Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fallen from God's favor, part 3

Continuing where we left this discussion a couple weeks ago (part one and two), John Calvin did not believe that the Scriptures described "election" and "adoption" in only one sense, even though many modern Calvinists use those terms in only one strict sense: the sense of God's eternal, predestined will for those who would be "regenerated" throughout history. Instead, John Calvin believed that in various places within Scripture we find a more "general election," a "common adoption," all of which fall under the rubric of a "common covenant" of grace. In this "common covenant" God makes people outwardly equal in receiving His mercy, favor, and status as His children. Commenting on Romans 9, Calvin writes:
There is no doubt that he has taken this from Moses, who declares that God would be merciful to whom he willed [Exodus 33:19], even though the statement concerned the chosen people, whose condition was outwardly equal, as if he had said that in common adoption is included in his presence a special grace toward some, like a more holy treasure; and that the common covenant does not prevent that small number from being set apart from the rank and file. Therefore Paul skillfully argues from the passage of Malachi that I have just cited that where God has made a covenant of eternal life and calls any people to himself, a special mode of election is employed for a part of them, so that he does not with indiscriminate grace effectually elect all [Romans 9:13].1

In other words, God "elects" or discriminately selects people out of the general world that stands condemned by their sin, and He graciously shows them favor by bringing them into a common covenant with Him, which can also be viewed as a common adoption into His family. This, according to Calvin, is how Paul sometimes speaks when discussing election. As I'll show in a moment, Calvin calls this general election. But Calvin contends that, according to Paul, this general election (i.e. this common covenant and adoption) does not automatically impart the Holy Spirit's work of regeneration, giving them the ability to please God in the things they do. Calvin continues:
It is easy to explain why the general election of a people is not always firm and effectual: to those with whom God makes a covenant, he does not at once give the spirit of regeneration that would enable them to persevere in the covenant to the very end. Rather, the outward change, without the working of inner grace, which might have availed to keep them, is intermediate between the rejection of mankind and the election of a meager number of the godly. The whole people of Israel has been called the "inheritance of God" yet many of them were foreigners. But because God has not pointlessly covenanted that he would become their Father and Redeemer, he sees to his freely given favor rather than to the many who treacherously desert him.2 

From this we can deduce that Calvin did not view the community of God's covenant people as elect and non-elect. Calvin viewed the covenant community as generally elect and specially elect.3 Actually to be more specific, Calvin explicitly calls this special mode of election, employed for a part of the generally elect, a "secret election." This he also describes as a "more limited degree" of general election. Calvin writes:
We must now add a second, more limited degree of election, or one in which God's more special grace was evidence, that is, when from the same race of Abraham God rejected some but showed that he kept others among his sons by cherishing them in the church. Ishmael had at first obtained equal rank with his brother Isaac, for in him the spiritual covenant had been equally sealed by the sign of circumcision, Ishmael is cut off; then Esau; afterward, a countless multitude, and well-nigh all Israel....By their own defect and guilt, I admit, Ishmael, Esau, and the like were cut off from adoption. For the condition had been laid down that they should faithfully keep God's covenant, which they faithlessly violated. So the answer may be divided into two parts --that God has by no means cast away the whole race of Abraham contrary to the tenor of his own covenant-- and that yet the fruit of adoption does not exist in all the children of the flesh, for secret election precedes.4
Elsewhere Calvin describes this "secret election" as eternal election:
We shall never be clearly persuaded, as we ought to be, that our salvation flows from the wellspring of God's free mercy until we come to know his eternal election, which illumines God's grace by this contrast: that he does not indiscriminately adopt all into the hope of salvation but gives to some what he denies to others. ...Ignorance of this principle greatly detracts from the glory of God, and diminishes true humility.5 

In other words, Calvin viewed secret election, the more limited degree of general election, as though it flowed from God's free election made from eternity past. Commenting elsewhere with regards to God's eternal and unchangeable plan, Calvin writes:
For the fact that God was continually gathering his Church from Abraham's children rather than from profane nations had its reason in his covenant, which, when violated by that multitude, he confined to a few that it might not utterly cease. In short, that adoption of Abraham's seed in common was a visible image of the greater benefit that God bestowed on some out of the many. That is why Paul so carefully distinguishes the children of Abraham according to the flesh from the spiritual children who have been called after the example of Isaac [Galatians 4:28]. Not that it was a vain and unprofitable thing simply to be a child of Abraham; such could not be said without dishonoring the covenant! No, God's unchangeable plan, by which he predestined for himself those whom he willed, was in fact intrinsically effectual unto salvation for these spiritual offspring alone.6 

And let's not forget that Calvin saw all of this as manifesting the gracious character of God. This view of Calvin couldn't be more clear than when he speaks as though all men are born sinful and in need of God's mercy and favor. Calvin comments:
What fellowship have we with God, when we are born and come out of the womb, except he graciously adopts us? For we bring nothing, we know, with us but a curse: this is the heritage of all mankind. Since it is so, all our salvation must necessarily have its foundation in the goodness and mercies of God.7

In the next (and final) post of this series, I will summarize all of these thoughts together. Stay tuned for the final part -- part 4.

