10 June 2017

Understanding the Four Marks

What is the Church? I think that question is very easy for most of us to answer. In the Smalcald Articles, one of our confessions, Martin Luther called it, "[the] holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd." In other words, the Church is all people who hear the word of Christ and believe in Him (Rom 10:17).

Toward the end of the Nicene Creed, we confess our belief in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We know what the Church is as an entity; what is the meaning of her Four Marks? In this post I shall summarize what it means that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic from a Lutheran perspective.

Jasper Lutheran Church in Jasper, Alberta. Original photo by Chris06.
The Church is one. Article VII of the Augsburg Confession tells us that the Church is one because it is one body indwelled by one Spirit. Moreover, her members have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one hope that belongs to their call. Her members know the same gospel and they receive the same sacraments because of her oneness.

The Church is holy. It is stated in Part III, Article XII of the Smalcald Articles that the Church's holiness, "consists of the Word of God and true faith." She is made holy, i.e., set apart by God's Word and the faith she receives through it.

The Church is catholic. The section concerning the Church in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession says she is catholic or universal because she is made up of people scattered throughout the world who have the same gospel, sacraments, etc.

The Church is apostolic. In the Treatise it is written that the Church is built on the ministry of the confession that St. Peter made in Caesarea Philippi, viz., that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The New Testament ministry that nourishes the Church is rooted in the apostle's confession.

You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners. (Song of Solomon 6:4, NRSV)

03 June 2017

James and Justification

Portrait of Martin Luther
in Wamckow church.
Photo by Niteshift
in cooperation with
In the New Testament James 2:24 says this: You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (NRSV) (This is the only verse in the Bible where we find the term faith alone.) Some Roman Catholics and Eastern Christians claim that the verse clearly rejects the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone. In this post I shall demonstrate why James 2:24 certainly does not reject what we Lutherans believe is truly a biblical doctrine.

What is the Context?

Beginning at James 2:21, St. James asserts that Abraham was "justified" by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. Then, in verses 22 and 23, he elaborates by saying Abraham's faith and said works were active together and that his faith's motion was brought to completion by the works. In other words, Abraham showed his faith by his works when he obediently offered his son on the altar. Moreover, what Abraham did fulfilled or confirmed Genesis 15:5–6 by demonstrating that he truly did believe God's promise that his descendants [through Isaac] would be numerous like the stars. Next, James says in verse 24 that that is how a person is "justified" by works. Then, in verse 25, he cites the story of Rahab as another example to prove his assertion. Finally, he concludes the chapter by saying in verse 26 that faith without works is dead just as the body without the spirit is dead. James' maxim, "faith without works is dead" is related to what he wrote in verse 1: My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? (NRSV)

It is very apparent that the second chapter of James' Epistle advises readers that genuine faith should induce appropriate works. Moreover, such works are evidence in the sight of God and people that faith is really held. Contextually, James 2:24 is not about being justified in the evangelical sense (absolved and accounted as righteous for the sake of Christ), rather, it is about being proved true of faith through its works. This is one verse in the Bible where the word justified means "vindicated."

The Many Definitions of Justified

  • In Job 40:8, justified (Heb. tiṣedaq) means "vindicated."
  • In Luke 7:29, justified (Gk. edikaiôsan) means "acknowledged."
  • In Acts 13:39, justified (Gk. dikaioutai) means "absolved."
  • In Galatians 3:8, justify (Gk. dikaioi) means "account as righteous."

We are absolved and accounted as righteous by faith alone. However, we are vindicated, i.e., proved true by works and not by faith alone.

23 May 2017

Infant Baptism and Faith

Baptismal font in St. Anna's Church in Schindellegi, Switzerland. Original photo by Roland zh.

In the Lutheran tradition, we baptize people of all ages. Infants are not excluded from receiving the sacrament of Holy Baptism, and it is normal to have them baptized days or weeks or months after birth.

Lutheran pastors baptize infants not because it is sheer custom or because it looks sweet or whatever. Infants are baptized for the same reasons that everybody else is baptized:

Although infants are not guilty of actual sin, that is to say, they do not commit sin, original sin is reckoned to them because their hearts are evil (Gen 8:21).

