiting golf because it interfered with the practice of archery, fully expected that sooner or later the paths of golf and government, the law and the links, would once again cross, and that the judges of this august Court would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential question, for which their years of study in the law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer, we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not a “fundamental” aspect of golf.[2]

No other Justice could turn the legal into the comedic the way Justice Scalia did.

At the same time Justice Scalia was a legal scholar, he was also a devoted Catholic.  In a speech at a Living the Catholic Faith Conference, he rumbled:

God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and he has not been disappointed.…If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.[3]

Justice Scalia’s call to endure scoffing from others for the sake of faith in and a witness to the gospel is quintessentially Christian.  It is also, I would add, experientially true.  After all, Justice Scalia himself had to endure countless questions – not all of which were inappropriate, but many of which were the product of a secular skepticism – about his faith and the ways in which he exercised it.

Of course, Justice Scalia did and does have his supporters – including some of those who most vehemently disagreed with him during his life.  In a remembrance penned by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the Supreme Court’s most liberal justices, she wrote of Justice Scalia:

He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his “energetic fervor,” “astringent intellect,” “peppery prose,” “acumen,” and “affability,” all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp … It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.[4]

For all of their political and legal differences, these two justices were best friends.  And it is here that we find one of Justice Scalia’s most important legacies.  Justice Scalia was strongly opinionated.  He did not mince words concerning his legal or theological views.  There was no question as to where he stood.  But at the same time he was intellectually rigorous as a justice and theologically rigorous as a Catholic, he was also relationally generous.  He befriended and loved even some of those with whom he vehemently disagreed.

From prostitutes to adulterers to tax collectors to religious elites, there was once another man who behaved similarly.  He too could be known for His “peppery prose.”  “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” He once thundered, “How will you escape being condemned to hell” (Matthew 23:33)?  But the same people He thundered against in His words, He also died for on a cross.  He was most certainly intellectually and theologically rigorous.  Indeed, he was more:  He was intellectually and theologically perfect.  But He was – and is – also relationally generous.  And somehow, the two went and worked together for us and for our salvation.

Justice Scalia leaves behind an impressive professional legacy.  And he will continue to be criticized – sometimes thoughtfully and sometimes angrily – for many things.  But beyond his professional legacy is his personal example of how intellectual and theological rigor can go hand in hand with relational generosity.  They went hand in hand in him.  And in this, Justice Scalia reflected how they go hand in hand in Christ.

At Justice Scalia’s funeral this past Saturday, his son, the Reverend Paul Scalia, began his homily:

We are gathered here because of one man, a man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to many more; a man loved by many, scorned by others; a man known for great controversy and for great compassion … That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.[5]

In his son’s mind, Justice Scalia’s greatest legacy is found not in what his father accomplished, but in how his father reflected Christ – even if imperfectly.  This is why, for Reverend Scalia, Justice Scalia’s funeral was not about Justice Scalia.  It was about Jesus.

May we be about Jesus too.

________________________

[1] NPR Staff, “Originalism: A Primer On Scalia’s Constitutional Philosophy,” npr.org (2.17.2016).

[2] PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin, 532 U.S. 661 (2001) (Scalia, J., dissenting)

[3] Ken McIntyre, “The Wit and Wisdom of Scalia: Nine Zingers,” Newsweek (2.14.2016).

[4] Marina Fang, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg Remembers Antonin Scalia, Her Dear Friend And Sparring Partner,” Huffington Post (2.14.2016).

[5] Julie Zauzmer, “A moving homily for Justice Scalia by his son, Rev. Paul Scalia,” The Washington Post (2.20.2016).

February 22, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

On Edge…About Everything

FearLast Wednesday morning was an unexpectedly frenzied one. Within the scope of a few hours, all United Airlines planes were grounded, the website for the Wall Street Journal went dark, and trading at the New York Stock Exchange grinded to a screeching halt. The problem in each instance? Computer glitches.

