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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Struggle to Keep Justification Pure

The Harrowing of Hell as depicted by Fra Angelico

I was re-reading a LOGIA article written by Armin Wenz entitled ,,Justification and Holy Scripture: Sola fide et sola Scriptura" (LOGIA, Vol. XIV, No. 2 [Eastertide 2005]).

Two points (among many) struck me as very pertinent:

1. The principles of Scripture alone and faith alone are inseparably connected, and justification must be reflected in these distinctions concerning holy Scripture (Wenz 5).

2. Every approach to holy Scripture which emancipates itself from the christological approach would be nothing less than a relapse into a humanist, rationalist, or works-righteous approach (Wenz 6). These three approaches strike against justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Humanism wasn't always against the article of justification. In the 14th century, European universities (starting in Italy) began stressing humanism over the traditional scholasticism. The Reformation began at a time in the Middle Ages when the Renaissance and humanism were blooming. Humanism sought to return to the classical languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and going back to the original texts. Humanism soon influenced concepts of freedom, religion, history, science, and other academic disciplines. Humanism helped further things like the Textus Receptus (the Received Text, which was the first compilation of the Greek New Testament that was the forefather of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testaments that pastors and theologians use today). The University of Wittenberg was established as a humanistic university. Philip Melanchthon was a humanist scholar and he was the first Greek professor at the University of Wittenberg.

Rationalism grew out of humanist philosophy. Reason reigns supreme in rationalsim, and as such, miracles and the supernatural tend to be downplayed or rejected. Rationalism lead to the Enlightenment (examples of Enlightenment thought can be seen in the writings of the early American founders, like Washinton, Jefferson, and Madison, etc.). Rationalism lead to the 19th and 20th centuries fascination with historical criticism, which is a Biblical exegetical process that attempts to critique the holy Scriptures using a variety of source theories. Unfortunately, historical criticism leads to the denial of Christ.

Strictly speaking, humanism and rationalism are not antithetical to the article of justification. They are merely tools that theologians have used to mine the depths of holy Scripture. However, when humanism and rationalism are allowed to run amok, the article of justification suffers. This occurs when humanism and rationalism focus solely inward on the mind and intellect of human beings as the answers to all things.

Works-righteousness is the exact opposite of justification by faith. Works-righteousness is the approach that by our works we can merit or help merit our justification before God. As such, works-righteousness is a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian heresy whereby we do our part in meriting justification.

Unfortunately, our sinful human flesh is drawn to our own reason and works to merit or help merit our justification before God. Justificaiton, therefore, is revealed in the written Scriptures, and justificaiton must be received by faith.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Why I Like the BSG Character Gaius Baltar

Since the Battlestar Galactica finale on 20. March, I have read a number of blogs where fans complained about the final hour of the episode. I think some aspects were hastily brought to a conclusion, and other plots were left unanswered. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the 3-hour finale.

From beginning to end, this show was about the characters. While I enjoyed most of the characters, my favorite is Gaius Baltar (wonderfully acted by James Callis, I might add). Here's why:

Baltar is an intelligent, egotistical, selfish man who is responsible for the destruction of Caprica. He allowed the Cylon Caprica Six access to the planet's defense mainframe, and she used it to let the Cylon sneak attack annihilate the colonies. Right there, the man is a traitor to humanity ... because he is selfish.

And yet, God uses him to unveil and unfold His plan to save both the humans and the Cylons from extinction. This is why I really like his character, because he is so much like many of the men and women that God used in the Bible to save humanity. People like Jacob and Samson come to mind, who when you read about their exploits in the Bible you scratch your head wondering why on Earth is God using people with such horrible personality traits, faults, and down-right sinful behavior.

Baltar is not perfect. He doesn't try to be perfect. Even though he thinks He is doing God's will, he still goes around using circumstances to further his own self-interests. He is like me and every other sinner on this planet. We often tend to hide those aspects of our nature from other people; Baltar didn't, and he was the most despised human in the Colonial fleet because of it.

As the seasons wore on, I kept cheering for Baltar to finally get it. Slowly he did, but he never got it perfectly nor did he act like a pious saint. He remained and acted like a fallen sinner. Again, he acted like all the saints in the Bible.

Finally, when ,,Daybreak" began, he had his last chance. Lee Adama challenged him to name one time when he did something that was not in his own self-interest. Baltar admitted that he could think of no instance. And then when he had a chance to join the mission under Adm. Adama, he chose to stay with the fleet ... until at the last moment he changed his mind. This action put him in the right place and the right time that God had been preparing him for from the very first episode. He was there to save humanity and the Cylons by rescuing the little girl, Hera.

I often wondered if BSG was really about the fall and redemption of Gaius Baltar, much like Babylon 5 was about the fall and redemption of Londo Mollari. It seems to me that Baltar is one of the main figures in the whole BSG storyline; I think it really was all about his fall and redemption, for he is the Everyman. If God can redeem Baltar and use him for His plan, then God can redeem me and everyone else, too. That is really what the Bible's salvation history is all about: God redeeming us and using us in His plan; Jesus Christ came to make it so.