1.  Peter Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001] p. 216  Italics mine. 
2.  Ibid. pp. 216-7  Italics mine.
3.  Calvin distinguishes general and special election in numerous places in his commentaries, a few of which are his commentaries on Genesis 17:7, Deuteronomy 10:15-17, Ezekiel 16:21, and Matthew 15:24.
4.  Peter Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001] p. 215  Italics mine.
5.  Ibid. p. 214  Italics mine. John Calvin, Institutes, Book 3, Chap. 21, sec. 1
6.  Ibid. p. 217  Italics mine.
7.  Ibid. p. 222

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lutheranism 101: Are Lutherans Cannibals?

In Lutheranism 101, a question arises out of concern for their traditional view of eating the Lord's "real body and blood." This question is framed this way: "Are Lutherans Cannibals?" The author responded this way:
Because Lutherans teach that Jesus is really present with His body and blood, they have been accused of cannibalism. Rest easy; it isn't true. A cannibal eats physical flesh with his teeth. While we teach that Jesus is bodily present, we do not teach that He is physically present. Things are physical when they take up space; we believe that Jesus is really present with His body and blood but in a mode that doesn't take up space. Can He do that? Yes!1

Now, let's try to break down the meaning of these claims. As far as I can tell, it seems like his argument goes something like this: "Lutherans are not cannibals because cannibals eat physical flesh. But Lutherans don't teach that they are eating Jesus' physical flesh. They're eating Jesus' non-physical flesh." Now, if I'm correct in viewing the meaning of his statements this way, I'm still not quite sure what non-physical flesh is, exactly. I mean, I understand the difference between physical and non-physical as a concept, and I even understand that Jesus' body and blood was very physical in substance, but I'm still not quite sure what the author of Lutheranism 101 means by that. Of course the author tries to explain himself. He says that Lutheranism does not teach that Jesus is physically present. Check. He also says that things are physical when they take up space. Check. But then he says, "we believe that Jesus is really present with His body and blood but in a mode that doesn't take up space."

But what does the author mean exactly by "in a mode that doesn't take up space"? In his usually fantastically brilliant, earth-shattering manner, this author answers that very question. He writes:
After rising from the dead, Jesus appeared to the disciples in a locked room and showed them His hands and His side (John 20:19-20). How did He get into the locked room? The Bible doesn't specify, but somehow He moved His body through the walls or locked door without displacing the barrier and creating a hole. As He went through, His body didn't take up space (we call this His "incomprehensible mode"). During the Lord's Supper, the bread doesn't change in size with Jesus' body present; His body is present without taking up space. One can't eat something that isn't physically present, so, no, Lutherans aren't cannibals.2 

There you have it. Problem solved. Mystery discovered. This is Lutheran biblical exegesis at it's finest. Jesus says "This is My body," and that means he is "really present" in the bread and wine "in a mode that doesn't take up space." What other biblical proof is there for believing in this special  mode? Well, that's easy! Jesus walked through the walls or the locked door without displacing the barrier and creating a hole! And the author knows this for certain. And because he knows this for certain, we can be certain too, even though he admits that "The Bible doesn't specify" how Jesus got into the locked room. 

Did you catch that slight of hand too? 

Let me rewind and show that again. The author begins by admitting that the Bible does not specify how Jesus got into the locked room, but nevertheless (mysteriously!) this author knows how Jesus got into the locked room. And because this author knows how Jesus got into the locked room (i.e. he walked through the locked door), John 20:19-20 becomes a proof-text for believing that Jesus is "really present" in the bread and wine "in a mode that doesn't take up space."

Now, what really bothers me about this strained exegesis of Scripture is that this Lutheran author knows his traditional interpretation is not comprehensible, but their precious long-standing tradition is held to anyway. They even have a name for how Jesus walks through walls: they call this his "incomprehensible mode." 

In previous posts, I showed that this very same author loves to talk big about how dangerous it is to add or subtract from God's Word, and how important it is to listen to exactly what Jesus says; but this particular Lutheran tradition encourages people to do the very opposite by throwing away their rationality. And perhaps there is no more appropriate proof-text, other than John 20:19-20, to show off this blatant inconsistency. (Remember, the author of Lutheranism 101 used this as their proof-text for Jesus' "incomprehensible mode" in the Lord's Supper.) Notice what John 20:19-20 says: 
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

Notice that it mentions absolutely nothing about how Jesus got into the locked room. It just says that the doors were locked and that "Jesus came and stood among them." Now, if I were a betting man, I would bet $100.00 that in a room filled with traditional indoctrinated Lutherans, 75% of them would interpret this verse as though Jesus had to walk through the walls or the locked door. But if I were in a room filled with Calvinists, I would bet $100.00 that 75% of them would see a third alternative -- namely that Jesus simply appeared before them without needing to walk through anything, and without needing to "displace the barrier" of anything. From the text itself, it reads as though Jesus simply appears out of thin air. Jesus appears and disappears elsewhere in John's gospel, both times after Jesus has been raised with his glorified body, but there is no mention of Jesus walking through anything. Moreover, in Luke 24:13-43, Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and after a while he sits down to eat and break bread with them; and suddenly, after breaking the bread, Jesus disappears. Then suddenly, when these disciples flee to their friends in Jerusalem, Jesus suddenly reappears again (all within a few verses too). 