The aforelisted effects of Holy Baptism are not produced by the mere performance of the sacrament. Indeed, the sacrament is always valid but its effects are given to the recipient only through faith (Mark 16:16; Col 2:12). Because Scripture clearly associates Baptism with faith, some traditions other than Lutheranism reject the practice of infant Baptism because in their view, infants do not possess faith.

There is a sound reason to believe infants do receive all the wonderful effects of Baptism: Scripture tells us that God gives infants faith.

  • In Psalm 71:6, we read that King David leaned upon God from his birth.
  • In Matthew 19:13–14, we read of little ones being brought to Jesus and He speaks of them coming to Him.
  • In Matthew 21:15–16, we read of God causing infants to praise Christ in the temple.
  • In Luke 1:15, we read that St. John the Baptizer was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born.

The passages above demonstrate that infants can receive the gift of faith because in order for one to lean upon God, go to Him, praise Him, and be filled with His Spirit, one must possess faith.

We should bring our babies for Baptism and trust that God will give them faith to receive its benefits. He certainly will, for Christ said, "[I]t is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." (Matt 19:14) The implication of such a statement is that an infant's faith is the purest faith.

18 May 2017

The Meaning of the Lord's Prayer

From The Lord's Prayer
by James Tissot
The Lord's Prayer was taught to us by the Lord Jesus almost 2,000 years ago. During the divine service we pray it between the anaphora and the distribution of Communion; in our personal and familial devotions, we ideally pray it twice per day. Although the Lord's Prayer is ancient and unchangeable, I find that it never gets old and I love it as it is. As a child of God the Father, you most likely are fond of it and you take comfort in praying it. As Lutherans we learn the meanings of its seven petitions by consulting one of Martin Luther's two catechisms.

In this post we will learn the meanings of the petitions of the Lord's Prayer with the help of Luther's Large Catechism. You can find the aforementioned writing in the Book of Concord.

The first petition is, "hallowed be thy name." The very name of God is in itself always hallowed, i.e., holy, and in this petition we pray that it will be hallowed among us also. Therefore in this petition we are asking God to make both our life and doctrine Christian and godly. (LC III 37, 39)

The second petition is, "thy kingdom come." What is the kingdom of God? It is Jesus Christ ruling us as a king of salvation, life, and righteousness. In this petition we are asking God to keep us faithful subjects of His kingdom, to help us grow in it every day, and to bring more people into it all over the world. (LC III 51, 52)

The third petition is, "thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Although the Almighty's name is always hallowed and His kingdom comes even before we ask, we still pray that His will, i.e., those things, be done. In this petition we are asking God to help us carry out His will contrary to those who are against it, namely, the devil, the world, and our own flesh. (LC III 67, 68)

The fourth petition is, "Give us this day our daily bread." Bread in the term daily bread does not solely denote a loaf of rye that we might need. It is all good things we require for our well-being, and they come from God. In this petition we are asking Him for those things so that we might know they come from Him and recognize in them His paternal goodness toward us. (LC III 73, 82, 83)

The fifth petition is, "and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." We grow in our Christian life yet we are not without sin. God forgives us our sins daily and abundantly, and in this petition we are asking Him to do that just as He promised. Although He freely forgives us, we ourselves should forgive others in order to have the assurance that He indeed forgives us. (LC III 86, 88, 92, 95, 96)

The sixth petition is, "and lead us not into temptation." We will be tempted by the devil, the world, and the flesh until the day we meet our risen Lord and beautiful Saviour. In this petition we are asking God to give us strength to resist all temptation so that we do not become shaky and fall into sin, shame, and unbelief. (LC III 101, 102, 105, 106)

The seventh petition is, "but deliver us from evil." What is evil? As a noun, evil is the devil and all things under his kingdom such as death, poverty, tragic misery, and the obstruction of God's will. In this petition we are asking God to free us from all that is called evil. (LC III 113, 114, 115)

We end the Lord's Prayer with the Hebrew word Amen. We use that word to affirm our faith that God will truly grant us our requests because He has promised to do so. (LC III 120)

For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:10, NRSV)

19 April 2017

Did Jesus Say His Flesh is Useless?