It didn’t take long for people to begin to fear that we under some sort of cyber attack. Lester Holt, anchor of NBC Nightly News, opened the newscast that night with an honest acknowledgement of the anxiety so many were feeling:

A lot of us got that uneasy feeling today when within hours of each other separate computer outages grounded all United Airlines flights and halted trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Uneasy feeling, indeed. What happened was so startling, it got the attention of Homeland Security.

In the end, it was discovered that United’s problems stemmed from “a failed computer network router that disrupted its reservation system.” Trading on the New York Stock Exchange went down because of a “botched software upgrade” the night before. As for the Wall Street Journal, though no definitive explanation has been offered for its problems, some are speculating that the trouble at the Stock Exchange drove people to the Wall Street Journal for updates, which, in turn, crashed the website. Cyber terrorism had nothing to do with anything. We had no need to fear. But we did.

Fear is plentiful these days. It doesn’t take much to make us apprehensive. Sadly, fear is just as prevalent – if not more so – in the Church as it is in wider society. I have talked to Christians who are wringing their hands over what could very well be an erosion of our religious liberty. I have talked to Christians who are terrified by what is happening oversees – and, for that matter, close to home – with ISIS. I have talked to Christians who are anxious about our nation’s economic path. I have talked to Christians who are frightened by just about everything.

For Christians who are full of fear, this description of who we are as the Church from Pope Benedict XVI strikes me as timely:

Is the Church not simply the continuation of God’s deliberate plunge into human wretchedness? Is she not simply the continuation of Jesus’ habit of sitting at table with sinners, of His mingling with the misery of sin to the point where He actually seems to sink under its weight? Is there not revealed in the unholy holiness of the Church, as opposed to man’s expectations of purity, God’s true holiness, which is love – love which does not keep its distance in a sort of aristocratic, untouchable purity but mixes with the filth of the world, in order thus to overcome it?[1]

This is an impressively clear, cogent, and, I should affirm, broadly, even if not comprehensively, correct ecclesiological statement from the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church, Benedict reminds us, is incarnational in her character and missional in her charter. She goes to places no one else would dare to darken – filthy places, impoverished places, wicked places, sinful places. As the Church ministers in sinful places like these, she, like Jesus, in the words of the former pope, can “actually seem to sink under [sin’s] weight.” But, of course, when Jesus sank, He didn’t sink for long. Three days is all sin got of Him. So it is with Christ’s Church. “The gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18), Jesus promises. Sin may attack the Church, but it will not overcome her.

When we, as the Church, become afraid of the sinfulness in our world, we stop acting as the Church should for our world. We become so scared of sinners because of what they might to do to us that we forget to love sinners as Christ has loved us. The fearfulness of the faithful, it turns out, can be just as dangerous to the Church as the sinfulness of the world, for it stymies the Church in her mission.

In 1931, Swedish theologian Gustaf Aulén published Christus Victor where he wrote of how Christ “fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the ‘tyrants’ under which mankind is in bondage and suffering.”[2] To this day, his book is a standard-bearer for discussions about Christ’s work and accomplishments on the cross. But we must always remember that Christ’s victory is also our victory. Christus Victor is the promise of Ecclesia Victor.

Do not, then, be afraid. Instead, be the Church. The world needs us.

______________________________

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Introduction to Christianity, Second Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 342.

[2] Gustav Aulén, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, A.G. Hebert, trans. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2003), 4.

July 13, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Divorce, Remarriage, Communion, and the Catholic Church’s Existential Crisis

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

I have to admit, I’d be in awe if I got the phone call Jaqui Lisbona did.  On a Monday, a couple of weeks ago, Jaqui’s phone rang.  Her husband picked it up and was greeted by a man who introduced himself as Father Bergoglio.  You may know him better as Pope Francis.  He asked to speak with Jaqui.  Apparently, several months back, she had written a letter to the pontiff asking him if she could take Communion even though she was divorced.  Apparently, her priest had been refusing her Communion for some time now according to the provisions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions … The Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was.  If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law.  Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic Communion as long as this situation persists.[1]

In contradistinction to her priest’s ban, The Washington Post reports that the Pope told Jaqui “‘there was no problem’ with her taking Communion, and that he was ‘dealing with the issue’ of remarried divorcees.”[2]  Predictably, this set off a firestorm of controversy with the Vatican ultimately having to respond:

Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships. Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office. That which has been communicated in relation to this matter, outside the scope of personal relationships, and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion. Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.

