When discussing theology, I've come to realize that not only is personal study of doctrine a necessary component to faith, but it is something that shouldn't be kept to oneself. I want to share my journey, both past and ongoing, into the realm of theology. Through this, I hope that you will gain insight into the Christian faith as a whole. Before reading anything else, I suggest you read the introduction and definitions (found in the pages tabs above) so you may better understand where I am coming from in everything I write. Because many of my posts are on heresies, there is also a page above with a family tree of heresies and links to all the posts I have so far on the topic.

26 December, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Antidicomarianism

With Christmastide upon us (happy second day of Christmas and Feast Day of St. Stephen!), it seemed appropriate for this week's heresy to have something to do with the Nativity of Christ.  There are lots of "good" options, from denying the divinity of Christ to denying the virginal birth, etc., but my favorite heresy to say the name of won out.
Antidicomarianism is considered to be a sub-Apollinarianism heresy. By the 3rd century, it was considered an Orthodox teaching that Jesus’ siblings, mentioned in the Bible, were Joseph’s children from a previous marriage, or cousins. The Antidicomarianites, a word literally meaning “Adversaries of Mary”, taught that the brothers and sisters of Christ from the New Testament were actually the younger children of Mary and Joseph, born after Jesus. They were not, contrary to what the name implies, “against Mary”, but rather, were against the perpetual virginity of Mary. This thought was prevalent from the 3rd to 5th centuries and often considered a heresy, as it was found in the writings of known heretics Tertullian and Origen. Other Antidicomarianism heresies are Bonosianism, Helvidianism, and Jovinianism. Most protestant churches are Antidicomarianites, however in confessional Lutheranism, there seems to be a mix of Antidicomarianites and those who subscribe to the perpetual virginity of Mary.

A few brief notes on this one:
  1. Until I started researching heresies earlier this year, I didn't actually know any Lutherans believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary.  I knew Luther held to that belief, but I was surprised to find out that many confessional Lutherans do as well, particularly Pastors.  I honestly never gave it much thought previously.  I don't fall one way or the other on this, and since it is an issue of adiphoria (not of doctrinal consequence or having effect on one's salvation), I don't feel a particular need to worry about it.  I think I tend to lean on the side of the Antidicomarianites, but as one Pastor I spoke to about this put it... why on earth would we care about the sex life of the mother of our Savior?
  2. Because it doesn't affect salvation and is an issue of adiphoria, I don't know if this can be considered a heresy other than loosely (heresy meaning anything that departs from orthodoxy), but because it was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as one, I've included it in my listings.
  3. What would be a heresy and would affect salvation to some degree would be denying the virginal birth.  To be clear, Antidicomarianism doesn't do that.  Other heresies do.

17 December, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Synergism

I briefly mentioned Synergism in my first Heresy of the Week post on Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, so I thought it might be time to expand a little bit.  First, a brief overview.

Synergism is an Arminian protestant, Semi-Pelagianism-family heresy that teaches man and God work cooperatively together for salvation. In other words, God offers the salvation, but man must receive it. This is the source of the Arminian prevenient grace doctrine, which means God comes and offers salvation to the human being (who cannot come to faith without this grace being offered), but the human may then freely choose to accept or reject faith. This is similar the teaching of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, both of whom reject total depravity of humanity and maintain that even after the Fall, humans remain free and human nature has not been totally corrupted, particularly after baptism.

Arminian theology was named after Jacobus Arminius, a 16th century Dutch theologian, who opposed John Calvin and his elimination of free will from theology.  Arminianism goes the exact opposite way from Calvinism a la Synergism--instead of predestination (or worse, double predestination), we have pure free will and the ability of a Christian to have a role in his salvation.  Both are wrong.

A review from the Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism post:
Arminianism teaches, in line with Semi-Pelagianism, that:
  • It is possible to not sin (posse non peccare).
  • While man is inherently sinful (Original Sin), he isn't entirely fallen and still has the opportunity to choose good (and, indeed, must choose good because God can only offer faith, man must "receive" it).
  • God offers faith, but man has to "choose" to "accept" faith on their own, through "prevenient grace", which God gives to all sinners.
  • Man's "role" in salvation, as a "response" to "prevenient grace", is to freely "choose" to "accept" faith in God
  • Once man "accepts" faith, God justifies man and continues to give further grace to sanctify man.
The primary difference between Synergism and Semi-Pelagianism is that in the latter, man can choose to have faith without grace, whereas in the previous, man can only have choose to have faith as a "response" to "prevenient grace".
For a good analysis of the soteriology of Calvinists, Arminianists and Lutherans, read this one page document from a friend of mine, Pr. Gregory Wagner.

One thing I find interesting is that I've yet to met someone who actually claims the name Arminianist, and says that he is a Synergist.  I know many Calvinists who full TULIP or Double TULIP believers, a range of Lutherans, Catholics, etc., but I've never met an Arminainist who actually claims to be an Arminianist (I know some Weslyians, but no one who truly claims the name Arminian).  Fascinating, don't you think?  I'm sure they're out there, just not in my circle of acquaintances.  

Arminianism, or perhaps more specifically, Synergism, seems to have totally infiltrated the mega-churches and non-denominational churches in America. The focus on decision theology is proof of that.

16 December, 2012

Sermon Notes: "Defending John, Preaching Jesus"

Third Sunday in Advent (Gaudete Sunday)
"Defending John, Preaching Jesus"
Text: Matthew 11:2-10
Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora, CO
Pastor Brian Wolfmueller

"Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen." (Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent)

If you want to listen to the whole thing, click the link above.  Below are the notes I took while listening for an overview:

  • Feels like the world is falling apart
  • Things have always been bad for the people of God because of sin
  • We live in a work of darkness, sin, and death--inside and outside of us
  • Gaudete Sunday, Rejoice!
  • Appropriate that we discuss trials and darkness because the collect for today says, "...lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation."
  • We know that we and the world are not how we are/it is supposed to be, so we wait for the world to come
  • Advent is the season of preparation, which is why we read about Saint John the Baptist (preparer)
  • John leaping in the womb at the presence of Jesus was his first sermon
  • John was famous through the ancient world
  • John was so popular that the Pharisees sent a delegation to find out if he was the Messiah--John did what he did best, by preaching Jesus to them
  • John's greatest sermon: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
  • After Herod died, his kingdom was divided in three among his three sons
  • Herod Antipon became the ruler in Israel/Judea
  • The story of Herod's family was a disaster (Herod Antipon married his niece and brother's wife, Herodias)
  • Herod Antipon had Saint John the Baptist arrested for preaching against his marriage to Herodias
  • Herodias' daughter, Salome, danced for Herod Antipon, who was so pleased he said he would grant her anything, up to half his kingdom
  • After consulting with her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist
  • Interesting and surprising that our first glimpse of John the Baptist is when he is in prison, at his weakest and lowest
  • We always want a hero--someone who never doubts, but such a man does not exist
  • We see the sin of those mentioned in the Bible from Adam to Saint Paul so that we can know salvation is purely the work of God, not the work of any man
  • We see John's doubt here when he send his disciples to Jesus
  • There was surprise in the crowds at John's doubt--so upsetting, Jesus defends John to the crowds
  • Just because you doubt does not take away your faith
  • In the Treaties on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Phillip Melanchthon said that worship is faith fighting back despair
  • Even in his despair, John knows who to go to--Jesus.  We should know this too.

10 December, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Asceticism

This week's heresy is often repeated in other heresies (especially Gnostic-family ones).  It's fairly simple, and deals less directly with doctrine and more with behavior (although practicers of Asceticism believed their behavior helped them earn or hurry along their salvation, which is a Pelagianism heresy as noted below, and utterly heretical).

Asceticism is the belief that abstaining from “worldly pleasure” can help bring about salvation and liberation from mortal coils. This was a common practice of some early church fathers (at least insofar as many sought to distance themselves from the world in any way they could), and is still used in some protestant churches today. This is a Legalism heresy, and by extension, a Pelagianism-family heresy as well.

The biggest issue is when focus on the Law over the Gospel becomes disproportionate.  Any teaching that you can do something to help "earn" your salvation is dangerous, because it creates distrust and despair ("Did I do enough to make sure I am saved?" or something similar should never be a question on the lips or mind of a Christian).  That is what makes Pelagianism and Pelagianistic heresies so dangerous.


Just wanted to note that you can now find links to Lutheran sites (from the serious to the silly) in my sidebar, including a list of (as of today) 121 blogs that I follow, mostly gathered from the BBOV (Big Blogroll O'Vark).  I spent two days going through the hundreds of blogs listed there, weeded out the inactive blogs and the ones that were less theologically focused (I prefer to read about theology than pinterest, no offense meant) and came out with this condensed version.  The majority of these blogs have been posted in within the last two or three months, some more active than others.