Now, let me ask this question: What Lutheran scholar would seriously argue that Jesus had to walk through all the walls and trees and people and locked doors on his way from the road to Emmaus to Jerusalem in order to reappear with the other disciples? If someone is going to argue that arbitrarily --when the text simply mentions that he disappears and reappears suddenly-- they might as well argue that Jesus broke the bread and jumped into it through this silly incomprehensible mode, and his disciples carried him all the way back to Jerusalem. That way, they could argue that Jesus was "really present" in the bread too.

All of these Lutheran arguments are mysterious because they're nonsenseI mean, if they really believed that Jesus walked through the walls of the locked room, and that somehow this teaches us that Jesus' body and blood is "really present" in a non-physical mode, what they're really saying is that they believe Jesus' body and blood could share physical space. But that's not what they're saying. They're saying that Jesus manifests his body and blood in a non-physical mode which doesn't take up space. But where in Scripture do you find a rational basis for believing that? They might argue, in the words "This is My body, This is My blood" (Actually, Jesus doesn't say, "This is my blood," but I digress.) But that commits the fallacy of begging the question. They are assuming what needs to be proven rationally. Then they might respond, "But John's gospel shows that Jesus walked through locked doors!" To which I would respond, no John's gospel doesn't say that. Nor does Luke's gospel. Then they might argue, "but we know there are sufficient reasons to believe this because we even have an official, confessional name for it: it's called the incomprehensible mode."

My response would be something to this effect: If they can't prove their case  rationally from the Bible, then why insist that the Bible is their source for this incomprehensible mode? And if they don't expect their precious doctrine to be proven rationally, then why do they bother proving anything about it at all? Again, it seems like the author of Lutheranism 101 is well exercised in mental gymnastics and potentially dabbles in Jedi mind tricks from time to time, but those tricks are subtly deceptive and foolish, and Christians should be trained by their pastors and teachers to know better than this. Christians should have more assurance from the Word of God than this irrational Lutheran indoctrination about "the real presence" of Jesus and how His body and blood is really present in a non-physical, incomprehensible mode that doesn't take up space.

I've got an alternative idea to all of this eating-Jesus-for-dinner talk. Why don't Lutherans argue that Jesus is "really present" in the bread and wine, and that through faith Christians really do eat the body and blood of Christ, but only in a literal spiritually-present sense. Oh, yeah. I forgot. Lutherans wouldn't believe that because that's what Calvinists teach. 

1.  Scot Kinnaman [General Editor], Lutheranism 101 [St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010] p. 150
2.  Ibid. p. 151

For Pentecost: Michael speaks the gospel to Adam

His death for man, as many as offered life
Neglect not, and the benefit embrace
By faith not void of works: This God-like act
Annuls thy doom, the death thou shouldest have died,
In sin for ever lost from life; this act
Shall bruise his head of Satan, crush his strength,
Defeating Sin and Death, his two main arms;
And fix far deeper in his head their stings
Than temporal death shall bruise the victor's heel,
Or theirs whom he redeems; a death, like sleep, 
A gentle wafting to immortal life.
Nor after resurrection shall he stay
Longer on earth, than certain times to appear
To his disciples, men who in this life
Still followed him; to them shall leave in charge
To teach all nations what of him they learned
And his salvation; them who shall believe
Baptizing in the profluent stream, the sign
Of washing them from guilt of sin to life
Pure, and in mind prepared, if so befall,
For death, like that which the Redeemer died.
All nations they shall teach; for, from that day, 
Not only to the sons of Abraham's loins
Salvation shall be preached, but to the sons
Of Abraham's faith wherever through the world;
So in his seed all nations shall be blest.
Then to Heaven of Heavens he shall ascend
With victory, triumphing through the air
Over his foes and thine; there shall surprise
The Serpent, prince of air, and drag in chains
Through all his realm, and there confounded leave;
Then enter into glory, and resume
His seat at God's right hand, exalted high
Above all names in Heaven; and thence shall come,
When this world's dissolution shall be ripe, 
With glory and power to judge both quick and dead;
To judge the unfaithful dead, but to reward
His faithful, and receive them into bliss,
Whether in Heaven or Earth; for then the Earth
Shall all be Paradise, far happier place
Than this of Eden, and far happier days.

-- Paradise Lost, Book 12

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lutheranism 101: The Big Mystery

When discussing the Lord's Supper in Lutheranism 101, the reader is reminded to "Remember the warning from before." But what is this warning? (And keep in mind that this "warning" is not found anywhere in God's Word.) The author answers this way: 
We human beings like to solve mysteries and explain everything. However, some of God's gifts to us are far too great for us comprehend. We can't explain them. If we try, we might explain the mystery away. We may actually explain the forgiveness away.1

There are a few things which I find very interesting about this argument. First, it almost admits to being nonsense, but instead of calling this "gift" nonsense, it is called a "mystery" instead. Some gifts, the author says, are far too great for us to comprehend; and if we try, we might explain the mystery and forgiveness of it away!  Yet, ironically, this author insists on explaining this "mystery" and "forgiveness" to us so that we can comprehend it. It seems as though he puts in one hand what he takes away from the other. That's like arguing, "We can't explain this mystery, and it's far too great to comprehend it; so let me explain it in a way which you can comprehend. Oh, but remember, if we try to explain this mystery, we might explain its mysteriousness away. So let me explain that mysteriousness in a way which doesn't explain the mystery away. I will even explain it just enough so you can comprehend that I'm not explaining it away." 