I like Ross Douthat’s analysis of this response:  “This formulation may be technically correct, but it’s also a little bit absurd. Even in ‘private’ conversation, the Pope is, well, the Pope.”[3]  Exactly.  You can’t claim the Pope is the vicar of Christ on the one hand while having him contradict what other vicars of Christ before him have taught on the other.

With that being said, there is something to be commended in the stance that The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and even this woman’s priest, has taken with regard to remarried divorcees and Communion.  In a world that all too readily sanctions divorce and remarriage for reasons as debase and selfish as “I’m in love with someone else and I want to marry them,” The Catechism of the Catholic Church helps to remind us of the gravity of divorce as a sin in God’s eyes.

Still, it has been interesting to watch Catholics struggle to respond to this situation.  They are struggling with how to make a proper distinction between, oddly enough, the Law and the Gospel!  Consider this by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

The question of the divorced-remarried and the sacraments is taking up a lot of our time. How should we look at this?

One of the many confounding things about the Jesus of the Gospels is that He fulfills the law, even strengthens the law, and yet extends mercy to literally anyone who wants it, no matter how deep their transgressions, and adopts a resolutely passionate attitude with sinners. This is encapsulated by His words to the adulterous woman: “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

As with all aspects of our faith, structured with paradox as it is, the temptation is always to strengthen one side of the “equation” too much at the expense of the other … Jesus says, “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” One camp will say, “He said ‘I do not condemn you’!!!!!” One camp will say, “He said ‘Go and sin no more’!!!!!” …

It seems to me that the excesses go in these ways. The progressive excess is to use mercy as a (however well-intentioned) pretext to amend the law. The conservative excess is to use the law as a (however well-intentioned pretext) to refuse mercy.

Yes, God lays down the law. But God provides infinite mercy.[4]

It sounds to me like Gobry is having the existential crisis of a Lutheran and he doesn’t even know it!  He is taking seriously the full weight of God’s law against divorce on the one hand while leaning on His sweet mercy for divorcées on the other.

Gobry even seems to suspect that the partaking of Communion to a divorcée’s blessing and benefit is not as simple as a humanly contrived promise to sin no more based squarely in a person’s will:

The juridical Gordian knot here is the necessary “firm resolve” not to commit the sin again. But it is not licentious to note that for all of us this firm resolve will be imperfect. Obviously, we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But if we search our hearts, do we not find that “firm resolve” is drawn in shades of gray, rather than black or white? …

God’s law is as hard as His mercy is infinite. And none of us are righteous under the law. And none of us, if we are honest, can even be said to want to be righteous under the law, in every single dimension of our life. But, particularly in these delicate and demanding aspects of sexual life and life situations, the grace of wanting to want God’s will is already very precious and important. And is it not in those phases, where we are broken down, and all we can muster the strength to pray for is to want to want, or even to want to want to want, that the Church should be most present with the succor of her sacraments?

Gobry knows that rooting anything salvific and divinely beneficial in our actions or will is a fool’s errand.  It’s not just that we aren’t righteous, it’s that we don’t even want to be righteous.  Indeed, any righteous desire in our will is doomed to an infinite regress, rendered impotent because of sin.  We only want to want to be righteous, or even want to want to want to be righteous.  And even this is giving us too much credit.

