Saturday, May 14, 2005

New Prefect in the Congregation....

With a move that I find somewhat interesting, and would never have guessed, Benedict XVI named Archbishop William J. Levada to be the new Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I am somewhat surprised that an American is given this position. I don't know what it means, but it is interesting. You can read more here.

Grace and Peace,

Friday, May 13, 2005

Star Wars -- Epsiode III Versus the Council of Nicea

This webpage is really too funny.

The thought that Star Wars Episode III is a rewriting of Nicea is rather amusing.

Grace and Peace,

Thieves in the Night

1 Thessalonians 5

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. Beloved, pray for us. Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Never more has this passage been on my mind. Yesterday evening, some parishioners and I discovered that our church building had been broken into yet again. This is the third time since last August. Each time they have stolen the coins (really not all that much) in our Coins for Christ bottle (a 5-gallon water cooler jug). Are these attempts a reminder for us about the day of the Lord? And how do we respond to them? The talk in the congregation is about security systems, which might be appropriate. After all, we spend almost $200 every time a brick goes through a window and $5-10 is taken. What is the balance between stewardship of our building, and our mission to live out the Gospel?

A lot of arguments can be made about justice, and security, and stewardship, but my fear is that we use those to neglect our mission to the poor and those in need. The folks that the police suspect are in great need and probably mentally unstable. What is our responsibility toward them? How do we love them? This question is perhaps one of the great challenges of Christianity. Love does not always look the same. But we are called to live out our faith, I believe, through works of mercy.

How do we as Christians bear wrongs patiently? Putting up security systems or barriers to entry? Are we more secure then? When they say, “There is peace and security.” Then sudden destruction will come upon them. It is generally thought that Paul was writing here about a slogan of sorts propagated by the Roman Empire. We are not saved through our security. Our trust should not be placed in that peace and security. In fact, a friend of mine has made the claim that as Christians we are free to live in holy insecurity. We must not wall ourselves off as Christians ignoring our call to proclaim the Gospel. Our lives as Christians are ones that look forward to the coming of Christ, and as such, we are free to live with the world crashing in on us. Our security is ultimately assured.

How free are we to live lives where we seek not to repay evil for evil? How do we care for the ones who are in need? We should live, I think, as the chapter in Thessalonians, closes, full of the grace of Jesus, who did not return insult with insult, or violence with violence. It is probable that some sort of security measures pop up here at the congregation, but it is my hope that we move forward with another response as well.

Grace and Peace,


Monday, May 09, 2005

Links for Perusal

Pentecost is coming. A wonderful little piece on Pentecost is to be found at Anytime the Cappadocian Fathers are quoted, I am interested. :)

Also, some interesting articles on capitalism at The Other Journal. The first is by Dan Bell, professor at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (LTSS). He talks about the problem with the problem with capitalism. His piece is interesting, but I think he could go further with the eschatological implications. If capitalism deforms our desire, so that we are led away from our true end in God, then capitalism (at least as it is currently practiced at any rate) is a system that diverts our vision to the end of time. We work not for this life, but for the eschaton, and the Reign of God which comes then.

The second is by D. Stephen Long, who professor at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. His main point is that Adam Smith is the father of another kind of "church." Some acquaintance with the economic personalities, Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes, is helpful. This article is part memoir, part critique. Interesting for sure, but could have some more teeth.

Grace and Peace,

Friday, May 06, 2005

Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Pope Benedict XVI

The election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the chair of Peter was one that made me a little nervous. After all, Ratzinger was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. And as such, the media would have us believe that he is a rotweiler. He is against all sorts of things that good Americans should be for… women priests… gay and lesbian marriage… warm and fuzzy bunnies. Ok, maybe he does like warm an fuzzy bunnies, but if he is German, then those warm bunnies probably came out of an oven. Not surprisingly, at his election, I was cautious. This man had after all written the document Dominus Iesus, in 2000, which seemed to be a step away from the recently signed and agreed upon Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). That document was a major breakthrough in ecumenical relations between the Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Justification is, for Lutherans after all, that idea by which the Church stands or falls. How is it that we are made right with God? The Augsburg Confession says in its fourth article, aptly titled “Justification,”

Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.