Doesn't that kind of an argument seem strange? I know that when I read it, it  seems like the author is pre-empting me from believing that it makes no sense, while encouraging me to believe that it doesn't have to make sense. And the reason why it doesn't have to make sense (even though he won't describe it that way) is because this portion of God's Word is just "too great for us to comprehend."   

But what is this "mystery" that's too great for us? What is this "mystery" which we can't explain?  The author says:
When you hear these next words of Jesus, listen to exactly what He says. Don't try to make this mystery into something you can understand:  Of the bread, Jesus said, "This is My body." Of the wine, Jesus said, "This cup is the new testament in My blood."  "Is."  It's the linguistic version of an equal sign. Jesus said that in the Lord's Supper the bread is His body. The wine is His blood. This is the big mystery at the heart of the Lord's Supper: Under the bread and wine, we also receive Jesus' body and blood--the same body that was nailed to the cross and the same blood that was shed for our sin. It is also the same body and blood that Jesus showed to His disciples after He rose from the dead. If Jesus' body and blood are there, Jesus is there. He is present under the elements of bread and wine in the Lord's Supper. We call this the real presence. ...Beyond that, we can't explain the real presence.2

So let me get this straight. I'm supposed to listen to "exactly" what Jesus says, and I'm told not to try to make this mystery into something which I can understand. Well, I'm definitely listening .... Still listening .... Still listening .... And I'm not understanding. I guess this is where I'm supposed to throw my hands up in the air and shout Hallelujah! Mission accomplished! I don't understand what this means at all and Jesus didn't want me to!  Halellujah!

But seriously, even the author didn't really mean that. He didn't actually mean that Jesus doesn't want us to understand the "mystery" of the Lord's Supper. He couldn't, because he explains this alleged "mystery" with the entire paragraph that follows. What the author is really try to express is that Jesus' Words of Institution are indeed understandable and explainable. However, what the author does not tell his readers is that this "mystery" really isn't exactly what Jesus said. This "mystery" is actually what his tradition of Lutheranism wants to believe. And it's that unique traditional interpretation of Lutherans which is truly mysterious. 

Plus, if you think about this author's argument, it's loaded with lots of logical problems. For example, this author is not doing what he insists his readers should do; he's not listening to exactly what Jesus said. Jesus did not say, "The wine is His blood." Jesus didn't even mention wine. His exact word, if the author was listening, was "cup." Plus Jesus didn't even say that the cup is his blood. He said "This cup is the new covenant (i.e. testament)...". And he also said that "covenant" or "testament" is in his blood, not his blood itself. This ought to be especially important to keep in mind for those who are willing to accept this type of traditional Lutheran indoctrination. If the word "Is" is the "linguistic version of an equal sign," --as the author insists-- then Jesus definitely did not say that the wine is his blood; yet look back and see for yourself: that is exactly what the author claims Jesus said and meant! The author said, "The wine is His blood." Once again, this shows that this author is not playing by his own rules. This might be a display of inconsistency at its finest.

But it gets worse. The very next principle which the author insists we learn is "The Danger of Saying More than Jesus says." Underneath this gigantic headline within the book, the author writes these incredibly ironic words:
More than once in the Bible (Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18), God warns about adding to His Word. There's a good reason for this: when we add what we mere sinful mortals think God says, we run a good chance of subtracting from what God actually meant for us to hear and to have.  ...Jesus didn't say, "This bread is changed into My body," but "This is My body." ...Jesus didn't say, "My body is now with this bread." He said, "This is My body." Holding strictly to the words He spoke, Lutherans believe that they receive both bread and His body, because the bread is His body.3

I get a kick out of reading the tremendous lengths this author is willing to trek in order to shape God's Word into his own "Lutheran" tradition. Rationalization like this is just plain old mysterious nonsense. I wish the author would just come right out and admit it. That would at least help his readers throw the book in the trash-bin sooner. 

1.  Scot Kinnaman [General Editor], Lutheranism 101 [St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010] p. 149
2.  pp. 149-50
3.  p. 151

