Luther’s Religious Impact on Germany

The most profound impact of Luther on his people was in their religion.  His sermons were read to the congregations, his liturgy was sung, his catechism was rehearsed by the father with the household, his Bible cheered the fainthearted and consoled the dying. If no Englishman occupies a similar place in the religious life of his people, it is because no Englishman had anything like Luther’s range. The Bible translation in England was the work of Tyndale, the prayer book of Cramner, the catechism of the Westminster divines. The sermonic style stemmed from Latimer; the hymn book came from Watts. And not all of these lived in one century. 

Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther

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The Church’s Message is Jesus

What is the church’s message to the world? The church’s message, quite simply, is Jesus.

  • Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and exalted to the right hand of the Father.
  • Jesus Christ, friend of sinners, humble in birth and lowly in life.
  • Jesus Christ, powerful in word and deed.
  • Jesus Christ, bearer of the kingdom in this age and the next.
  • Jesus Christ, obedient to the point of death, for us and for our salvation.
  • Jesus Christ, victor over death and the devil, ruler of the kings of the earth.
  • Jesus Christ, the conquering Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
  • Jesus Christ, coming in majesty to judge the earth in righteousness and to reign forever in glory.
  • Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
  • Jesus Christ, before whom every creature in heaven and earth kneels in wonder, love and praise.
  • Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, Son of God incarnate, eternally begotten of the Father.
  • Jesus Christ, in the powerful witness of the Holy Spirit.
  • Jesus Christ, in every page of sacred scripture and the apex of its story.
  • Jesus Christ, the new Adam, the first fruits of the coming resurrection of the dead.
  • Jesus Christ, heir of God’s promises to Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets.
  • Jesus Christ, sage, prophet, priest and king.
  • Jesus Christ, Israel’s long-expected messiah and savior.
  • Jesus Christ, calling all people to repentance, faith and discipleship.
  • Jesus Christ, regenerating, justifying and sanctifying believers.
  • Jesus Christ, uniting Jew and Gentile in one people of God.
  • Jesus Christ, the wisdom of God, teaching the way of blessing and righteousness.
  • Jesus Christ, the living head of one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
  • Jesus Christ, in the water of baptism and the bread of communion.
  • Jesus Christ, in the common creeds of the church’s confession.
  • Jesus Christ, in the prayers and praises of his people.
  • Jesus Christ, in the loving fellowship of the brethren and service in the world.

Continue reading “The Church’s Message is Jesus”

An Orthodox View of the Atonement

Craig Adams called my attention to this post by Orthodox priest Stephen Freeman on Athanasius and the atonement.  Freeman writes,

Sin is not a legal problem because God is not a lawyer (and neither is a priest if he knows his business). Sin is a death problem. It’s far more like a disease than anything else. … That process of death and corruption is not a punishment – it is a consequence. God does not say, “In the day you eat of it, I will kill you.” He warns, “You will surely die.”  … This is the true atonement. Being made one (at-one-ment) with the Living God, we have life, not according to reward, nor according to the law, but according to the God/Man who took our dying nature upon Himself and endured death. Trampling down death, He rose again that all who are united to Him might trample down death and rise as well.

This is a somewhat different approach than the legal or forensic view of the atonement more prevalent in Catholic and Protestant thought. I find it impossible to abandon the legal language that the scriptural writers themselves used to describe God’s actions in the world, but I want to explore the Orthodox point of view a bit more. The “moral influence” and “political martyr”  views of Christ’s death so prevalent in progressive Christianity are wholly inadequate to the witness of the scriptures. Forensic theories have their own issues. For me, the bottom line is that that Christ’s death and resurrection had an ontological effect – a saving effect –  both for the cosmos, and for those who unite themselves to him in faith at the font and at the table. The Orthodox way of looking at the atonement appears to capture that facet of the gospel.

Read the whole thing and digest the Athanasius quotes for yourself.

Update: Freeman posted a follow-up here, which addresses the legal language in the scripture and the liturgy.

The Coincidence of Ascension Day and the National Day of Prayer

Yesterday marked both the Christian observance of Ascension Day and the civic observance of the National Day of Prayer.

The latter is a function of American civil religion which dates to 1952. The current practice of observing the National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of May dates to 1988. The text of the president’s politically inclusive 2016 proclamation is here.

For Christians, the Feast of the Ascension is the infinitely more important of the two observances. Based on the chronology in the Book of Acts, it comes 40 days after Easter and commemorates Christ ascension to the right hand of God.

Christ’s ascension is central to the apostolic Christian faith, yet Ascension Day is the most underappreciated festival of the Christian year. The orthodox Christians who confess the Apostles and Nicene creeds affirm “He ascended into heaven.” There, as the creed reminds us, “he is seated at the right hand of the Father.” There he reigns as the Lord of heaven and earth and the head of his church. From there he pours out the Holy Spirit. There he sits in power until he comes again in glory to restore all creation. There the church meets him by faith in its prayer, worship and fellowship. There he joins us at the Eucharistic table as both priest and sacrifice as the veil between heaven and earth is pulled away.

Surely Christ’s exaltation to the right hand of God has something to say about how Christians understand and practice prayer.

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Skip the Atonement Theories on Good Friday

Today is the day to tell the whole story of Jesus’ last hours in earthly flesh: his agony in the garden, his betrayal and abandonment by those closest to him, his arrest, his trials before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, his torture at the hands of soldiers, his crucifixion, his words and his conduct on the cross, the reaction of witnesses and bystanders, the heavenly events that accompanied his crucifixion, his death, anointing and burial. Telling the whole story is important.

This is not the day to reduce the gospel narrative to a bare fact – Jesus died – and then use that fact as a springboard for an exposition of the doctrine of atonement or the history of sacrifice in the Old Testament. It is not the day to reduce the meaning of his crucifixion to a single theory of salvation. The church’s observance of Good Friday focuses on retelling the story of Jesus’ last day, not on a theological system.

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