06 December, 2012

(Special) Heresy of the Week: Arianism (also Semi-Arianism and Macedonianism)

Happy Slappy!!!

For those not familiar with the story of St. Nicholas and Arius at the Council of Nicea, my opening remark might require a little explanation.

Rather than go into a history of St. Nicholas, Pastor and Bishop of Myra, I'd like to focus more on Arius and Arianism.  For background on St. Nicholas, please read some of the plethora of posts on the topic from places such as Ask the Pastor (Pr. Snyder)Lest Every Man Be Blind (Pr. Koch) and Aardvark Alley.  Today (6 December) is, by the way, the Feast Day for St. Nicholas.

Before we get to the fun, here's a brief synopsis of Arianism.

Arianism is the 4th century teaching of Arius which denied the divinity of Jesus and the essence of the Trinity (antitrinitarian). Arius taught that the Father created the Son as His first creation. The Son then created the Holy Ghost, and the universe after that (not the Father or the Trinity, only the Son). Christ was considered to be adopted by the Father since He was merely a creation of the Father’s, but because He had great position and authority, He was to be looked upon by humans as a God and worshiped accordingly. At the First Council of Nicaea in 325, Arius was declared a heretic (the Nicene Creed was written specifically to counter his false teachings), exonerated at the First Synod of Tyre in 335 after recanting his heresy, and condemned again posthumously in 381 at the First Council of Constantinople (where the Nicene Creed was slightly modified to combat Macedonianism). Arianism had one of the largest followings of any heresy, and it was feared that they might grow so large as to take over the church. Their main teaching, that the Son of God did not always exist, and is distinct from and “less” than the Father because He was created by the Father, existed as a human (but heretical) way to help explain the Hypostatic Union of Christ’s two natures and attempt to humanize the Trinity.

As the story goes, at the Council of Nicea there were many heated discussions between Arius and his followers, and the Orthodox Bishops in attendance.  During one of these lively exchanges, St. Nicholas is said to have slapped Arius for his heresy.  St. Nicholas was then banned from the council until he apologized.  Puts a whole new light on Santa, doesn't it?

Why would a Bishop get so worked up that he would actually resort to hitting someone?  The teaching of Arius was so pervasive at the time that many were worried it would take over the Church.  As mentioned before, it is an understandable human way to try and describe the unexplainable  but that does not make it any less heretical  

Ultimately, it comes down to how one views the relationship between God the Father and God the Son: homousian ("of the same substance", the Orthodox teaching) or heterousian ("differing in substance", the heretical, or Arian, teaching).  Now might be a good time to review my post on the Trinity for more on how the Trinity works.

While this story may be just a legend (although records of Nicholas being 'suspended' and 'reinstated' seems to verify it to a large degree), the lesson from it is very important: we should take heresy very seriously, and so what we can to stamp... or slap... it out.

And, since we're on this topic, while we don't see much pure Arianism today, we do see some Semi-Arianism (or Macedonianism) floating about from time to time.

Semi-Arianism is a slightly softer version of Arianism. Rather than teaching that the Son was created, and therefore of a different essence than the Father, Semi-Arianism teaches that the Son was neither created nor uncreated in the same sense that other beings are created (meaning He was created, just in a different sense than anyone/anything else).

Macedonianism (also known as Pneumatomachism and Tropicism) is an anti-Nicene Creed heretical sect that denied the divinity of the Holy Ghost during the 4th and 5th centuries. While distinct from Arianism, some aspects of Macedonianism are similar in that they also reject Christ as being of the same substance as the Father (but regarded Him as of a similar substance as the Father, making them closer to Semi-Arianism). Because they believed that the Holy Ghost was a creation of the Son, the 381 First Council of Constantinople added phrases to the Nicene Creed to ensure it was known and taught that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and Son and is coequal with the Father and Son.

Anti-trinitarian heresies are a particular pet peeve of mine because they deny the most basic of our Christian beliefs, or attempt to make the idea of our unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity more palatable to "logic".  Doubt there, and why even bother being a Christian otherwise?  Anti-trinitarian heresies are pervasive today in various incarnations, often more subtle or in different form from Arianism, but they're still alive and kicking.  Maybe we need to take a page out of good ol' St. Nick's book and start slapping a few heretics of our own... at least mentally.

03 December, 2012

Theological Pet Peeves

Note: I originally wrote this two weeks ago (18 November, to be specific), and just haven't gotten back around to editing and post it between Thanksgiving, illness and travelling.  Finally getting there! -S

A few weeks ago was especially unnerving for me, hitting on many of the "theological pet peeves" I have, so I thought I might put together a brief commentary on each of them.  They're not in any particular order (other than how I thought of them).

1) "Accepting" vs. "Receiving" faith
While I generally understand what Christians mean when they ask, "When did you accept Jesus?", my mind immediately reacts with "SEMI-PELAGIANIST!!!"  I know it may seem like semantics, but in all the research I have been doing of late on Original Sin, I know that no one would ever "choose" faith.  We cannot choose spiritual good.  I've spent years trying to figure out how to explain this in a concise manner, and it finally dawned on me this week.  I've always said that our role in the creation of faith is passive, not active.  But finally, the right word to use instead of accept dawned on me.  It is receive.  We receive faith.  We may reject it (which is what everyone would do, were it not for the working of the Holy Ghost), but our receipt of  faith is entirely passive.  Putting the emphasis on our acceptance (or supposedly active) role in salvation is nothing short of Semi-Pelegianism, even if it isn't meant that way.  We have to be very precise in what we say, not be lazy or sloppy in theology.

2) Saying "just" in prayers
I don't know if there is necessarily anything theologically wrong with this, but I can't stand when people use the world "just" in prayers.  It's a filler, it's annoying and it just makes me want to scream.  Another thing that drives me nuts is when people mutter things under their breath in prayer.  Again, not sure there is really anything wrong with it, but I can't concentrate when I am listening to others when I'm supposed to be praying.  Interestingly, I don't think I've ever heard a Lutheran do either of those things.  I wonder why that is?

3) Dual Covenant vs. New Covenant Theology
With all that has gone on in Israel the past weeks, I keep seeing posts on Facebook about how America has to save Israel and (yes, some people have actually said this) how America was created to save Israel, even though Israel wasn't a nation until 150+ years after we were founded as a country.  This comes from a largely Dispensational idea that Israel must be restored before the return of Christ (something I've never found in the Bible).  What the Bible does make clear is the New Covenant, which is not just for Israel but for all in Jesus.  America may have strategic or other reasons to help or "save" Israel, but using Dispensational Theology with no Biblical basis to make political decisions terrifies me.

4) End Times Signs-seekers
Jesus told us that even He does know know when He is to return.  One of the frustrations that also comes from Dispensationalism is that there are those who continue to look for signs, even though we cannot know the hour or day when Jesus is to return.  From solar flares to the UN (which is, by the by, a misunderstanding of the Antichrist, who is a religious, NOT political, figure) to waiting for an invented Rapture, I seem to see something new at least weekly.  There are even those who claim that 21 December 2012, the day the Mayan Calendar supposedly predicts the end of the world, is also the day the Rapture will happen.  These attempts to read signs that aren't there just makes the rest of us Christians look silly and loony.  It's hard for anyone to take Christianity seriously when what is known about it is just plain goofy, and not actual Christian, Biblical doctrine.

5) "Baptism is just a symbol, but you must be fully immersed and not an infant for it to be valid."
If something is only "symbolic", why do you care how it is done?  What does it matter?  Sigh.

6) "You cross yourself?  Oh, you must be a Catholic."
Um... no.  I know many non-Catholics who cross themselves: Lutherans, Orthodox, Anglicans, etc.  I wish this was something more Christians did, but no, that doesn't make me Catholic.

7) "Lutherans are intellectual Christians."
For some reason, people seem to think this is an insult.  It isn't.  What's sad is that more Christians aren't "intellectual".  What I mean by that is that they know and understand the Bible, Theology, church history, other Denominations, early Church Fathers, etc.  So few seem to dig into the meat of Christianity, and it is sad.  Our faith is not just one of belief, but also of reason.  It is very logical, but you have to understand and study. That is the greatest disservice done by American Churches today--they seem to be nothing more than fluff and entertainment, and seriously lack substance.  Yes, that is a generalization.  But I hear so often we should ignore our differences for unity.  No.  We cannot have unity without understanding our differences, and why those differences exist.  Then we can have discussions about differences and perhaps come to a place of unity.  Ignoring them only makes the divisions worse.