So, what is the way out of this morass over who may worthily partake of Communion?  Martin Luther would say, “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”[5]  Our worthiness to partake of Communion is not and cannot be based in our freedom from sin, our reparations for sin, or the fullness and genuineness of a promise not to commit more sin.  With regard to the Catholic Church’s current quandary over divorce and remarriage specifically, worthiness for Communion cannot be the result of trying to fix the sin of divorce by, after remarrying, getting another divorce, for this is also a sin.  No, our worthiness to partake on Communion can only be based on faith in the One who gives us His body and blood to remedy our unworthiness.  Our worthiness must be based in Jesus because our worthiness is Jesus.

Existential crisis…remedied.

______________________________

[1] The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Collegeville, MN:  The Liturgical Press, 1994), § 1650.

[2] Terrence McCoy, “Did Pope Francis just call and say divorced Catholics can take Communion?The Washington Post (4.24.2014).

[3] Ross Douthat, “The Pope’s Phone Call,” The New York Times (4.26.2014).

[4] Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, “On Divine Mercy Sunday, Some Thoughts On Communion And Divorced-Remarried,” patheos.com (4.27.2014).

[5] Martin Luther, Large Catechism, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Section 1.

May 5, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – By Scripture Alone

Luther Bible from 1720

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we looked at the life and times of King Josiah.  Following the reigns of two exceedingly wicked kings, his father Amon and his grandfather Manasseh, Josiah was a much-needed breath of fresh air.  The author of Kings can barely contain his delight when he writes, “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (2 Kings 22:2).  What was it that made Josiah such a noble king?  Succinctly put, Josiah was a man who followed God’s Word.  To cast Josiah’s piety in Reformation-era lingo, Josiah was a man committed to the principle of sola Scriptura – that Scripture alone should be the norm and guide for righteousness before God in faith and life.  This guiding principle comes out especially clearly when the high priest of Israel at this time, Hilkiah, discovers the Book of the Law (i.e., the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Bible) tucked away in the dusty recesses of the temple.  Heretofore, this book, with all of its guidelines for righteousness, has been lost to Israel.  When Josiah hears what the Book of the Law teaches, he immediately recognizes it as the word of the Lord and tears his robes in repentance over all the ways in which he and Israel have disobeyed God’s commands in this book.  For Josiah knows that Scripture alone should guide Israel’s life and his life.

Though the principle of sola Scriptura is clearly embraced by Josiah, it is not so eagerly welcomed by many in our day, even by those who claim the name of Christ.  A couple of weeks ago, I came across a quote on Facebook rejecting the principle of sola Scriptura, and one of its creedal texts, 2 Timothy 3:16-17:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  The quote commented:

The fact is that this passage does not even hint at Scripture being the sole rule of faith. It says that Scripture is inspired and necessary – a rule of faith – but in no way does it teach that Scripture alone is all one needs to determine the truth about faith and morals in the Church.

This quote was written as part of an article by the Roman Catholic apologist Tim Staples and argues that along with Scripture, Church tradition and the ecclesial Magisterium should hold pride of place as sources and norms of doctrine.  A couple of points are necessary.

First, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 makes an explicit claim to sufficiency which, by default, is an implicit claim to sole primacy.  Paul, when describing the benefits of Scripture, notes that it thoroughly equips the Christian for every good work.  Words such as “thoroughly” and “every” leave no remainder.  Thus, Scripture is solely sufficient for teaching us all we need to know about righteousness before God in faith and life.  Second, Scripture is replete with warnings against adding to or subtracting from Holy Writ (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32, Proverbs 30:5-6, Revelation 22:18-19).  Such warnings, especially those against adding to Scripture, leave no doubt that Scripture considers itself a sufficient and sole source.

Finally, the difficulty with rejecting the principle of sola Scriptura is one of authority.  If Scripture is not the sole and supreme authority in one’s life, something else will be – whether that “something else” is tradition, another human, or one’s own sensibilities and desires. And these other things, as authorities, will inevitably trump Scriptural authority in some fashion.  For when one has multiple authorities, these authorities inexorably wrestle for primacy.  Thus, to hold to the principle of sola Scriptura is to hold to biblical authority over and against all other sources of authority.  And to hold to biblical authority is to hold to the doctrine of divine inspiration, for the reason Christians believe the Bible is supremely authoritative is because of its supreme and divine author.  And to hold to the doctrine of divine author is to trust in God – in this life…and for the next.