Friday, May 17, 2013

Lutheranism 101: Partaking in a worthy manner

I recently came across a book distributed by a pastor of a local LCMS1 church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The book is titled Lutheranism 101, and it's a fairly basic book even though it fills almost three hundred 8"x10" pages with "official" Lutheran dogma (which I think is a fairly large sized book of basic "essentials"). I was especially caught off guard by a few "official" doctrines in the book, not that I had never heard of them before. It's just that I never heard contemporary answers to basic questions answered this, well, basically. For instance, in the section on the Lord's Supper, the question is asked, "Who Is Worthy?" with regard to participants in the sacred meal itself. The answer to that question is as follows:
Being worthy and well prepared to receive the Lord's Supper involves believing the words "given and shed." What is given and shed? Jesus' body and blood. In other words, worthiness involves believing that you are receiving Jesus' very2 body and blood. In the previous chapter, we mentioned that some believe that they receive only bread and wine, not Jesus' body and blood. To believe this is to contradict what Jesus Himself says in the Words of Institution; and that makes one unprepared for the Sacrament.3
Here are a few of my thoughts on this matter. First of all, I find it interesting that the author inserts the parallel phrase, worthy and well prepared, as he defines worthiness. Clearly, the author did not consider Paul's own words to be clear enough -- words which only warn Christians to not partake "in an unworthy manner" (I Cor. 11:27).  This author felt the need to add to what Paul actually said and to emphasize that additional concept. After all, neither Jesus or Paul made any mention of being "well prepared." In the last sentence of this definition, the author again mentions being "unprepared" for the Sacrament. And so, being "unworthy" is doctrinally and conceptually synonymous with being "unprepared." 

But what is another oddity of this view (besides adding terminology to what Paul actually said)? One other oddity is that Paul is the only one who mentions worthiness. Jesus doesn't mention that at all. Now, I realize that the doctrine of plenary inspiration necessitates Paul's canonical words to be the authorized words of God, and since Jesus is God, Paul's words are the authoritative words of Jesus. However, isn't it a bit odd that the author insists that Christian beliefs should not contradict what Jesus Himself really says, yet the author doesn't even reference the actual words of Jesus regarding "worthiness"? Let's not forget that he adds to Paul's terminology as well. 

But this operating definition looks even more suspicious when viewed much closer. The author says that receiving the Lord's Supper involves "believing the words 'given and shed.'" Well, I certainly believe that the meaning of Jesus' words "given" and "shed" were in some sense involved in receiving the Supper. But the author of Lutheranism 101 simply takes for granted what that sense is without clarifying that Jesus' statements don't necessarily share the same assumptions as this Lutheran author. It's a subtle maneuver, but it's definitely there; and this traditional Lutheran assumption is arbitrary as well. Let's see how this plays out practically.

Notice carefully that this author sneaks in two ideas while assuming that they both share a literal one-to-one correspondence in meaning. The author doesn't prove it. It is assumed in advance and taken for granted. On the one hand he says that worthiness "involves believing the words 'given and shed,'" but on the other hand he says that worthiness "involves believing that you are receiving Jesus' very (i.e. real or genuine) body and blood"; which is to say that if you don't believe you are receiving Jesus' real or genuine body and blood, you are not believing the words "given and shed." Did you catch that slight-of-hand too? He is assuming that the meaning of Jesus' words must share a literal one-to-one correspondence, but he's not telling you that the Words of Institution can mean something else, only one of which is that Jesus mysteriously amalgamated the real bread and wine with his real body "given" and his real "shed" blood. There are, in fact, other potential meanings to Jesus' Words of Institution. One does not need to adopt this traditional Lutheran assumption, especially if the Scriptures themselves do not infer that such assumptions are necessary to partake worthily or unworthily. 

Let's keep in mind what Jesus actually said in his Words of Institution:
This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me. ...This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you. (Luke 22:19-20)

Let's now think of some alternatives. One possible meaning could be that Jesus mysteriously turned the bread and wine into his literal human flesh and blood. That is to say, those who partake of the bread and wine don't really partake of real bread and wine at all. They partake of something which appears to be bread and wine, but really is Jesus' flesh and blood. This, to me, seems to be an exaggerated claim. It assumes all sorts of things, one of which is that eating literal human flesh and blood would be lawful in God's sight, even though God strictly prohibits drinking sacrificial blood (Gen. 9:1-6; Lev. 17:10-14). Likewise, the Bible illustrates cannibalism in a handful of places, but it never condones it (Lev. 26:29; Deut. 28:53-57; 2 Kng. 6:28-29; Jer. 19:9; Lam. 2:20; Ezek. 5:10); rather it treats eating human flesh as a curse from God, which is probably why the Jews were abhorred by Jesus' words in John 6:52. They thought Jesus was speaking literally when he spoke of eating his flesh and blood; and so they thought, "How can this man [Jesus] give us his flesh to eat?"

Another possible meaning could be that Jesus mysteriously turned the bread and wine into his real body and blood, but only for his twelve apostles. That's at least possible. After all, he does say "this is my body...for you ...This cup is ...for you." And who was that particular "you"? It was the twelve apostles! Of course, because that seems to conflict with Paul's address to the Corinthian church, which included more participants in the Lord's Supper than just the twelve apostles, it's reasonable to conclude that such an interpretation would be completely arbitrary. Now, if there was a worldwide tradition which held that view, would you believe it just because it's traditional? I would hope not. Scripture itself should be the final authority for the Christian, not tradition.

