Captain Thin

Robert-Barnes-justification

“The Lamb hath alone died for us, the Lamb only hath shed his blood for us: the Lamb only hath redeemed us; these things hath he done alone; now, if these be sufficient, then hath he alone made satisfaction, and is alone worthy to be our Redeemer and Justifier.” – Only Faith Justifieth Before God (Robert Barnes, English martyr)

On this day, we remember the Rev. Dr. Robert Barnes, martyred for the faith July 30, 1540. Barnes, Prior of the Augustinian monastery in Cambridge, preached a Christmas Eve sermon in 1526 which expressed criticism of ecclesiastical abuses. This sermon is often credited as the beginning in earnest of the English Reformation. Not coincidentally, Barnes is also considered one of England’s first Lutherans. He was a member of the group which met at the White Horse Inn.

Barnes was not executed alone. Reflecting the politically-charged nature of the Reformation in England, he was executed along with five others: two of them Evangelicals (ie, Protestants) and three of them conservatives (ie, Roman Catholics). All were executed without the benefit of a trial. Shortly before the execution, the three Protestants (Barnes, William Jerome, and Thomas Garrett) had been invited to preach at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The three Catholics (Thomas Abel, Richard Fetherston, and Edward Powell) had all supported Queen Catherine when Henry VIII sought to have the marriage annulled. The Protestants were executed for heresy; the Catholics for treason.

While we thank God for the faithful witness of Robert Barnes, we also pray for the day when Christian division would cease, according to the prayer of Jesus. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17: 20-23).

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Regular readers of this blog will remember me plugging The Christian Humanist Podcast (CHP) from time to time. If you’re at all interested in theology, philosophy, literature, “and other things that human beings do well,” as the tagline goes, then it’s well-worth listening to.

TertullianCHP just took on one of Tertullian‘s works recently, and the resulting episode is very enjoyable. Go listen to it, but before you do be sure to read the piece by Tertullian. It’s called “On Idolatry” and you can find it online here.

I had a few comments after listening which I’m sharing with the show on its website, but thought I’d post them here as well. [In case you're interested, I've previously discussed one of their episodes on Luther's Freedom of a Christian over at First Things in a post entitled"Non-Lutherans Reading Luther: What Makes Good Works 'Good'?".] Now, my unpolished thoughts on the Tertullian episode:

Hi all,

Just listened to the Tertullian podcast and thought it great. The episodes where you take on a particular text are always among my favourites.

Michial’s comments about how doing theology in general can become a form of idolatry were thought-provoking. They were balanced nicely by David’s comments about the need (and difficulty) of submitting our theological reflection to the greater authority of revelation. Otherwise we are very much in danger of re-creating God in our own image.

I can’t help but think of Helmut Thielicke’s classic A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. Despite the rather patronizing-sounding title (the German original is not so offensive), the book is useful reminder to those who study theology that their “superior” learning does not give them leave to ignore the thoughts (and occasional rebukes) of “simpler” Christians. One important note Thielicke makes is that the theologian must not presume to think he can simply study theology at arm’s length. “We must also take seriously the fact that the ‘subject’ of theology, Jesus Christ, can only be regarded rightly,” he writes, “if we are ready to meet Him on the plane where He is active, that is, within the Christian church. Only the Son knows who the Father is; only the servant knows who the Lord is.” In other words, our examination of the things of faith must be mediated by the revelation of Christ—in His Word (Scripture) and His body (the Church).

This is, incidentally, why Lutherans have a bit of trouble with Calvinist approaches to theology. From our perspective, the Calvinist has too strong an urge to try make logical sense of everything, whereas Lutherans instead warn about the danger of peering into the “hidden things of God.” The prime example is the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement. It certainly makes good logical sense of the doctrine of election, but nevertheless distorts (to my mind at least) the clear Scriptural teaching that God desires all to be saved. (I’ve broached this subject at First Things before in an article entitled “Why Lutheran Predestination isn’t Calvinist Predestination.”)