8) Not capitalizing appropriate references to God
I've been typing up charts from a book written by a protestant theological professor which are largely helpful, but he seems incapable of capitalizing "He" in reference to God, or "The Word" in reference to the Bible, or many other similar examples.  It has reminded me how much that drives me nuts.  You don't have to capitalize everything, but when you're specifically referring to God or His Word, it is the right thing to do.

9) "Why do you have to be so arrogant?"
I get that a lot, and it is a fair criticism to some extent.  I tend to be a very snarky person by nature.  I'm very good at speaking the truth, I'm not so good at always doing it in love.  Rather than arrogance (which I can understand how it looks that way), though, I would submit it is confidence--confidence in my faith to the point that I would die for it.  I made that vow in my confirmation, and I take it very seriously.  I have a hard time even wanting to evangelize, because I see a broken church--and why on earth would I want to bring more people into something broken?  So I spend more (most) of my time attempting to correct the serious errors I see in Christendom today.  One thing I desperately miss about the early church is the condemnation of heresy.  The Roman Catholic Church still does this to some degree, but we need more of it.  There is so much heresy in the church today, and few seem to even realize it.  And so in my frustration and sadness over this, I tend to resort to snark.  For that I apologize.  I hope you will all understand it comes from a place of confidence in my faith and wanting to not see heresy in the church.
"Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen." -- Martin Luther

Heresies of the Week: Joachimism and Dulcinianism

Due to illness and travelling last week, I missed my 'heresy of the week' post--my apologies. As penance, today I give you two that are somewhat related to each other: Joachimism and Dulcinianism. 

 On Thursday, 6 December, there will be another post on a 'major' heresy in honor of my favorite heretic slapper, St. Nicholas.

Joachimism is a Millenarianism eschatological heresy from the 13th century that was condemned in 1215 at the Fourth Council of the Lateran. Many believed that the writings of Joachim were the Eternal Gospel, or at least the road to it. He attempted to predict the end of the world and the rise of the Anti-Christ through looking at historical events and preached that a utopia was coming. His followers believed this new utopian age (also sometimes called the New Age of the Holy Spirit) would be egalitarian and monastic. Like Dulcinianism (which many considered to be inspired by Joachimism), in order for the new age to come, the Catholic Church must be abolished and that perfection was in a communal (almost Marxist) state.

Dulcinianism is a Millenarianism sect of the late middle ages (13th and 14th centuries). The main concepts of this heresy were the fall of all ecclesiastical hierarchy and the return of the church to its “original ideals” of humility and poverty; the fall of the feudal system and the liberation from any human restraint and entrenched power; and the creation of a new egalitarian society based on mutual aid and respect, with property being held in common and an emphasis on gender equality. This heresy was considered to be inspired by Joachimism.

19 November, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Swedenborgianism

This week's heresy is a new one to my list.  I discovered it listening to Table Talk Radio (I can't remember which episode, if I can find it, I'll link it).  It's a newer heresy.  It seems a very weird blend of Gnosticism, Pelagianism and Eastern Mysticism to me.  And yes, even Lutherans can go bad (see my previous post for comments on Pietism).  As much as I needle other denominations, I think it's both important and only fair that I air our faults as well.

Swedenborgianism, also known as the Church of the New Jerusalem, is an 18th century heresy founded by Emanuel Swedenborg. Formerly a Lutheran and a scientist, Swedenborg (like Joseph Smith) claimed a revelation from God that revealed secret knowledge to him (Gnosticism). Like Sabellianism, Swedenborg taught that God only existed in one ‘mode’ or form now: Jesus. Swedenborg’s soteriology said that believer’s had full cooperation in their salvation process (Pelagianism), and that strict obedience to commands (Legalism) is necessary for salvation. It was taught that Swedenborg was witness to the Last Judgment, and that the New Church of the Jerusalem was the result of the Last Judgment already being complete. Followers believe that all who do good, even non-believers, will be acceptable to God and taken to Heaven (God is goodness, therefore those who do good join themselves to God). Swedenborg taught that the church should be based on charity and love, not belief and doctrine.

13 November, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Circumcellionism

I was planning on doing another heresy this week, but the research is taking too long, so hopefully I'll have that one ready for next week.  In the meanwhile, I present Circumcellionism, a rather odd sub-Donatism heresy.  

Briefly, Donatism (which I shall further explain at a later time) was a sect of North African heretics in the 4th and 5th centuries who focused on asceticism, martyrdom, and "purity" in the church (that the church must be one of saints, not sinners).

Circumcellionism (also known as Agnosticisism) was a band of heretical Christian extremists in North Africa in the 4th and 5th centuries. While initially concerned with remedying social grievances (such as condemning property ownership and slavery, and advocating the cancelling of all debts), they became obsessed with the “true Christian virtue” of martyrdom. Because of Jesus’ warning to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane to put down his sword, they never used bladed weapons, often opting for blunt clubs. They would randomly attack passersby in an attempt to provoke the victim to retaliate and kill them. Sometimes they would interrupt courts of law and provoke the judge to order an immediate execution (the usual punishment for contempt of court at the time). Circumcellionism was connected with the Donatism heresy.

11 November, 2012

"Sharing" Jesus and Our Faith (or... Flabby Theological Language)

After seeing an excellent quote from Pr. Donavon Reily on Facebook (like I see at least a few times a week), I share it.  And such a fascinating discussion ensued, I thought it would be worth documenting here as well.  I offer it to you without my commentary, but would be interested in your thoughts or comments on "sharing" vs. "fellowship" or "communion".

The initial quote (from Pr. Reily) says:
‎"Christians are not called and sent to share Jesus or worse, share their faith... We are to preach Christ, and Him crucified, for the forgiveness of sins. The world doesn't need us to share Jesus with them, they need to hear of God's free choosing of them through Jesus' dying and rising "for you." They don't need a toe, or a spleen, or a wisp of hair. They need Jesus: all of Him, or nothing at all."

To which he added:
"As a brother-pastor noted, because we have transliterated the word "koinonia" into "share," we now have "sharing" instead of "fellowship," or, "communion." In other words, we've allowing flabby language into our high-speed, highly-tuned theology."

And, of course, that is from where I got the title for this post. Then a friend of Pr. Reily, Larry Griffin, added:
"English Standard Version (©2001) 'and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.'"

Here is where it gets fun. from Pr. Riley:
"Larry Griffin, you can cite a poor (Reformed) translation, but that doesn't resolve the matter. It's properly translated as ‘close association, fellowship.’ That is, for example, ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς κοινωνίαν ἔχητε μεθ’ ἡμῶν ‘in order that you may have fellowship with us’ 1 Jn 1:3; δἰ οὗ ἐκλήθητε εἰς κοινωνίαν τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ‘through whom you were called to have fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ’ 1 Cor 1:9."

Pr. David Juhl:
"The so-called "Koinonia Project" is not about "sharing" each other's faith. It is about restoring communion with one another. The German word is "Gemeinschaft", often translated "fellowship", but that doesn't catch what the Greek is saying. κοινωνία is oneness in the faith, a oneness that is not shared but believed. Therefore, we work together toward κοινωνία, oneness, intimacy of doctrine, not sharing."

Larry Griffin:
"I'm just not ready to say that the word "share" can never be used in a proper way. I am not a big fan of the word, but I have used it as an opposite of "keeping to myself" the truths that set us free."

Pr. Reily:
"You can use "share" as you so choose, but the Greek and the German don't support you. You're adding your own spin to the word. And that's what I (we) are getting at. It's not about what you want it to mean, but what the sources define it as ... as my brother also notes, "The word for "to share" as in to give another a portion of something is συγκοινωνέω." "

Pr. Juhl:
"Back to German for a bit. κοινωνία is not tranlated "Anteil". Anteil is "share" or "portion". The German word is "Gemeinschaft". Gemeinschaft is "community" or better "communion". Anteil denotes a part of something. Gemeinschaft is the fullness of something. Frankly, Brother Griffin, I would rather have the fullness, the Gemeinschaft, rather than the Anteil, the portion. I will grant you that "share" is a good word than can be used in a good way. I submit that "share" is not the best word to be used for κοινωνία. Let us not Anteil the κοινωνία, but Gemeinschaft!"