Now let's consider the traditional Lutheran view again, only in more detail. The traditional Lutheran view is that Jesus' statement, "this is my body," was literally and mystically united with the bread in it's physical essence. I will admit, this is a possible interpretation. After all, when referencing the bread, Jesus does say "this is my body." Martin Luther himself is famous for this belief. There is even a famous incident at a meeting in Marburg, Saxony (modern day Germany) where various church leaders could not come to an agreement about Jesus' Words of Institution, and in the midst of the dialogue Luther began to pound his fist on the table, saying over and over again, "Hoc est corpus meum, hoc est corpus meum." ("This is my body, This is my body.")  In contrast with this famous incident, I find it very interesting that Luther did not insist in a literal interpretation of the phrase, "this cup is the new covenant in my blood." Luther interpreted the first statement as literal, but the second statement as representative and figurative. In other words, Luther assumed that the first statement was literal, and excused himself from needing to interpret the second statement as literal too, even though Jesus uses the exact same words to consecrate both elements. Jesus said "This [bread] is my body" and "This cup is the new covenant." 

Moreover, if Lutherans who hold to these traditional assumptions were consistent, they would need to argue that Jesus mysteriously united his real (physical & spiritual, human and divine) body and handed it (his real body) to his disciples in the form of bread, and that he did the same thing with the cup too. That is to say, with the cup, they would need to argue that Jesus mysteriously united the physical cup of wine in his hand as the literal new covenant itself. No other physical substance, other than the "cup" of wine, could possibly become mysteriously united with the new covenant. Jesus must have meant that the cup of wine would become the new covenant every time Christians partook of his blood "in a worthy manner." But what would it actually mean to literally unite a physical/non-spiritual cup of wine with a non-physical/spiritual covenant? Lutheranism 101 doesn't give an answer to that question, and I suspect that the traditional answer (if there even is one) would be arbitrarily based upon mere Lutheran tradition. Furthermore, why would anyone insist that such a distinction is essential to partaking worthily? One might expect Jesus or the Apostle Paul to have been a bit clearer in their presentation of the facts. (Were they clear enough?)

But let's get back on track with how serious the meaning of these Words of Institution are. Are these meanings the only viable options? The author of Lutheranism 101 is aware of at least one other optional tradition. He insists that,
...some [Christians] believe that they receive only bread and wine, not Jesus' body and blood. 

He then asserts with great confidence that, 
To believe this is to contradict what Jesus Himself says in the Words of Institution. 

That's quite an assertion. One would think that arbitrarily interpreting the bread as becoming his literal body, but the cup of wine not literally becoming the new covenant, would be a more blatant contradiction. And as far as I can tell, it's not contradictory at all to interpret both the bread and the cup of wine as representing Jesus body and blood. That, actually, would be very consistent and reasonable because the bread would represent his "given" body and the cup of wine would represent his "shed" blood. Neither the bread nor the cup of wine become anything other than sanctified bread and wine. Nothing mystical or supernatural invades or transforms the elements themselves. 

Moreover, if the bread and the wine of the new covenant represent the broken body and shed blood of Jesus which was given for us, then there would also be no need to strain the meaning of Jesus' words beyond what was actually spoken by Jesus and reiterated by the Apostle Paul. We wouldn't need to conjure up some rationale for Jesus uniting his "real" body and blood with a "real" loaf of bread and a "real" cup. We also wouldn't need to conjure up some strange "spiritual" extension of his dual-nature (as though the Scriptures allude to some extension, addition, or subtraction from his human & divine essence). And so, one very rational and reasonable meaning of the Words of Institution is actually what the author of Lutheranism 101 falsely claims to be contradictory, namely that the bread which Jesus broke represented Jesus' broken body, and that his blood shed on the cross was represented by a cup of red wine, and because of that participants in the Lord's Supper receive real bread and wine, not Jesus' real body and blood. Paul certainly seems to have interpreted it this way when he concludes, saying:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.4

Notice, Paul does not even come close to hinting in agreement with this claim of Lutheranism 101. Paul doesn't spend any time distinguishing between those who receive the real body and blood, and those who merely receive real bread and wine. Instead, what he says is that by eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord's Supper, they proclaim --they show forth-- their Lord's death. They don't receive the "real" body and blood of the Lord who died. They proclaim the Lord's death. They commemorate the unique covenantal meal in which Jesus and his disciples participated the night he was betrayed, leading to his death. In other words, when the Christian church eats the bread and drinks the cup, they don't proclaim the death of a literal Passover lamb, thereby renewing the old covenant. Instead, they proclaim their Lord's death over and over again as often as they do that together. They proclaim what the Passover lamb represented and what the old covenant anticipated. They ratify their covenant --the new covenant-- with Jesus. They receive a real covenantal meal, with real bread and wine, and they proclaim the real sacrifice for their sins -- Jesus Christ. One might even get the acute feeling that through faith, the Spirit of our risen Lord is present in the midst of his people as they feast on bread and wine together, uniting them in one love, one faith, and one baptism. If so, then thanks be to God.