I’d also like to thank Michial for his pastoral reflections on idolatry and our own guiltiness and need for grace. While Tertullian might imply we can somehow avoid sinning, Michial comes in with a much more realistic (and biblical) take: that we are all guilty, both of sin ourselves and culpability in supporting the sin of others. As St. John puts it so well, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). That being the case, claiming like Tertullian that we can fully avoid idolatry actually results in falling into another form of idolatry—one in which God declares us righteous on the basis of our sinlessness. Expecting God to say we’re doing just fine? That’s the Pharisee’s god. But it’s the Publican who gets things right, coming in repentance to a God who is just but nevertheless merciful.  Otherwise you have a Christianity that doesn’t need Christ. And if that’s not idolatry, I don’t know what is.

Thanks for a great show, as usual.

Mathew

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A word of thanks to those continuing the conversation about my recent First Things article “Are Lutherans Catholic?”. Gene Veith has some great conversation on the topic going on over at his blog Cranach, and Rev. Larry Peters is writing something similar over at Pastoral Meanderings (with reference to my “Too Damn Catholic” post from over on A Christian Thing). Nathan Rinne has also been contributing to the topic over at the Just & Sinner website.

It’s well worth checking out the conversation going on in these places, and I commend them all to your reading.

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The topic of assisted suicide and euthanasia is currently under fierce discussion in courts and newspapers across the country. The proposition is that the option of suicide in the face of uncontrollable suffering (whether physical, mental, or emotional) should be a fundamental right of all Canadians, and should be included in conscientious palliative care. Related is the idea of euthanasia, which is when the decision to bring about intentional death is made by a third party because the person believed to be suffering is unable to communicate a decision.

On the surface, this all sounds very compassionate. But couched in this compassionate-sounding language is a very harsh belief: that some lives are more worth prolonging than others, and that some people should choose to die.

So writes L. Block in a recent article for The Canadian Lutheran. I have read no more careful and compassionate article on this topic, and recommend it to your reading—especially in light of the fact that Quebec recently legalized euthanasia. Rather than write lots about Block’s article here, I’m just going to quote it at length.

Although presented as a choice, this “right to die” has the potential to become a “duty to die,” which would affect the most vulnerable people in our society. People who don’t want to die may choose suicide rather than become a burden to their families, or may be convinced to choose suicide for someone else’s perceived good, opening the door to widespread elder abuse.

And how would such a change affect our existing palliative care system? It isn’t hard to see that helping people end their lives is much less expensive than offering high quality palliative care for an extended period of time. There is also a very real possibility that the “right to die” could be extended beyond those with terminal illnesses to include people with disabilities, or even mental illness. In Belgium, where the option of assisted suicide exists for those deemed to be suffering psychological anguish, this has already happened. What kind of a message will that send? “Your life is hard, because you can’t see/hear/think/move like other people. You can die if you want to.”

hands-of-mercy-candleHow does that impart hope to those despairing in the grip of depression, or offer encouragement to those striving to succeed despite physical or mental handicap? And how would it affect the kind of resources available? It is clearly much less expensive to usher someone out of life quietly than find a high quality group home for them. Or pay for the wheel-chair-friendly renovations on their house now that they have a spinal cord injury. And what about those who are completely dependent on others for all their care, or who can’t communicate a desire to live?

If our attitude as a society shifts to embrace the notion that some people are worth less than other people, our willingness to care for them will shift as well. Expressed in offhand comments, facial expressions, or tone of voice, this negative perception would do untold damage to our most vulnerable.

And the Christian response:

All of this runs entirely counter to Christ’s model for the Church. Jesus Christ also preached compassion. He offered relief of suffering to the lepers, not by ending their lives, but by loving them. He reached out with physical and spiritual healing for the disabled. He opened His arms to the children, all the children, including the child afflicted by an evil spirit. Given for “the least of these,” this is real compassion. This is His model for us, too. We are not to be seduced by the idea of this world, that young people with perfect bodies and minds are somehow better and more deserving of life than those who are old, or ill, or dying, or disabled. We must speak up for those who cannot….