Pr. Brandt Hoffman:
"κοινωνία isn't some silly "mission project" or some popular buzz word. It is an actual reflection of the faith God has given us in His Word and Sacraments. There is a unity which is created by God's Holy Spirit. Consider Acts 4:32 and the use of koivwvia...
Τοῦ δὲ πλήθους τῶν πιστευσάντων ἦν καρδία καὶ ψυχὴ μία, καὶ οὐδὲ εἷς τι τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῷ ἔλεγεν ἴδιον εἶναι ἀλλʼ ἦν αὐτοῖς ἅπαντα κοινά. 
That isn't a mission project, or some sort of bogus "sharing" language. That is the full and complete giving of EVERYTHING of Christ Himself. His very proclamation IS "fellowship" / "Life Together". The life we have together IS CHRIST."

Pr. Reily
"Jacob Ehrhard writes: Koinonia is a noun, "a share of" something common.

If you run the verb form koinoneo, you get these uses in the NT (the thing which is shared is in parentheses):
Gal 6:6 (all good things, money, offerings)
Rom 12:13 (the needs of the saints)
Rom 15:27 (to have a share in the spirit with the Gentiles who have come to faith)
1 Tim 5:22 (sin)
2 John 11 (wicked works)
Heb 2:14 (flesh and blood of Jesus!)
1 Pet 4:13 (Christ's sufferings!)
And the best is Phil 4:15 (to have a share in the giving and receiving of St. Paul).

In most of these cases, the respective form of koinoneo has the understanding of "to have a share in" in a passive sense, rather than an active sharing of something that you have.

Also, in nearly every case, the sharing takes place with those who are already believers, that is, the "koino" stuff takes place between Christians and not from believers to unbelievers. In the cases where something is shared with an unbeliever, it's sin and wickedness."

Pr. Hoffman:
"Bringing down the requirements for Olympics runners so that guys like me can run in the Olympics only ruins the Olympics. The same is true for allowing flabby language into our high-speed, highly-tuned theology."

05 November, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Cerinthianism

This week's heresy is one of the many branches of Gnosticism.  It is of particular interest, because of it's connection to Premillennialism.

Cerinthianism is a Gnosticism-branch heresy of the mid-2nd century. Unlike Marcionism, which was hostile to any Jewish remnant in Christianity, Cerinthus (for whom this heresy is named) revered Jewish Scripture and often only preached from the Gospel of Matthew, which he considered to be the most Jewish of the canonical Gospels. Cerinthians believed that God did not create the world, but creator-angels who were ignorant of the existence of the Supreme God created earth and gave humans laws to follow. Cerinthus taught a Donatism-like view of Jesus vs. Christ, in that Jesus was the man (also an Ebionitism heresy) and Christ the spiritual entity bestowed upon the man at His baptism (similar to Adoptionism, also a Gnosticism-style heresy that wouldn’t come to fruition until decades later after Cerinthus). He taught that Jesus’ body will be raised on the last day with all men. Cerinthus also taught that strict adherence to Mosaic Law (Legalism and Pelagianism) was a requirement for salvation (including circumcision), something rejected by the Council of Jerusalem. He was the first known teacher of Premillennialism, an end-times heresy that asserts Christ will establish a 1,000 year earthly kingdom prior to the physical resurrection and the New Heaven.

03 November, 2012

A brief note on hermeneutics

In listening to Issues, Etc. 24, Pr. Jonathan Fisk had great comments on hermeneutics before getting onto his given topic of the Lord's Supper--if you want to hear for yourself, they podcast all their broadcasts, and it would be well worth the listen once that podcast is available (probably later today or tomorrow).

What is hermeneutics?  Simply, it is the study of interpreting text, or in specific for our purposes, the study of interpreting the text of the Bible.

The greatest point that I heard was that we often bring the Devil's first question, "Did God really say that?" into our reading of the Bible.  Or, perhaps more specifically, when we come to a passage that we don't like or can't understand, we often seek other Scripture not to allow Scripture to interpret itselves, but to allow Scripture from somewhere else to trump that passage and explain it away.

As a child has faith their parents will protect them or feed them or love them, etc. without needing to understand "how" (they might ask, but generally they ultimately accept it without truly comprehending the entirety of "how"), there is no where in Scripture, other writings (Christian and secular) or anywhere else that says we, as humans, are to understand everything and know the "how" and "why" of absolutely everything.  Sometimes we simply need a child-like faith that understands stated truths without needing to realize everything behind it.

A specific example, and one I'm very familiar with, was that Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis) in most of his books and speaking engagements wonders why Christians cannot understand the plain language of a day meaning a day, and yet he does not hold the Bible to be clear and plain when Jesus gives us the Words of Institution.

Even other Christians who claim to hold a "literal" interpretation of Scripture often deny the Words of Institution and other clear, plain language in the Bible, while holding to figurative or non-literal passages as truth (i.e. Revelations).

After listening to a previous Issues, Etc. podcast on Dispensational Premillennialism, I made this comment on Facebook: "Great point re: Dispensational Premillennialism. Everyone I know who subscribes to that belief claims to be a "literalist" when it comes to Biblical exegesis and interpretation, and yet I don't know any Dispensational Premillennialist who also subscribes to a literal interpretation of the Words of Institution ("this IS My Body", "this IS My Blood of the NEW covenant"). So... are they only literalists when it comes to eschatology? If that is so, what other parts of the Bible don't they take literally, or is that only regarding the Eucharist? And how can they claim to be literalists if they don't believe in a literal interpretation of EVERYTHING the Bible says?"

Ultimately, proper hermeneutics means knowing what is being said (a study of the original languages is extremely helpful to this end), understanding the context (what do the verses around it say?  to whom was this written?  why was it written?  who wrote it?  when was it written? etc.), realizing that many translations are inaccurate to the context (surprisingly, humans tend to bring their bias into translation efforts--who would have thought that?), always allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture (even passages we don't like or make us uncomfortable), and most importantly, not allowing the Devil to creep in and cause us to ask, "Did God really say?".  Scripture never contradicts itself if you understand context, which is absolutely key in hermeneutics.  We don't need to know everything, we don't need to understand everything, we just need faith.

31 October, 2012

Reformation Day

Today, for many individuals, is a strange custom known as "Halloween".  I never really saw the point in it, so I generally choose to avoid participating in it (costumes are fun, though, so I enjoy the dances, parties and such that spring up at this time of year with masks and disguises).

However, for Lutherans, today is Reformation Day.  495 years ago on 31 October, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther nailed his "Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.  At that time, the door was much like a bulletin board, with all forms of notices posted there--this notice being one for debate on the topic of Indulgences.

Luther's Rose (or Luther's Seal), enshrining the core of our beliefs in Sola Fida, Sola Gratia and Sola Scriptora: Faith Alone by Grace Alone as taught to us in Scripture Alone

Before I get into more about the Theses, I came across two interesting links in looking for further information on this topic.  One from what appears to be a Catholic source, actually speaks very kindly of the Theses, which is encouraging to me and I would like to hear from my Catholic friends to see if this is common sentiment or just someone posting on the internet.  Another is an article from The Economist on 17 December 2011, addressing how Luther "went viral" in his day.  If you haven't seen the more recent Luther movie, you're missing out.  Below you can watch the 95 Theses scene--but seriously, watch the whole movie as soon as possible.  It is excellent.

Why did Luther write these 95 Theses in the first place?  Briefly, Luther strongly (and rightly) opposed the practice of purchasing the forgiveness of sins and giving false hope to sinners and believers about their salvation and forgiveness being just a few coins away.

Indulgences are pieces of paper you can could once buy (edit: per a Catholic friend, you cannot still purchase indulgences, however you may still earn or gain them and it appears to me the practice has been somewhat reformed, addressing issues of contrition and repentance now at least) from the Roman Catholic Church for absolution of your sins, or removing dead relatives from Purgatory.  Johann Tetzel, the hand of Pope Leo X in the selling of indulgences, had a nice little ditty: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!"  These pieces of paper are, of course, utterly meaningless for forgiveness of sins (particularly since Purgatory does not even exist) and were simply a means of raising money for building projects and to finance the exceedingly extravagant lifestyle of the Pope at that time.  In order to sell more indulgences, the priest Tetzel began to claim that all sins (past, present and future, with no further need for confession and absolution) were forgiven with his indulgences--for just a little more money.

Additionally, it was said that veneration of relics would allow the sinner to receive pardon for their sins by "skipping" Purgatory.  Wittenberg, because of Prince Frederick III of Saxony, held a large collection of relics at that time, reportedly over 5,000--and, like most relics, they were frauds.

Luther was rightly outraged that the Church would charge money for a gift freely offered and already paid for by Christ.  In order to expose this fraud, Luther, being a scholar, requested a public debate at the University of Wittenberg, with the 95 Theses being the outline of topics for discussion.  They also were the challenge to anyone who would come and defend the appalling practice of selling Indulgences.