The best part of the finale is one of the last scenes with Baltar and Caprica Six. He tells her that he's found a nice plot of land on Earth that looks suitable for farming. ,,You know, I know about farming" he tells her. And then he breaks down because his whole life had been one of denying his past, despising his father who was an overbearing father and farmer, so much so that Baltar studied science and changed his accent so no one would know his roots. But at the end, he has come full circle. He can embrace his past, his father, his despised roots, and he realizes that he can stop being a scientist and enjoy being a farmer. Why? Because God redeemed him and showed him that he has value. God did not give up on him when everyone else did. God loved him when everyone else despised and hated him.

Okay, BSG wasn't the greatest at portraying such ideas in pure Christian language (and I wouldn't expect it to because it is science fiction, not Biblical theology), but enough gospel handels snuck through so that any Christian could read into the plot and see salvation being played out upon the least deserving. And just like Baltar, God so loved us and sent His only Son to suffer, die, and rise again for us so that we would have peace with Him forever.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Last night I watched the series finale of the reimaged TV show ,,Battlestar Galactica". Overall, I thought it was a good finale. I pondered some of the lukewarm Christian themes that ran throughout the series.

I thought the title ,,Daybreak" was very fitting for the last episode. Throughout much of the series, the characters experienced one challenge after another, one heartbreak after another, and seemed to always be on the verge of complete annihilation. ,,Daybreak" brought some much needed hope and grace upon a group of people who were so overwhelmed by the law, sin, and death.

Daybreak has a strong element of resurrection theology. The rising of the sun each day in the east is symbolic of Christ's resurrection on Easter Sunday. We also have the promise that on the last day we will receive a daybreak -- a rising up of our own dead bodies to everlasting life.

BSG had a theme of cycles: all this has happened before and will happen again. This is very common in Eastern philosophy and culture. While Buddihsm and Hinduism have strong strains of cycles, so also Christianity. Ecclesiastes laments that there is nothing new under the sun, implying that sin and the world continues ever onward in a series of cycles. Nothing ever really changes, sin and death still swing around and snatch away happiness and life. Someone must show up to break the cycle and restore hope. Christians see that occur in Jesus Christ.

And in the midst of this, God sends other people to touch our daily lives and remind us of the hope we have in Christ. The original series had the angels of light: advanced beings who flew around space in ships of light. It was tacky and very 1970s-ish. Ron Moore took a more human approach and had these guides appear as ordinary people in cognito. We never really discovered that three of these angels were guiding the Colonial Fleet until the last few episodes. It worked well, because there was an air of mystery of who these beings really were and more importantly for me, these beings were very subdued and working simply and behind the scenes. That is how the angels often operate in the Bible. The Scriptures talk about entertaining angels unaware.

The finale had a few illogical flaws, like why would everyone gladly give up all their technology, especially medicine? The show's answer was to break the cycle of violence between the humans and the cylons. Unfortunately, another cycle of sin and destruction would quickly arise and dominate the people. Our history proves that.

I would also would have liked to have some more explanation about the Lords of Kobol and the 13th tribe. There was not much closure there.

The best scene was with Baltar and Caprica. Baltar was such a despised individual, the worst of the worst. He always did things in his self interests and gladly endulged in all sorts of vices. He represented us, the worst parts of our fallen nature. I always liked the Baltar character (and the fact that all the characters were realistically human, making all sort of mistakes and doing things out of selfishness), knowing that but for the grace of God I would be like Baltar. Baltar finally gets grace and redemption as the series closed. He didn't deserve it, but that's what makes grace grace. We don't deserve God's love and forgiveness, yet we have them nonetheless. If that's the highpoint of the series, then I rejoice at being reminded that we are redeemed by grace and resurrection will also be ours, too, and that by Jesus alone.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Miracles and Prophecies

Wilhelm Loehe has a chapter in his book, Three Books Concerning the Church, entitled ,,Miracles and Prophecies are not a Mark of the Church". Loehe writes,

,,IT is certainly true that the miracles and prophecies of the prophets and apostles of the Truth have helped to show the poor children of men the way in which they ought to go. Of course, the Truth stood in no need of miracles and prophecies; it is superior to both; and eyes that are open recognize it in its proper being and in the mode of speech, which belongs to it alone, even without knowing it. But the simple, the prejudiced, the indolent and weak, do not lend their ear to the Truth unless they be aroused in some way. Such miracles and prophecies are especial gifts of the grace of God, and therefore we admit with the old Church-Fathers that the rapid progress of the Gospel without the signs and wonders that accompanied it would be impossible, except by a miracle which would have surpassed all other miracles.