What is at stake here? Naturally that we are in no way justified by our own works. We cannot earn or storm our way into heaven by the merit of anything that we have done. And of course, the confutation of the fourth article says as much. What happens though, is that the Roman Catholic stance talks about works that are done through God’s grace make one worthy, which is difficult for many Lutherans to swallow. What I think is happening here, is that the two parties have been talking past one another. Lutherans want to talk about justification, but Romans have been talking mainly about the life lived after justification, or in other words, sanctification. That idea is a problem since Lutherans don’t agree as to whether any sanctification happens at all in this life, or if in our justification, we are merely declared righteous, and only made so at the end when Christ returns. But this conversation is one for another time.

Back to Benedict… With conversations that I have had, things that I have read, and the like, I am beginning to feel somewhat optimistic and hopeful in Benedict. Much of this optimism started with an email that was forwarded to me by one of my classmates at seminary. The email had been written by our systematic theology professor, David Yeago, who had said that Ratzinger was one of the four or five greatest living theologians, and had single handedly saved the JDDJ from being out and out rejected. Then, when reading another blog, Confessing Evangelical (which I really like and heartily recommend), the confessing evangelical quoted a newspaper article by Christopher Howse, who said something similar to Yeago, but with much more detail. Howse wrote,

According to the Lutheran theologian, Joachim Track, Ratzinger made three concessions that saved the agreement from collapse (including a declaration thatjustification and final judgment were God's gracious acts).

If this incident showed Cardinal Ratzinger as an altogether more open and conciliatory figure than the fierce enforcer depicted by his opponents, his actions as pope will be watched almost as keenly by Christians outside his jurisdiction as by the flock of this German Shepherd.

In an article by John Allen, reporter for the National Catholic Recorder, Ratzinger is even mentioned as pondering the status of the Augsburg Confession. Allen writes,

"Ratzinger has been involved in dialogue with Lutherans from way back,” said Br. Jeffrey Gros, ecumenical affairs specialist for the U.S. bishops. “In the 1980s he was even interested in declaring the Augsburg Confession [the first Lutheran declaration of faith] a Catholic document. To think that he wanted to torpedo this [agreement] is a total misread.”

This in itself is interesting, since the Lutheran World Federation requires only that a body recognize the Augsburg Confession in order to be Lutheran. If Ratzinger were to do declare the CA a “Catholic document”, what would this do to Lutheran bodies across the world? Again, something fascinating, for future pondering.

So what were the three concessions that Ratzinger made? (quoting from Allen’s article, with some comments of mine)

  1. He agreed that the goal of the ecumenical process is unity in diversity, not structural reintegration. “This was important to many Lutherans in Germany, who worried that the final aim of all this was coming back to Rome,” Track said.
  2. Ratzinger fully acknowledged the authority of the Lutheran World Federation to reach agreement with the Vatican. This concession might seem like a nitpick, but it has much to do with a view of the location from which authority stems, which will be a further issue in ecumenical dialogue.
  3. Ratzinger agreed that while Christians are obliged to do good works, justification and final judgment remain God’s gracious acts. Amen and amen… Too often Lutherans have held that we need not do any good works, since we are justified by God’s grace alone. A healthy dose of language that impels us to work for the furthering of the Kingdom is greatly needed. We are freed FROM sin, death and the devil, as well as being freed FOR something… As I reminded my Confirmation students last week, the Kingdom is coming no matter what. We pray “Thy kingdom come” so that it might actually come in and among us.

Being a German, Benedict XVI would surely be looking for some reconciliation in his homeland. On a recent visit to the Vatican the current presiding bishop of the ELCA, Mark Hanson, encouraged John Paul II to allow Eucharistic sharing between Rome and Lutherans by 2017, five hundred years after Luther posted the 95 theses. Maybe, the time is right.

Grace and Peace,