After posting the 95 Theses, Luther also sent copies to the Archbishop Albert of Mainz (who authorized the selling of Indulgences in his area) and to the Bishop of Brandenburg, Luther's superior.  Within two weeks, the Theses had spread across the country with the aid of the printing press.  Within two months, copies could be found all over Europe.  In January 1518, friends of Luther's translated the Theses from Latin to German, and further distributed them so that even the common man could understand.

Not much happened until Albert of Mainz decided to score some political points with the Pope.  As mentioned below, had Albert not made the "big deal" of these theses and that monk he had, Luther would likely have been largely unknown today.  The response to Luther, besides greatly angering Johann Tetzel, came on 15 June, 1520 from Pope Leo X in the Exsurge Domine.

Within two years, Wittenberg had turned away from many (what they considered to be heretical) Catholic practices and Luther became much more popular than he ever desired.  From testimony of witnesses to his own writings, he never meant to start a "revolution", merely sought to reform what he considered false teachings within the Church he so dearly loved.  From there, Luther was excommunicated within a few years, within a decade, the Lutheran Princes issued the Augsburg Confession, and the rest, as they say, is history.

To the credit of the Roman Catholic Church, some of the most egregious practices that Luther opposed have been addressed at least to some extent, but it took centuries for that to occur.  By then, they had already severed ties with Luther, and Lutherans, and certainly did not address all concerns that were later laid out in the Augsburg Confession and other portions of the Book of Concord.

To close, I thought I would share a few quotes from those far more eloquent and smart than I.

Some great general commentary on Luther's role in the Reformation from Dr. Gene Edward Veith:
"Luther's goal was to reform the church, but the church repudiated him and what he was trying to do. It is often said that Luther split from the Roman Catholic Church. That is not true. He was thrown out of the Roman Catholic Church. There is a huge difference. Luther was no schismatic. He did not start some new religion on his own authority. He did not dream up some new theology. He was trying to bring the church back to its true nature and its true message, as defined by the Word of God, which the church itself professed to believe. 
The Roman Church, in turn, refused to take the concerns seriously, much less give them a genuine hearing. The pope refused to address even the most flagrant abuses that were obvious to everyone. Instead of listening to those who questioned its direction, the Roman Church tried to destroy them. Thus the Roman Catholic Church created Protestantism." 

Interesting perspective on what might have been had not a church bureaucrat seized what he thought was an opportunity to gain favor with Rome from Pr. Donavon Riley:
"What happened when Luther posted the 95 Theses on the church door? Nothing. An irrelevant monk posted his theses for academic debate on the church doors in an irrelevant city, in an irrelevant part of Saxony, known for its fish, beer, and prostitutes. Several months later the theses were read by Albrecht, "Bishop" of Mainz, who used them as an [political] opportunity for himself to garner more favors from Rome. If not for him ... Obscurity for our frail friar."

"The World's Most Interesting Reformer..." 

30 October, 2012

Pastoral Appreciation

Apparently I missed the memo that October is Pastor Appreciation Month.  I couldn't let the month slip away without thanking all the dear Pastors in my life, most especially...
  • Pr. DuWayne Kirkeide -- the Pastor who baptized, first communed and confirmed me
  • Pr. Donal Widger -- my Pastor in Colorado Springs the last several years (after Pr. Kirkeide retired), and the one who married me
  • Pr. Brian Wolfmueller -- my current Pastor, who has made moving to Denver and finding a church that much better (and been an incredible and helpful resource for all my annoying theological questions)

And all my other Pastor friends--most of whom I know online or from the District Synodical Convention this summer:
  • Pr. George Borghardt
  • Pr. Daniel Burhop
  • Pr. William Cwirla
  • Pr. Jonathan Fisk
  • Pr. Carlton Hein
  • Pr. Steven Hein
  • Pr. Adam Lehman
  • Pr. Brian Kachelmeier
  • Pr. Alan Kornacki
  • Pr. Jared Melius
  • Pr. Mark Preus
  • Pr. Donavon Reily
  • Pr. Walter Snyder
  • Pr. Geoffrey Wagner
  • Pr. William Weedon
  • Pr. Todd Wilken

I'm sure there are more that I've forgotten (I have to know more than just Lutheran Pastors, right?), but thank you to all Pastors who care for their flocks, and preach the Word in its entirety and purity--both Law and Gospel.

29 October, 2012

Infant Faith and Paedobaptism

After my miscarriage earlier this year, I spent a lot of time thinking about infant faith.  I took great comfort in the fact that while I was pregnant for those few short weeks, I was able to attend our district synodical convention and hear the Word preached several times there, along with attending church when the campaign schedule allowed.  As a Lutheran, or maybe more broadly, as someone who believes sincerely in infant faith and infant baptism, that gave me the hope that my child did hear the Word, which is all that is needed for faith.  God is good and faithful, and I will trust in His mercies with my child that I will never get to meet here on earth.

While Lutherans (and other subscribers to paedobaptism--another name for infant baptism) believe that we are conceived with Original Sin present from that very first moment that sparks life, we also believe that because faith comes through hearing, that faith, too, can follow at a very early age--perhaps even before birth.  Who are we to say what God may or may not be able to accomplish?  There is no "age of accountability  (for that denies Original Sin being from conception), nor is there a need for a believer's baptism.

Now that I'm expecting again (14 weeks now!), it has been on my mind once more.  At least in our Lutheran synod (LC-MS), the Pastor blesses the children who are not receiving communion with a remembrance of their baptism.  I was so moved yesterday while we celebrated the Lord's Supper.  Perhaps I've just never noticed this, or perhaps it is something that not all Pastors do, but my Pastor also blessed my unborn child, asking for God to guard it and bring it safely to His promises in baptism.  What an incredible statement of our beliefs and our faith that even the littlest among us may also be worked upon by the Holy Ghost to be brought to faith!

I was two weeks old when I was baptized, and I do not remember a single day when I didn't have faith.  For me, it was never a question of when I had faith, but perhaps when didn't I?  I certainly can't remember.

When I was younger (maybe 7-8 years ago), I started writing a paper on why infant baptism is Biblically sound doctrine.  I've since updated it several times, and it only seems to get longer every time I look at it.  However, since 50-ish pages in a word document do not translate well into a blog post (particularly when there are lengthy appendices), I'm simply going to share some of the highlights here (mostly related Bible Verses and Early Church Father quotes).  If you'd like to see the whole thing, feel free to comment or shoot me an email and I'll send it your way.

The issue of baptism, or more specifically, infant baptism, often boils down to three simple questions.  First, what is the purpose of baptism?  Second, can an infant, who cannot make a “choice”, have faith?  Third, can a “choice” to believe bring salvation to you, and if so, what is the role of the Godhead in this “choice”? (note: those are the basis for the rest of the paper)
  • Genesis 7:1-9:17; Exodus 14:13-31; Numbers 20:1-13; Joshua 3-4; 2 Kings 5:1-19; Ezekiel 36:22-29; Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:4-9; Luke 3:3-18 and 1 Corinthians 10:2, 11—the promises of water connected with the house of Israel (including John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Israel’s redeemer) are used to save and destroy, a dichotomy shown distinctly in baptism through the drowning of the Old Adam and birth of regeneration baptism gives; also showing the promise to all people of God.
  • Psalm 51:2; Isaiah 1:16; Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 12:2-3; Ezekiel 36:22-29 and Zechariah 13:1—the Old Testament points to salvation through baptism.
  • Isaiah 32:15-17; Isaiah 44:3-5; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Ezekiel 39:29; Joel 2:28-32; Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:16; Luke 11:13; Luke 24:49; John 1:33; John 4:10-14; John 7:37-39; John 14:16-17; John 15:26-27; John 16:7-14; Acts 1:4-5, 8; Acts 2:1-21, 32-39; Acts 10:43-48; Acts 11:15-18; Acts 15:7-9; Romans 8:11-13; Romans 14:17 and Ephesians 3:16—the promise of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament; the promise of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is fulfilled through the rest of the Testament and through our baptism into Christ.
  • 1 Peter 3:20-21—baptism actually redeems not through the power of the individual but of the resurrected Christ.
  • John 3:5-8 and Galatians 3:27-28—the effects of being in the flesh could only be countered by water and Spirit, by a baptism that brings with it the power of the Spirit.
  • Romans 6 and Hebrews 2:14-15—one participates in Christ's death through baptism.
  • Job 14:1; Psalm 51:5; Psalm 58:3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; John 3:5-6; Romans 3:20, 23; Romans 5:12, 18; Romans 8:6-8; Ephesians 2:1 and 1 John 1:10—speak of original sin and the necessity of baptism for ALL.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14, 1 Corinthians 15:50 and Romans 8:6-8—we cannot, of our own will, submit to God.  The Holy Spirit, through the Word, causes faith in us.
  • Luke 3:3, 6—baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, for salvation.
  • John 15:16; Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 and Ephesians 2:9-10—we are predestined to faith, that is, it is not the work of man but of God by which we are atoned.
  • Romans 10:14-15, 17—faith comes from what is heard - faith is a miraculous result of the Word of God.
  • Romans 9:16 and Philippians 2:12-13—salvation cannot come by the hands of any man, but through the work of God in you.
  • John 4:14; Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 10:9-12, 14 and James 2:14-19—faith is the only way to salvation.
  • Matthew 14:22-33—we come to Christ on (in) the water.
  • Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26-27; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Matthew 13:5-7, 18, 20-22 and Luke 8:13—we can fall away from our faith, once saved is not always saved.
  • Colossians 2:11-13—baptism is the new circumcision.
  • Exodus 4:24-26—the importance of circumcision and of obedience to God’s commands.
  • Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-39; Acts 11:14, Acts 16:14-15, 30-31, 33; Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16-17 and Colossians 2:11-12—who is to be baptized - whole households, which includes infants, were baptized.
  • Joshua 8:35—infants have always been included in the Biblical understanding of family and nations.
  • Psalm 8:2; Psalm 22:9-10; Psalm 71:5-6; Isaiah 49:1; Jeremiah 1:5; Matthew 18:1-6; Matthew 21:15-16; Luke 1:15, 41, 44; Luke 18:15-17—infants can (and do) have faith.
  • 2 Timothy 3: 14-16Timothy had faith from infancy.
  • Matthew 18:1-6; Mark 10:14; Luke 10:21; Luke 18:15-17; Acts 11:14; Acts 16:15, 33 and 1 Corinthians 1:16—the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children.
  • Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-39; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-10; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:25-28; Ephesians 5:26; Colossians 2:11-14; 1 Peter 3:20-21 and Titus 3:5the blessings of baptism.