I can’t think of any one and any words I’d rather trust.  How about you?

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www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
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message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

March 26, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – The Descent Into Hell

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we continued our “Credo!” series with a look at the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus, based on this line from the Apostles’ Creed: “Christ descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.”  The fact that Christ “rose again from the dead” is the linchpin of our faith.  Indeed, the apostle Paul says it is “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3).  Without the resurrection, our “faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Thus, in ABC, I spent a great deal of time defending the resurrection’s historicity against skeptics would try to undermine this cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

Blessedly, most Christians believe in Christ’s resurrection.  And they appreciate its centrality to our faith.   Thus, Christians proudly confess, “The third day He rose again from the dead.”  What many Christians do not understand, however, is the line that comes before this: “Christ descended into hell.”  In fact, the most common question I receive concerning the Apostles’ Creed is, “Does the Bible really teach that Christ descended into hell?”  And, if so, “Where does the Bible teach this?”  Though I touched on it in ABC, I wanted to take a slightly more in-depth look at the doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell in today’s blog.

The line, “He descended into hell,” is a relatively late addition to the Apostles’ Creed.  It first appears as part of the Symbol of Sirmium in 359 and reads, “Christ died, and descended to the underworld, and regulated things there, whom the gatekeepers of hell saw and shuddered.”  It first appears in the Apostles’ Creed in 570.  However, just because it appears in the Creed at a late date does not mean it does not have an early origin.  Consider, for instance, these quotes, from Irenaeus (c. 180) and Tertullian (c. 200):

It was for this reason, too, that the Lord descended into the regions beneath the earth, preaching His advent there also. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.27.2)

But it was for this purpose, say they, that Christ descended into hell, that we might not ourselves have to descend thither.  (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, 55)

Clearly, the church fathers had no problem with the notion that Christ descended into hell.  Nevertheless, because of its late incorporation into the Creed, the phrase, “He descended into hell,” has caused much controversy among Christians.  Indeed, some even go so far as refusing to speak this line when they recite the Creed.  For those who do speak this line, there are multiple interpretations as to what this line means.

Some interpret this line simply as meaning that Christ descended into the grave, that is, He was buried and truly dead.  The Greek of the Creed reads, “Christ descended into ta katotata,” meaning, “the lowest.”  These interpreters take this phrase simply to mean not the lowest place of hell, but the low place of a grave in the ground.  Roman Catholic interpreters believe that Christ did indeed descend into hell in the traditional sense, but did so to free virtuous people who had gone before Him, but nevertheless could not be saved because they had been born before His advent.  The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church explains: “In His human soul united to His divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before Him” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 637).

Finally, it is probably best to understand Christ’s descent into hell as it is explained in 1 Peter 3:18-19: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison.”  The phrase “spirits in prison” is often taken to refer to the eternal prison of hell.  As I mentioned in ABC, the Greek word for “preached” is kerysso, a word that was used in ancient Greek games to declare the victor of a contest.  Thus, when Christ descended into hell, He did not do so to free the virtuous who had come before Him, for they had already received their salvation through faith in the promise of a coming Messiah (cf. Romans 4:3-8, 18-25).  Rather, He descended into hell to kerysso Himself the victor over sin, death, and the devil.  The descent into hell is Christ’s victory tour, for through the cross, He has conquered all things wicked.  And this is good news!

At Jesus’ empty tomb, the angels sing, “Christ has risen” (Luke 24:6)!  Perhaps it is appropriate to add as well, “Christ has descended!”  For His descent gives a reason for us to celebrate and for hell to shudder.  For Christ’s descent and resurrection, finally, point to the same promise:  Christ has conquered the cross and has secured for us eternal life.  Praise be to the One who descended and resurrected!

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

October 11, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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