,,After the Truth and the Church of the Truth had once been introduced into the world and had so demonstrated its truth to men for eighteen hundred years, neither miracles nor prophecies were needed any more; therefore miracles and prophecies have become less frequent. The preservation of the Church in spite the attacks of the devil and all his hordes, her un-weakened, fresh and ever-youthful continuance these eighteen hundred years, is miracle enough, if anyone were to think that the voice of the Truth in and for itself were not impressive and convincing enough. We must ever guard ourselves against being too easy misled by miracles, for there are Occurrences which happen quite like miracles and yet are not miracles, and therefore we must be able to distinguish miracles from wonderful and inexplicable events. Miracles in the proper sense are done by God only, either immediately, or mediately through His servants: Blessed is the Lord God, the God of Israel, Who alone does wondrous things (Psalm 72:18). On the other hand, false prophets, Antichrist, the beast, do wonderful things that resemble miracles and are called miracles in a wider sense (Matthew 24:24 ss; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13). If we admit that the arm of the Lord is not shortened; that He, wherever He sees best, in order to establish His heavenly Truth, can still do wonders; if we admit that there is nothing in Holy Scripture which says that miracles no longer can happen; yet it is very necessary to try the things which happen before our eyes, and to hold the universal rule that true miracles can occur only in the service of the true doctrine, and that without the true doctrine of God’s Word which is well known to us, they prove nothing at all (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

,,And it is so with prophecies. We do not deny that the spirit of prophecy still lives, that He rules and works, that the gift of prophecy is still in the Church; but we hold that all prophecy must be according to the analogy of faith,—namely, in the New Testament, must be related to the Word of the Lord as the particular to the universal, as the conclusion to the proposition, as the bud to the plant. A prophecy that does not confirm the true doctrine, or that is not in connection with it, is empty and worthless (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Further, a prophecy that rests on merely human foundations, or does not proceed from the Holy Spirit, even though it be ever so correct a conjecture, is not a prophecy; as, for instance, Balaam’s, Numbers 24, or Caiaphas’s, John 11:51, is no testimony to the man that said it. Therefore we must be just as critical of prophecies as of miracles, and must hold firmly that all prophecies must accord with the faith once delivered to the saints (Romans 12:7).

,,This distinction, which has to be made with reference to miracles and prophecies, shows that they cannot be characteristic marks of the Church. They need to be sifted and tried by the pure Word and the Scriptural Confession of the Church; they do not give a clear testimony; they, according to their nature, call to inquiry,—and this so much the more because it is not the Church only that has these uncertain witnesses; but heretics too, heathen, and Antichrist, boast and will boast of them" (Three Books 146-49).

The Lutheran Confessions in Augsburg Confession VII and VIII list the following as the true marks of the Church:

Preaching of the gospel (which is Christ crucified for us and our sins)

The Sacraments (which are Baptism and the Lord's Supper, but the Apology also allows for Absolution (Apology XIII.4) and Ordination (Apology XIII.11) to be acknowledged as sacraments).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Practice of Weekly Communion

I was quickly browsing an article on Lutherische Beitraege last night (and wondering if my copy was in the mail -- today it arrived from Germany with a bonus: a copy of Martti Vaahtoranta's ,,Mission der Liebe" [Mission of Love]). The article is by Gottfried Martens and is called ,,The Practice of Weekly Communionion in the SELK". Here is a link the the original German and a Google translation into English. The english translation is not great, but it allows you to get the basic gist of Martens' essay.

Martens' second through fourth paragraphs focus on a practical issue regarding the Lord's Supper. How does a Lutheran pastor/church bring communion frequency into compliance with Apology XXIV.1 (For among us masses are celebrated every Lord's Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved.)? Martens notes that in the SELK there are a number of Lutheran churches which only offer the Lord's Supper once a month, usually on the 2nd or 3rd Sunday of the month. I find the same in the LCMS: many churches do not offer the Lord's Supper each Sunday.

It is a long and patient process to move a congregation from its current practice to the confessional practice of every Sunday communion. At my church, the process has been going on for at least twenty years and by three different pastors. It involves lots of teaching and dealing with misconceptions and straw men arguments.

I suspect that the modern disdain for every Sunday communion comes from a latent Pietism among Lutherans. Most, but not all, pietistic Lutherans emphasized a knowledge of Jesus based on subjective experiences over objective doctrine and tended to demphasize the Sacraments, especially the Lord's Supper. As such, Pietism encouraged infrequent communion. This lead to some churches only celebrating the Sacrament at Christmas and Easter, while others celebrated it quarterly or once a month. The one person who bucked this trend was The Rev. Wilhelm Loehe. He held Pietism and Confessional Lutheranism in balance. He probably isn't the only Lutheran to have done so, and I suspect it was not an easy balance to maintain at times.

In the LCMS, pastors, theologians, and lay people have been trying for the past 30 years to steer attitudes back to the proper and confessional understanding of the frequency of the Lord's Supper. At times it seems to be like molasses rolling up a hill in January, but it is a task that is worth undertaking. Like the SELK, previous LCMS conventions have passed resolutions that commend congregations to celebrate the Lord's Supper every Sunday. I commend Dr. Martens for his insightful and hard-hitting article about the frequency of the Lord's Supper.

For more, check out:

St. James the Hoosier

The Blessings of Weekly Communion, The Rev. James Woelmer