From Woman Receiving the Eucharist
by Félix-Joseph Barrias
Earlier this month I finished reading Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton at my local library. In one latter chapter I read about the Marburg Colloquy. An assembly of German and Swiss theologians were at a castle belonging to Philipp I of Hessen that overlooked the Lahn. Among the theologians were Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and Johannes Oekolampad. At the beginning of their discussion, Luther drew a circle upon a table using chalk and then he wrote inside of it, "This is my body." Oekolampad, not sharing Luther's eucharistic theology, stated those words of Jesus must be taken metaphorically rather than literally because Jesus' body is in Heaven and, "the flesh is useless." Zwingli also rejected a literal interpretation because he too believed, "the flesh is useless." According to them, Jesus doesn't give us His body to eat because it cannot benefit us being that it is flesh. Where did they get this idea from? Scripture, it seems!

In the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel, we find a teaching from Jesus that was repugnant to apparently most of the original hearers in Capernaum:
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35, NRSV)
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. (John 6:54–55, NRSV)
Many who were would-be disciples of Jesus quickly stopped following Him after they heard that teaching. They complained and said, "How can anyone accept it?" (John 6:60) In response, Jesus asked them if His teaching offended them and what would they think if they were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before. He could have "elucidated" His teaching to them, but He didn't.

He went on to say this:
It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63, NRSV)
A Zwingli or Oekolampad might say, "Right there Jesus implied His teaching was metaphorical, for He said the spirit gives life and that the flesh is useless. Therefore, He does not give us His flesh to eat."

Personally I think Jesus' body is very far from useless. With His body He lived among people, preached to them, and performed miracles. With His body He was perfectly obedient to His Father, for us. With His body He made a sacrifice of atonement for our sins. With His body He conquered death and guaranteed our resurrection and glorification. When Jesus said, "The flesh is useless," He was obviously not talking about His own flesh but the nature of the natural person. That is what I for one gathered after reading the whole chapter!

Verse 63 concerns original sin rather than eucharistic theology. The would-be disciples did not accept Jesus' teaching on His body and blood because they like all natural people were inherently incapable of believing in Christ and accepting His words, and for that reason they did not receive life. Their flesh and ours is useless; the Father must send His Spirit to draw us to the Son!

You might ask, "What does it mean that Jesus' words that were spoken are spirit and life?" I would say they are spirit because they are the words of God rather than a natural person, and they are life because they produce life in those who gladly accept them. To believe in Him who is the bread of life is to have eternal life. Moreover, to worthily consume His body and blood in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is to be filled with eternal life.

17 March 2017

Romans: Justify, Justifies, Justified (NRSV)

Last month I published a post titled Paul and the Righteousness of God. Today, St. Patrick's Day, I rewrote it to be more consistent with the Book of Concord because recently I have switched to a quia subscription to the Book of Concord. If you read that post you will see that it is basically notes on the terms the righteousness of God and the righteousness from God in the Pauline corpus.

In this post, with God's help, I shall share notes on how to interpret the words justify, justifies, and justified in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans in the New Revised Standard Version from a Lutheran perspective. I have chosen Romans because that epistle contains more teaching on the doctrine of justification than any other Pauline epistle. As well, I have chosen to use the NRSV translation of the Bible because it is the one used in my denomination. I hope that those of you who are Lutheran readers of the NRSV will find this post helpful and beneficial.

The Meaning of Justify

In our common parlance, we often use the word justify with the meaning of, "to provide an acceptable explanation for;" e.g., "I can justify having invested our $1,000,000 into the Hershey Company." As well, we often use it with the meaning of, "to give grounds for;" e.g., "My latest transaction in the stock market does not justify you making me sleep on the couch tonight." We probably never use the word justify the way the Bible does, especially in the epistles of the apostle St. Paul where he writes about the doctrine of justification.

According to Article III of the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, one of our Lutheran confessions, the meaning of justify is twofold: (1) to absolve a sinner from all sins without any worthiness on their part, and (2) to account that person righteous because the righteousness of Christ is reckoned to that person; all of this is done by God, not us. As Paul uses the word when writing about the doctrine of justification, he uses it to mean those two things in different verses and passages. As Lutherans we should interpret the word justify that way in passages about justification, and the same rule applies to interpreting justifies and justified.