Adapted below from two article (found here and here) are just a few examples from early church fathers (many more exist), showing how infant baptism has been practiced since the inception of Christianity.
  • Polycarp (69-155), at his martyrdom, said, “Eighty and six years have I served the Lord Christ.”
  • Justin Martyr (100 - 166) stated that, “Many, both men and women, who have been Christ’s disciples since childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years.”
  • Irenaeus (130 - 200) wrote in his Against Heresies II 22:4 that Jesus “came to save all through means of Himself - all, I say, who through Him are born again to God - infants and children, boys and youth, and old men.”
  • All 66 bishops at the Council of Carthage in 254 stated that, “We ought not hinder any person from Baptism and the grace of God... especially infants... those newly born.”
  • Origen (185 - 254), in his Commentary on Romans 5: 9, said that “For this also it was that the church had from the Apostles a tradition to give baptism even to infants. For they to whom the divine mysteries were committed knew that there is in all persons a natural pollution of sin which must be done away by water and the Spirit.”  He continues: “The Church has received from the apostles the custom of administering baptism even to infants. For those who have been entrusted with the secrets of divine mysteries, knew very well that all are tainted with the stain of original sin, which must be washed off by water and spirit.”  Origen also stated in his Homily on Luke 14, that “Infants are to be baptized for the remission of sins.”
  • Cyprian (215 - 258) writes, “In respect of the case of infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man... Spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision... we ought to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins - that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.”
  • The Sixteenth Council of Carthage in 418 unequivocally stated: “If any man says that newborn children need not be baptized... let him be anathema.”
  • Augustine (354 - 430), declared in De Genesi Ad Literam, X: 39, that, “If you wish to be a Christian, do not believe, nor say, nor teach, that infants who die before baptism can obtain the remission of original sin.” And again, “Whoever says that even infants are vivified in Christ when they depart this life without participation in His sacrament (Baptism), both opposes the Apostolic preaching and condemns the whole church which hastens to baptize infants, because it unhesitatingly believes that otherwise they cannot possibly be vivified in Christ.”  In Enchiridion, Augustine declares, “For from the infant newly born to the old man bent with age, as there is none shut out from baptism, so there is none who in baptism does not die to sin.”

As we can see, just from this, infant baptism is not only the Biblically accurate doctrine on baptism, but it has been in practice since the beginning of Christianity (I would especially point out Polycarp, one of the Apostle John’s disciples—look how long he lived (86 years) and how long he had been a faithful servant of the Lord Christ (86 years)—coincidence?  I think not…).  Believer’s baptism, relatively speaking, is a new idea that was developed during the reformation by protestants.  There is simply no Biblical or historical precedent to show that it was practiced in any way prior to then.  Now, obviously, adults were baptized, but those are instances of conversion, which is an entirely separate matter.  We notice that when God says confess with your mouth and be baptized, that there is not a priority in it, no need for one always to come before the other (particularly if you understand Greek).  As long as you confess and believe, you are justified, sanctified and atoned for.  Why would you deny baptism to the believers when God commands that all His children be baptized?

There was only ONE major opponent to infant baptism can be found before the 1520s.  From the second article linked above: 
“In the 1,500 years from the time of Christ to the Protestant Reformation, the only bonafide opponent to infant Baptism was Tertullian (160 - 215), bishop of Carthage, Africa. His superficial objection was to the unfair responsibility laid on godparents when the children of pagans joined the church. However, his real opposition was more fundamental. It was his view that sinfulness begins at the "puberty, of the soul," that is "about the fourteenth year of life" and "it drives man out of the paradise of innocence" (De Anima 38:2). This rules out the belief in original sin.  Tertullian’s stance, together with other unorthodox views, led him to embrace Montanism in 207. Montanism denied the total corruption and sinfulness of human nature. With its emphasis upon the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, it was the precursor to the modern Charismatic Movement.”

The Lutheran Confessions (Book of Concord) address Baptism (in general) and Infant Baptism (in specific) numerous times.
  • Augsburg Confession: Article IX: Of Baptism.
  • Apology to the Augsburg Confession: Article IX: Of Baptism.
  • Smalcald Articles: V. Of Baptism.
  • Small Catechism: The Sacrament of Holy Baptism.
  • Large Catechism: Holy Baptism. and Of Infant Baptism.
  • Visitation Articles: Concerning Holy Baptism.

Why Doctrine Matters...

I should have included this in yesterday's Sermon Notes post.  I made this several months ago after another Sermon from my Pastor talking about false doctrine meaning spiritual death for folks--I couldn't help but think of this analogy.  Pictures of many, many individuals could go on here, but I figured since I named a whole heresy after him, Joel Osteen was prime target number one.  Maybe I'll make more at some point with other pictures.  Got suggestions?  Post in the comments.  Enjoy!

Yes, I made it in Paint.

Heresy of the Week: Gnosticism

This week's heresy, Gnosticism, is actually a branch of heresy, not generally thought of as a heresy itself.  There are many, many Gnostic heresies (I've found about 50 distinct branches), which we shall cover in later weeks.  I wanted to set the stage for it now, however.

Gnosticism (meaning “learned”, from the Greek for “knowledge”) is an early church heresy that actually predates Christianity (dating all the way back to Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion), but became a coherent movement in Christianity during the second century. There are several key ideas in Gnosticism, predominantly a dualistic theology (good creator God who rules the spiritual world and evil god, usually Satan and/or the God of the Old Testament, who rules the material world). Gnosticism runs the gauntlet as far as its dualistic theology goes: Manichaeism (a “radical dualist” movement) and Mandaeism are two common derivatives of Gnosticism, classic Gnosticism, such as Sethianism is considered to be “mitigated dualism”, whereas Valentinianism teaches qualified monism. Mitigated dualism teaches that there are two principal forces, one of whom is inferior to the other. In the case of classical Gnosticism, the material world was created by a lesser being than the spiritual world. Their goal, through obtaining higher or “secret” knowledge to throw off the constraints of the physical world and ascend to a spiritual plane. Nearly all Gnostic believed in Docetism (known as Gnostic-Docets), that there was no incarnation of Christ and denied He existed as a human.

All forms of Gnosticism share the following beliefs (although they are often manifested very differently):
  • Dualistic theology (god of good vs. god of evil)
  • Layers or multiple heavens/spiritual planes of existence
  • Seeking of "secret" knowledge
  • Material world = evil; spiritual world = good
  • Because the material is bad, Christ could never be a human, though some teach that he "appeared" to be human (like a ghost or spirit)
  • In almost all, some form of reincarnation is present
  • Bondage of the spirit (good) to the material/body (evil), which can only be overcome through "secret" knowledge
Interestingly, there's a pretty even split on those who are absolute Ascetics (deny all physical pleasures) and those who are absolute heathens (to throw off the physical, one must experience it all--the sooner, the better, especially if it can be in one lifetime).