1.  LCMS stands for Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod
2.  "Very" means real or genuine.
3.  Scot A. Kinnaman [General Editor] Lutheranism 101 [St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010] p. 155
4.  I Corinthians 11:26

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Review: Martin Luther on Christian Freedom

Christian Freedom: Faith Working through LoveChristian Freedom: Faith Working through Love by Martin Luther
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every admirer of Martin Luther should own this book because it's constant, hammering message of freedom through faith in Christ alone was clearly his most cherished doctrine. I actually gave this book four stars because I don't agree with some of Luther's exegetical remarks, and I think his understanding of God's Law for Christian ethics was a work in progress. However, Luther's treatise on Christian freedom is a masterpiece of literature. Plus, this reader's guide includes excerpts from a handful of sermons which Luther preached on the subject of Christian freedom, and a brief excursus of God's Law in relation to Christian freedom (by Philip Melanchthon). I considered Melanchthon's excursus a breath of fresh air compared to some of the thick, foggy attempts of Luther to harmonize faith and law.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Instructions to the Twelve (A and A')

In an earlier post I presented the literary structure of Matthew chapter ten as follows:

A)  Instructions to the twelve apostles  (10:5-15)
   B)  Persecution and family division  (10:16-23)
      C)  Enemies of the Master’s household  (10:24-25)
         D1)  Consolation of the twelve: "Do not fear them..." (10:26-27)
            D2)  "Do not fear those who... but Fear Him who can..." (10:28-30)
         D3)  Consolation of the twelve: "Do not fear, therefore..." (10:31-33)
      C’)  Enemies of the Master’s household  (10:34-36)
   B’)  Persecution and family division  (10:37-39)
A’)  Reception of the twelve apostles  (10:40-42)

In a post before that, I pointed out that Matthew chapter ten is also chock-full of references that Christians often abuse without knowing it. Part of what contributes to the abuse of the text's meaning is that 21st century Christians presume that Matthew recorded these words (and Jesus spoke these words) to them today. They mistakenly project themselves into the story of Matthew chapter ten as though they were standing in the same room as Jesus and his twelve apostles, receiving the same instructions first hand. 

Instead, what 21st century Christians should be doing first is interpreting this entire chapter in its own historical context, a context which limits these instructions to the twelve apostles of Jesus (Matt. 10:1-4). The second thing Christians today should do is pay close attention to the literary structure which Matthew provides. There are good reasons why Jesus ends this discourse with statements about receiving a prophet's reward and losing that reward (A', verses 40-42). Those were not doctrinal clues to help Christians unlock the secret Biblical-code of God's eternal will and ultimately lose their own assurance of salvation. Nor was Jesus giving miscellaneous collections of "eternal truths" to help Calvinists and Arminians sort out their soteriological differences. Those were simply closing thoughts that completed the opening instructions of this discourse (A, verses 5-15). And so, let's now turn to the historical context of sections A and A' to see what this does and does not mean and how section A' completes the message of A

Jesus begins with instructions to his Twelve, telling them to go "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (10:6), proclaiming that "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" and finding out "who is worthy" of the Kingdom as they go from town to town, from one Israelite household to another. This opening section (A) even includes a statement which has become a popular Christian slogan: "If anyone will not listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet." Unfortunately this statement is taken completely out of its original historical context. What Jesus actually said was, "if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town." It is embarrassing to find zealous Christians today who abuse this statement as though those were instructions to us -- as though Jesus were saying, "If unbelievers don't like you preaching to them the truth, and they become hostile towards you, shake the dust off your feet and move on to another town to preach the truth." But that is not the way in which this passage is to be understood in its historical context. In fact, if Christians today are going to be consistent in their approach to the instructions given in this chapter, i.e. presuming that Jesus was giving Christians today these specific instructions, they should also limit these instructions to Israelites only (10:6); they should also heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons (v. 8), carry no gold, silver, copper, staff, bag, sandals, or two tunics along with them (vv. 9-10). If we believe that Matthew recorded these instructions as though Jesus was instructing us today, the consistent, principled approach would be to heed all of Jesus' instructions within the chapter, instead of arbitrarily selecting which ever ones are convenient for the time being. 

But this brings up a couple obvious questions: Did Matthew record these instructions as though Jesus was instructing us today? And why don't Christians today prefer to interpret all of these verses in a manner analogous to our generation? 

Well, I suppose some do. Franciscans and other ascetic traditions do, unfortunately, apply these verses in contemporary settings. But that's because they too have misunderstood these instructions of chapter ten as though they were eternal truths spoken to us. For example, certain ascetic traditions follow after Saint Francis of Assisi, who took Jesus' instructions literally as pertaining to him and the Christians ministry which followed him. St. Francis taught that Christ and the twelve apostles renounced all property and material possessions of their own, singly and jointly. He also lived by the same example which he imagined was true of Jesus and his apostles, avoiding all opportunities to ask for money or to live at the expense of others. As a result, he scrounged around for crusts of bread and discarded vegetables from trash-bins, and he worked as a day laborer, insisting on being paid in bread, vegetables, and water, rather than in money, because -- as Jesus said -- "the laborer deserves his food" (v. 10). Sadly, St. Francis overlooked the fact that the Apostle Paul quotes this statement of Jesus; but instead of interpreting it as though Jesus endorsed complete, self-abasing poverty, Paul interpreted it as though Christian pastors should receive financial support for their labor in the Word and the Church (cf. Luke 10:7 & I Tim. 5:18).1 Christians venerate St. Francis because of his faithfulness to God's Word, when in fact, he misunderstood the historical context of Matthew chapter ten completely.