Euthanasia must not be used as a balm to ease the suffering of those who are witnessing the death, or the disability, or the pain. We cannot use it to ease our own consciences, to say, “We did the right thing.” No, as is often the case, the right thing is definitely not the easy thing. We cannot show compassion by being the hands of death; we must instead be the hands of Christ.

Go read it all at The Canadian Lutheran.

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confessio-augustana-web

On June 25, 1530 at the Diet of Augsburg, the Evangelical German princes presented The Augsburg Confession to theHoly Roman Emperor Charles V. This document, crafted by Philip Melanchthon, stands to this day as the principal explanation of what it means to be a Lutheran.

And what does it mean to be a Lutheran? Nothing more than that we are truly catholic Christians. We teach in accord with the Scriptures and with the Church’s faithful re-presentation of the Scriptures.

Wait… we’re catholic? What does that mean?

Find an answer in my new post over at First Things: Are Lutherans Catholic?”

A small sampling:

Are confessional Lutherans catholic? Yes. And we always will be, so long as we hold fast to the traditions of the Apostles, written in the Scriptures and faithfully passed down to us by the Church. Consequently, I cannot help thinking that those seeking out a “Protestant Future” should in fact be looking to the Protestant Past. Looking for a church which faithfully receives the catholic tradition while clearly proclaiming the authority of Scripture? Looking for a church which is both sacramental and devoted to salvation by grace through faith alone? Looking, in other words, for an Evangelical Catholic Church? It already exists. It’s called Lutheranism.

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It’s become almost commonplace to note that Canada is not the nation it once was. We have quickly become a post-Christian society—a nation which counts Christian faith as part of its history but not its future. Last year, Statistics Canada announced that the number of Canadians identifying as Christian has dropped dramatically: from 77% in 2001 to 67% in 2011. And a new study confirms that fewer and fewer Canadians—even self-professed Christians—recognize the Bible as God’s Word. The fact is, most Canadian Christians never read the Bible at all.

So begins my most recent column for The Canadian Lutheran. It considers the increasingly secular culture in which Canadian Christians find themselves, and notes a rising intolerance towards Christians in our country. To be sure, this intolerance is not persecution in the strict sense of the term, I note; we do not face martyrdom the way some people—Mariam Ibrahim of Sudan, for example—do for professing faith in Christ. “Nevertheless,” I argue, Christians in Canada are also learning, if only a little, what it means to suffer for Christ.

That our nation is becoming increasingly secular is obvious; but how Christians should respond is less so. As the article goes on, I explore what it means to stand firm in the faith in our changing context (and how, when you think about it, there’s never really been a ‘golden age’ to be a Christian anyway).

Read it all in “Standing on Guard.”

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Gene-Veith-Imagination-web-banner

Why is the imaginative life important for Christians?

I ask that question, among others, to Dr. Gene Veith in a recent interview for The Canadian Lutheran. In the course of the discussion, we delved into such topics as Christian subcultures, imaginative apologetics, C.S. Lewis, and how the Church can foster a healthy imaginative life.

A couple of snippets to whet your appetite:

Many of the obstacles against the Christian faith in people’s minds are really imaginative creations: they think of God as an old man with a beard up in the sky looking down on this suffering world, and they can’t believe that. No one should believe that. God is much bigger than that…

And another:

C.S. Lewis wonders why he didn’t see how mind-blowing and wonderful Christianity is when he was first taught it as a child. Part of the problem, he says, is that it wasn’t taught in a way that addressed the imagination. He marvels how it is possible to make the story of God-becoming-flesh and dying for sinful man so boring. But that’s how it was presented to him as a youth.

Gene Veith, Provost and Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College in Virginia, was keynote speaker for the Canadian Centre for Scholarship and the Christian Faith’s third annual conference March 21-22, 2014 at Concordia University College of Alberta in Edmonton. His topic was “The Arts, the Imagination, and the Christian Life.”

Dr. Veith is the author of numerous books, including The Spirituality of the Cross and God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. He is also co-author of a forthcoming title on the Christian imagination.

Read the full interview at The Canadian Lutheran. You may also want to check out Gene’s site Cranach, where he is using the interview as the starting point for additional online discussion.

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