These groups are from where many of the non-canonical books (most famously, the Gnostic Gospels) come.  As we get into specific Gnostic heresies, we'll talk about the books connected with that sect (if any).

Gnosticism, used sometimes interchangeably with Mysticism in many circles (not identical, but similar enough that it often works), has had heavy influence on many religions throughout history, including several Christian sects today.  Luther calls the Mohammedans (Islam) mystics in the Book of Concord.  Many include Mormonism in this as well, along with folks like the Christian Scientists.  There are even Jewish Mystics, and most Eastern religions were heavily influenced by Mysticism.  Most of the "Christian" Gnostic sects don't deal with those outside religions, but some have had impacts on demonomations today, which will be discussed when we cover individual Gnostic heresies later.

28 October, 2012

The Church Year and Liturgical Colors

As the church year comes to a close over the next month, I thought it might be of benefit to share the beauty of our church calendar with you.  This will look familiar (probably identical) to many denominations, but to far too many--it will be foreign, which I think is a tragedy, but sadly to be expected with the lack of emphasis on tradition in most protestant churches.  In any liturgical church you attend (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Orthodox, etc.), you will likely notice that the colors around the church change at different times of the year as well.  That's included and explained below, from the Lutheran perspective (again, fairly similar in all liturgical churches).

There are three seasons to the church year: the Season of Christmas, the Season of Easter and the Season of the Church.  The LC-MS website has a good summary of these seasons, with details on what all the colors mean here.

Season of Christmas

Advent is the first part of the Church Year.  There are four Sundays in Advent (as we get closer, I will be posting more about each Sunday):
  • First Sunday in Advent, or Ad Te Levavi 
  • Second Sunday in Advent, or Populus Zion
  • Third Sunday in Advent, or Gaudete
  • Fourth Sunday in Advent, or Rorate Coeli
The color of Advent is purple (penitence) or blue (hopefulness), with pink (joy) on Gaudete Sunday.

We then have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  White, the color of purity and Christ, is the color of these celebrations.

Following Christmas, we have Epiphany, and the several Sundays after Epiphany, leading us into the second church year season.  Epiphany, like Christmas, is white (purity), while the following Sundays are green (growth).  On the first Sunday after Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord (also white), and on the final Sunday after Epiphany, we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday (white).  How many Sundays in Epiphany there are depends on when Easter falls.  The earlier in the year, the shorter the Epiphany Season.

Season of Easter

My favorite season of the church year begins with Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent.  The colors of these days are black (sobriety) for Ash Wednesday, and purple (penitence) for Lent.

We then come to Holy Week, beginning with the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the institution of the Last Supper and betrayal of Christ on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion on Good Friday, and the Resurrection of Easter (or Resurrection Sunday).  The colors of Holy Week are scarlet (passion) for Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday, black (sobriety) for Good Friday and white (purity and Christ) and gold (denoting value).

There are seven Sundays following Easter before the final church season, the second to last Sunday being the Ascension of our Lord, all Sundays being white (purity and Christ).

Finally, the last Sunday in this season is Pentecost.  The color of Pentecost is red (power and fire).

Season of the Church

The first Sunday in this season is Trinity Sunday, where the Lutheran Church celebrates our Godhead and the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity with the Athenasian Creed.  The color of this Sunday is white (purity).  We then celebrate up to 25 more weeks of Pentecost, where the color is green (growth), until the final Sunday of the Church Year, then it all starts again.  Like Epiphany, the number of Sundays after Pentecost is determined by when Easter falls--the later in the year, the fewer Sundays after Pentecost there are.

Feast and Festivals, Commemorations

It surprises even some Lutherans I know to realize we have Feasts and Festivals, and Commemoration days in the Lutheran Church Calendar.

The list of Feasts and Festivals below comes from here.  For a list of all Commemoration days in the Lutheran Service Book, check here.  Most Feasts and Festivals are celebrated with red (power and fire).

November (30)
30 - St. Andrew, Apostle

21 - St. Thomas, Apostle
26 - St. Stephen, Martyr
27 - St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
28 - The Holy Innocents, Martyrs
31 - Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus

18 - The Confession of St. Peter
24 - St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor
25 - The Conversion of St. Paul
26 - St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor

2 - The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord
24 - St. Matthias, Apostle

19 - St. Joseph, Guardian of Jesus
25 - The Annunciation of Our Lord

25 - St. Mark, Evangelist

1 - St. Philip and St. James, Apostles
31 - The Visitation (Three-Year Lectionary)

11 - St. Barnabas, Apostle
24 - The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
29 - St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

2 - The Visitation (One-Year Lectionary)
22 - St. Mary Magdalene
25 - St. James the Elder, Apostle

15 - St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord
24 - St. Bartholomew, Apostle
29 - The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

14 - Holy Cross Day
21 - St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
29 - St. Michael and All Angels

18 - St. Luke, Evangelist
23 - St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus and Martyr
28 - St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles
31 - Reformation Day

November (1-29)
1 - All Saints' Day

Sermon Notes: "It's more important for us to love each other, we shouldn't worry about Doctrine..."

Reformation Sunday
"God for Us"
Text: Matthew 11:12-15

We so often here something to the effect of, "It's more important for us to love each other, we shouldn't worry about Doctrine..." today in modern Christianity.  The problem?  That's Satan speaking.


It is the Devil's hobby to tempt humans to sin.  His real work is in false doctrine.  He aims for the heart of the church--our doctrine, our Gospel.

Modern Christianity (especially non-denominational and/or mega-churches) often forget about doctrine and teachings--sometimes even saying that it is bad to be so divisive.  They want to focus on "deeds, not creeds".  Sadly, these are age-old heresies that Satan has used since the death of Christ to drive others away from the Gospel (which saves) and into the Law (which condemns).  If Satan takes our Gospel, he has won and he has us in his grasp.

Sadly, we live in an age of doctrinal indifference in all church bodies--Lutheranism is not exempt from this.  It is the same old struggle, the church's struggle.  Our fight for the Gospel--our fight for truth and salvation--is the history of the church.  In fact, every book of the Bible (some more obviously than others) was written to correct doctrinal error.

None of this is special to our modern times or even the Reformation.  The church has had false teachers from the beginning.  The church has had many "reformers" along the way.  So what made Luther different?  While other "reformers" were crying out against the sins of individuals in Rome, Luther was focused on false doctrine and false teaching.  While others were grasping at mere feathers, Luther grabbed "the goose by the neck, and set a knife to the throat." (from Table Talk)

The Reformation was a time of great theological controversy.  The chief question of the day was, "How is a man to gain salvation?"  Luther's answer was in Christ alone, through no work of our own, through Faith Alone given to us by Grace Alone as given to us in Scripture Alone.  Works are a mere result of faith, not what give us faith, nor can they earn us any form of merit.

Luther stood not only against Rome, but all false teaching in all churches (especially Arminian, Calvinist, Radical Reformed and Zwinglian).  Those divisions were largely (at the time) over the Lord's Supper.  Luther wrote more about the Lord's Supper than any other doctrinal topic because he knew that the Lord's Supper is the Gospel.

The Reformation was not about Luther, but about Jesus, about restoring the Gospel to primacy in the church.

There are probably more false teachings  and teachers now than ever before.  The sum total of modern theology seems to be: "God is a nice guy who wants us to be happy."  But the Scriptures say more--much, much more.  The Scriptures teach Christ crucified.  The Scriptures teach the Gospel.

At the end, Pastor read a beautifully dramatic rendition of "A Mighty Fortress", a hymn we had already sung in the service.  The words are truly incredible.

1 A mighty fortress is our God,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He helps us free from ev'ry need
That hath us now o'ertaken.
The old evil foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On earth is not his equal.

2 With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabaoth Lord,
And there's none other God;
He holds the field forever.

3 Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpow'r us.
This world's prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He's judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

4 The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He's by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Let these all be gone,
Our vict'ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.

(My favorite part of Reformation Sunday are all the wonderful hymns we get to sing, including one of my all-time favorites, "Thy Strong Word".)

22 October, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Millerism

This week's heresy is one of the eschatology vein.  It is what happens you don't take God at His Word ("But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come." Mark 13:32-33) and instead trust on your own cleverness to "know" or "divine" or "prophesy" about God and predict His return.