Jesus was not instructing us in Matthew chapter ten any more than he was instructing St. Francis. Jesus was instructing his twelve apostles, and only his twelve apostles. The only meaningful extension of these instructions would have been for other Israelites who received this message of Jesus' apostles in faith, and followed them as they traveled throughout Israel in the first century. Matthew even gives us an overt clue as to why these instructions were for Jesus' apostles, and why Jesus' apostles were to heed these instructions as they went preaching door to door. After Jesus tells them to shake the dust from their feet, he pronounces a judgment upon those towns and their people who  would reject the gospel of his Kingdom having already come. Jesus says, "Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the Day of Judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town." Now all we need to ask is, "what town?" What town did Jesus mean when he said "that town"?

Was Jesus talking about any town of any generation? Was he talking about the town of Waukesha, Wisconsin in the year 2013? Did he have a specific town in mind, singled out for judgment? No, he didn't. He was talking generally about whatever town rejected his apostles -- whatever towns in which the lost sheep of the house of Israel dwelled in that generation. This message of an entire town having to face God on the Day of Judgment would have given first century Jews the impression that soon-coming judgment was approaching them, causing them to face their Maker and give an account before Him much sooner than later. Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed because of it's great lawlessness and idolatry (Gen. 13:13; 18:20; 19; Deut. 29:23). This is why any mention of Sodom and Gomorrah among Jews became a proverbial expression of warning of God's wrath upon any idolatrous nation (Isa. 1:9; 13:19; Jer. 22:14; 50:40; Amos 4:11). Sodom and Gomorrah faced a swift judgment from God in the days of Abraham, and after their destruction, they too await the final Day of Judgment for their idolatry just like the town of Israel in Jesus' day. And so, one logical inference from this promise of judgment that awaits both Sodom, Gomorrah, and those towns of Israel in the first century is that God would be coming quickly to physically demolish those towns in judgment just as He did with Sodom and Gomorrah. In other words, this promise of facing a worse judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah would have been viewed by first century Jews as a warning of sudden and swifter judgment upon those towns than it was for Sodom and Gomorrah. 

This is why Jesus can confidently tell his twelve apostles that "Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me" (v. 40). When an Israelite heard that the Kingdom of Heaven was in their midst as promised, which also meant that the last days of the Old Covenant were coming to a close as promised, the people had one of two choices to make: they would either side with Jesus as their promised Messiah and King and heed the message of his apostles, or reject Jesus and his apostles and hope in some other savior at some later time. But here we learn that those who would receive this message of the apostles, would also receive Jesus. And those who received Jesus, received the Father who sent (apostled) him. And by receiving the Father, they receive the covenant blessings promised by the Father. By receiving the words of the Father's prophets in faith, they receive exactly what the prophet pronounces to them, namely life and miraculous provisions to sustain them through the coming judgment pronounced upon the land and it's idolaters. By receiving a just man into their home, they receive the rewards of a just man. Consequently, by rejecting a just man or a prophet who comes in the name of the Lord, they will receive justice for rejecting Jesus, and the Father who sent him. They will receive the reward of swifter and more severe judgment due to them for their idolatry. 

The responsibility given to these twelve apostles in this commission was no light matter. They had to be prepared for God's wrath which was promised to pour out upon the land of Israel for her spiritual harlotry and idolatry. Remember, Jesus is the one who describes the state of Israel in the first century as being worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, and worthy of a worse punishment and a worse sentence on the Day of Judgment. But whoever would receive one of Jesus' disciples, supporting them and giving them a cup of cold water after hearing that message (v. 42), by no means lost their reward because they believed God's Word to them in faith; and by sacrificing their livelihood for the sake of Jesus and the Word of God, they would receive the blessing of their heavenly Father and Judge, instead of his wrath and condemnation.

1.  The ESV translation of Matt. 10:8 is actually misleading because the words "without paying" and "without pay" are not actually in the text itself. Only the verb δωρεάν is used, and it simply means to hand out something as a gift (i.e. "give freely"). The ESV translates it this way: "You received without paying; give without pay," which implies that ministers of the gospel should not receive money as the means of supporting their ministry. The NASB, NIV, NLT, and The Voice translate this verse more accurately: "Freely you received, freely give" (NASB); "Freely you have received; freely give" (NIV); "Give as freely as you have received" (NLT); "You received these gifts freely, so you should give them to others freely" (The Voice). The Apostle Paul's interpretation of this statement by Jesus is appropriate because Jesus was not teaching his disciples to reject all forms of compensation for their services. Jesus was teaching his disciples not to solicit their services as though they would only help if paid for their services. Instead, Jesus tells his disciples to serve their fellow brethren freely, doing so out of love for those who  show that they too love Jesus. Paul's point in quoting Jesus ("the laborer deserves his hire"; from Luke 10:7, which is Luke's version of Jesus' statement in Matthew 10:8) is that Christians have a moral responsibility to support ministers of the gospel financially if that is how they make their living. This is how you show them "double honor" (Paul says): by caring for their needs as they care for yours. In Matt. 10:8, Jesus is teaching this very principle, not to solicit their services (rejecting those who won't pay them and accepting only those who do), but rather to expect godly people to value their services and provide food and other provisions for them, as necessary, as they serve and minister the gospel.