Romans 2

  • In Romans 2:13 justified means, "vindicated" because the passage is about the judgment.

Romans 3

  • In Romans 3:4 justified means, "vindicated" because the passage is about God's judgment being right.
  • In Romans 3:20 justified means, "accounted righteous."
  • In Romans 3:24 justified means, "absolved."
  • In Romans 3:26 justifies means, "accounts righteous."
  • In Romans 3:28 justified means, "accounted righteous."
  • In Romans 3:30 justify means, "account righteous."

Romans 4

  • In Romans 4:2 justified means, "accounted righteous."
  • In Romans 4:5 justifies means, "absolves."

Romans 5

  • In Romans 5:1 justified means, "accounted righteous."
  • In Romans 5:9 justified means, "absolved."

Romans 8

  • In Romans 8:30 justified means, "accounted righteous."
  • In Romans 8:33 justifies means, "vindicates" because the passage is about vindication.

Romans 10

If anything in this post is inaccurate, Kyrie eleison. I appreciate feedback from knowledgeable Lutherans. God bless!

11 March 2017

Views of Theodoret of Cyrrhus

Theodoret of Cyrrhus lived from about 393 to about 458. He was a theologian of the Antiochene school, a biblical commentator, and the bishop of the Greater Syrian city of Cyrrhus where he eventually passed into eternity to be with the Lord. He is one of the church fathers who is apparently honoured by the Church of the East. Recently I completely read his Demonstrations by Syllogisms, and in this post I shall go over some of his views that are contained in it.


He believed there is one substance of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The substance or Godhead is eternal, i.e., without beginning and without end. It is immortal, i.e., incapable of dying. It is impassible, i.e., incapable of suffering. It is immutable, i.e., not able to be changed. It is incorporeal, i.e., without a body or physical existence. It is incomposite, i.e., not made up of distinct parts or elements. It is uncircumscribed, i.e., we cannot trace a figure around it. It is omnipresent, i.e., it fills the whole universe. It is invisible, i.e., we cannot see it with our eyes.

As we can see, Theodoret's way of doing theology in his Demonstrations by Syllogisms is mostly apophatic, meaning, he describes God by telling us what God is not, e.g., not physical, not mortal, not visible, etc. What's very noteworthy is that he wrote that the Godhead is "simple and incomposite." We find then in his aforementioned writing what is perhaps an Eastern acknowledgement of the doctrine of divine simplicity, a very Western doctrine.


Despite misconceptions people might have about the Antiochene school of theology, Theodoret's Christology does not emphasize Jesus' human nature over His Divine nature. What I get out of his Demonstrations by Syllogisms is that he saw both natures as equally important. Like any orthodox and catholic writer, he believed the two natures were united together without impairment in one Person and never separated. As an Antiochene theologian, he was very careful to distinguish the Godhead and manhood from each other. He refused to speak of one nature as if it were the other. For Theodoret, it is wrong to say the Word suffered because the Godhead is impassible, and it is equally wrong to say the flesh is life-giving because the manhood is mortal. However, he believed we can rightly say the flesh is life-giving because of the Life united to it, and we can rightly say the suffering belongs to the Word insofar that it is the suffering of the flesh united to it.

Regarding the Incarnation, he taught that it happened at conception. The name Christ indicates pure Godhead and pure manhood, and the latter is body and soul. Because the Godhead is immutable, the Incarnation was not a change of the Word into flesh but an assumption of the flesh by the Word. Theodoret likened Jesus' body to a temple for that reason. Regarding the Atonement, he taught that because we sinned we needed, "a sacrifice free from every spot." Therefore Christ kept His body and soul, "clean from the stains of sin [and] for men's bodies gave His body and for their souls His soul." After the Resurrection there still remained, and there always will remain, the union of the two natures in one Person. On account of His flesh the faithful are members of Christ.

For Theodoret, everything he taught was in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the fathers of the Council of Nicaea. Moreover, to believe and confess the right doctrines about Jesus Christ is to be obedient to Scripture. As a Lutheran I like his standards and high view of Scripture!