Millerism is an eschatological heresy of the 19th and 20th centuries. The founder of Millerism, William Miller, a Baptist lay minister, believed he could know through prophetic interpretation the date of the Second Coming (he guessed 1843, then 1844, clearly neither being correct, an event which was called "The Great Disappointment"). He initially kept this analysis to himself, but after sharing with a few skeptical acquaintances, he decided to start preaching and writing about this publicly. His articles were published all over America and even into other countries (such as Great Britain, Australia and Canada) and had a wide readership. After "The Great Disappointment", many left the Millerite movement, returning to their old denominations (most were originally Baptist, Presbyterian or Methodist), while a significant number became Quakers. Still others in the Millerite movement became the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and also significantly influenced the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Bahá’í also credits Millerism for the analysis of Christ’s return and said the timing was right, but the location was incorrect.

William Miller is just one in a long line of those who claimed to prophesy the return of Christ (for a long, but incomplete list, read here).  Since the time of Christ, there have been those who have claimed to know when He would come again, and perhaps more disturbing--many who claimed to be Christ who had returned.

Millerism is important, however, because it caused the founding of one denomination (Seventh-day Adventist), and heavily influenced another (Jehovah's Witness).  More than most false prophets of the end times, William Miller has had a lasting impact on many today, continuing to lead them astray and to put their faith in the false prophecies of men rather than the Word of God.

Even now, we have those saying it will be on 21 December this year (2012)--funny how that's the same day the Mayan calendar supposedly predicts the end of the world (it doesn't, it is just the end of one calendar and the beginning of another but that's a totally different story).  Sounds to me like someone just got lazy with that one.  But they have celebrity endorsements!  So it must be true... *sigh*

Attempting to predict the return of Christ when we are told very clearly in God's Word that the time is unknowable makes an utter mockery of our faith.  It makes other Christians look bad--guilt by association, because it seems the loudest are also the nuttiest.

19 October, 2012

Lutheran vs. "Lutheran"

As much as I tend to be harsh on other sects and denominations, I would be remiss if I did not discuss the conflict within the name "Lutheran".  Not all who claim that name share our Evangelical Catholic faith.

The way I see it, there are two kinds of Lutherans:
  • Evangelical Catholics (Confessional, Quia Lutherans)
  • Variata Lutherans (Pietist, Quanteus Lutherans)
Luther's Seal

What is a Lutheran?

Lutherans (Evangelical Catholics) believe in Sola Fida, Sola Gratia and Sola ScriptoraFaith Alone through Grace Alone as revealed to us in Scripture Alone.

Book of Concord
Lutherans subscribe to the Book of Concord, which clearly states our Orthodox doctrine and Biblical teachings on any theological topic of which you may think.  However, exactly how a Lutheran subscribes to the Book of Concord is very important, and this is where the "division" begins to appear.  A Quia subscriber says we subscribe to the Book of Concord because it is wholly faithful to Scripture.  A Quanteus subscriber says we subscribe to the Book of Concord only insofaras it is faithful to Scripture.

Augsburg Confession
We also have to understand the difference between the Unaltered Augsburg Confession (UAC) and the Variata.  

At the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, Lutheran princes presented the Augsburg Confession as our cornerstone declaration of faith.  That document, as presented at the Diet of Augsburg, is the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.  

The primary author of the Augsburg Confession, Philipp Melanchthon, decided to make changes to this document in 1540 and 1542 in an attempt to reconcile the Lutheran Church with the Geneva Church (John Calvin) by entirely changing the Orthodox "real presence" teaching of Holy Communion to the heretical "remembrance" teaching of John Calvin.  This is known as the Variata.

While I don't know if this is a strict rule of thumb, I do not know any Quia subscribers who subscribe to the Variata, nor do I know any Quanteus subscribers who subscribe to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.

This "creeping Calvinism" in the Variata is only the beginning, however, of the "liberalizing" of some who claim the name Lutheran.  In the late 17th century, the Pietism movement began with Philipp Jakob Spener. It was not only influential in Lutheranism, but also inspired the Methodist denomination (John Wesley) and the Brethren movement within Anabaptism (Alexander Mack).  Eventually, Pietism even influenced the Holiness Movement and Pentecostal churches.  This movement further confused and "protestantized" portions of the Lutheran church.

In the Pia desideria, written by Spener, six proposals as to how best to restore the life of the church were made (from Wikipedia):
  1. the earnest and thorough study of the Bible in private meetings, ecclesiolae in ecclesia ("little churches within the church");
  2. the Christian priesthood being universal, the laity should share in the spiritual government of the Church;
  3. a knowledge of Christianity must be attended by the practice of it as its indispensable sign and supplement;
  4. instead of merely didactic, and often bitter, attacks on the heterodox and unbelievers, a sympathetic and kindly treatment of them;
  5. a reorganization of the theological training of the universities, giving more prominence to the devotional life; and
  6. a different style of preaching, namely, in the place of pleasing rhetoric, the implanting of Christianity in the inner or new man, the soul of which is faith, and its effects the fruits of life.
Strangely, this sounds much like today's non-denominational Christianity, and more importantly, the mega-churches that have invaded and degraded the catholic Christianity in America.  Pietism also placed a significant emphasis on "simple" Christianity--reducing it to the lowest common denominator in an attempt to re-unify the Church (which, as we can see today, has not worked).

Who are American Lutherans?

In America, we have three predominant denominations of "Lutherans" (there are others, but smaller in membership):
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA, or as I prefer, E?CA--I'll explain below)
  • Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS, of which I am a member)
  • Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS, often considered the most "conservative", but not the most "confessional")

What's the difference?
The ELCA is by far the most liberal of the three American "Lutheran" denominations.  They practice the ordination of women and homosexuals (if they are in a committed relationship--not necessarily even married).  They practice open communion (allowing anyone to commune, regardless of their belief on Holy Communion).  They claim on their official website to subscribe to the UAC, but I have never met an ELCA member or Pastor who does not subscribe to the Variata.  They are Quanteus subscribers to the Book of Concord.  They value social justice and heavily promote it on their official website.  The ELCA was formed after liberal members of the LCMS walked out of Seminary during the SeminEx (Seminary in Exile) starting in 1974.  These were seminarians, Pastors and Professors who wanted to "Calvinize" and liberalize the pure teaching of the Gospel.  I call them "E?CA" because they aren't Lutheran, but I'm not exactly sure what they are.  I don't even like them using the word "Evangelical", for that matter.

The LCMS is the most confessional of the three American "Lutheran" denominations.  They are Quia subscribers to the Book of Concord, and hold fast to the UAC.  While there is some creeping liberalism in this Synod, the current leadership (President Pr. Matthew Harrison) and a number of solidly confessional Pastors are helping to stamp out that trend and ensure that Evangelical Catholicism is synonymous with the LCMS in America.  There are remnants of thought from those who left in the 1970s to form the ELCA who want to transform the LCMS into another liberal synod, which, since they already have that option available in the ELCA, is absolutely silly to me.  Thanks to good leadership and a more confessional massing of Pastors than we've had in awhile, I am very hopeful that trend entirely goes away.

While WELS is certainly more conservative than the ELCA, they aren't quite the same as the LCMS.  From what I can tell, they are also Quia subscribers to the Book of Concord, and subscribe to the UAC.  The three main areas of difference between WELS and LCMS are over fellowship, the role of women in the church and the Doctrine of the Ministry.  Largely, though, they are a conservative and fairly confessional Synod (but much smaller in membership than the ELCA or LCMS).

What does this mean?
A meet and right Lutheran question, clearly I am of the opinion that the ELCA (E?CA) should not be considered Lutheran.  They do not hold to proper Lutheran or Evangelical teaching, nor do they seem to value basic Christian tenets in their faith.  I would even dare to say they are clearly a Pietist remnant, once that is dangerous to the name Lutheran in specific and to catholic Christianity in general.

On the other hand, both the LCMS and WELS (while slightly different) are much more conservative, confessional and in the vein of proper, Orthodox, Evangelical Catholic Lutheranism.

Lutheranism defined

The "cover photo" from my Facebook Page, taken from another solidly confessional Lutheran.

When I speak of Lutherans, I mean a Quia-subscribing, UAC-confessing, Evangelical Catholic, thoroughly catechized, confessional, orthodox, Christ-centered, cross-focused, catholic and apostolic, Word and Sacrament, Law and Gospel, traditional and liturgical Lutheran church.

Others who claim the name Lutheran, but are not even some of the above, are nothing more than Pietists, and I do not consider them to be Lutheran, no matter how frequently they use that name.  They are a blight on the name Lutheran and they do not represent our Evangelical Catholic faith.