Thursday, February 17, 2011

Resurrection: Christ's Masterpiece

At long last, tradition, the Apostle’s Creed, “The Harrowing of Hell,” grace, free will, predestination, justification, sanctification, the Messiah, Post-Evangelicalism, Scripture, and sacraments all lead up to the final promise of faith and the backbone of my beliefs – resurrection. When I set out to explore these theological issues, two and a half months ago, and present the public with an intimate doctrine of my beliefs, it was to permanently discredit allegations of apathy and disbelief. Tonight, I sit accomplished, having learned a great deal more about my faith through this process. In the unlikely event that allegations disbelief remain, imagine you’re me, writing the final topic of this discourse; if you could go out guns blazing or write about something beautiful, what would you do? For the first time in a long time, I am choosing beauty.

There is no matter of theology more masterful and beautiful than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I knew from the onset of this discourse that resurrection was going to be my main event. In the discussion of the Apostle’s Creed, it mentions that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the divine revelation that the promises of God are true. Christ stepped into hell and faced death even for us. God gave us faith, God gave us grace, and God gave us his Son on the cross so that we could receive grace. Even more, Jesus’ death was not the end, but the fulfillment of something magnificent. Like the prophet Jonah, who died at sea and was reborn into a second chance; the resurrection of Jesus, was the beginning of our second chances – it is our redemption – handed to us by a loving and gracious God. Without the historical event of Christ’s resurrection, the gifts of faith and grace are useless. With the resurrection, we are able to receive universal grace from a sovereign and mysterious God. No matter how much I write in my defense, God will always be God – magnificent and mysterious – giving grace to the undeserved – without need for defense because what is from God, that is for us, is about God – Solo Christo.

Sacraments (part two): Living in Tension with the Real Presence of the Eucharist

Now it is time to direct attention to the subject of the Eucharist. In recent months, I have forged and implemented the theological title “Post-Evangelical Lutheran.” As is evident in this discourse, I have adopted many of the doctrines of the Lutheran church – so much so, that I took up their title and called myself a Lutheran. In contrast, my thoughts on the Eucharist live in tension without resolution. On one hand, I agree with Luther in the rejection of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, but not for the same reasons. It is evident from my readings of several of Luther’s works that he does not appreciate the influence of secular philosophy on church doctrines. Personally, I am a big proponent of philosophical ideas. Rather, I agree with Luther’s refutation of Transubstantiation because I am not a fan of the teachings of Aristotle. The tension I spoke of earlier, in my discussion on the Eucharist, is what to do with the real presence of Christ in the bread and the wine.

Once, I agreed with the memorialism concept of the Eucharist presented by Zwingli. After further investigation of Zwingli’s idea that the bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Christ; I feel as though his interpretations of scripture are too ambiguous. Another option, for how to view the Eucharist, lands somewhere between the real presence and symbolism, would be the Calvinist view of the Eucharist; but, I find Calvin’s idea more ambiguous than Zwingli’s. Thus, my views of the Eucharist have remained unresolved.

Conversely, some attributes of the Eucharist, within my theology, have gained clarity. If I recall correctly, there was a time that I did not partake of the bread and the cup because I didn’t feel that I was in the right place to observe the sacrament. Having left the Evangelical worldview, I reject the notion that my frame of mind has any power over this redeeming sacrament. Martin Luther said, “No matter whether you are worthy or unworthy, you have here His body and blood….” A consistent theme within this discourse, attests to the truth that all elements of faith and salvation belong to God and not humanity. As a matter of fact, this means that the Eucharist is a gift to faith from God.

For the most part, I appreciate how Luther validates his arguments for a real presence in the bread and the wine, but his interpretation of Matthew 26:26 is a bit literal for my taste and doesn’t seem to take the context of the Gospel story into account. Arguably, Christ is talking about his blood being poured out in reference to the coming event of the cross within the Gospel story. No matter what the case may be, Luther bases his arguments, heavily, upon the Sola scriptura backing. In part, this troubles me because Luther assumes a position of Inerrancy when it comes to Scripture and I do not, which makes evidence for the three major Protestant views difficult to accept. For now, I will meet Luther at least half way, he says, “Whoever believes it has what the words declare and bring” (Luther, “Large Catechism”). Notwithstanding the fact that I remain in tension about the Eucharist, I believe that through partaking of the bread and the cup, I am absolved of my sins in recognition of the events of the cross. Perhaps, I will one day claim the entirety of Luther’s view on the Eucharist.

Sacraments (part one): Hashing out Baptism with Martin Luther

Turning from Scripture to the sacraments, a sacrament does not rely on the condition of the minister or the recipient; it is the work of Christ. Furthermore, a sacrament is a sign of God’s grace. The Catholic Church has seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, ordination, and marriage. It is argued by church fathers that there are different definitions of a sacrament and that it should or should not contain a physical element depending on the definition (Alister McGrath, Historical Theology). For the sake of argument, I will address two out of the three sacraments of the Lutheran Church; since, I agree with the Protestant definition that a sacrament is a sign of God’s grace.

The first sacrament up for discussion is baptism. In all honesty, baptism has never been a central issue in my personal theology, but I’ve avoided it out of irritation long enough and ought to address the subject – so bear with me as I work through this conversation. Baptism is one’s introduction to the church and body of believers. One must be baptized in order to be saved. Additionally, baptism is water combined with God’s Word and command (Martin Luther, “The Large Catechism”). I can readily agree to Luther’s idea that baptism is an introduction to the church and that it is water joined with divine word and command. In spite of the fact that I have been baptized, I don’t like that it is contingent for salvation. As a consequence of this view, I remain in tension over the sacrament of baptism, but continue the discussion regardless of tension.

In Luther’s “Large Catechism,” he talks about baptism being the work of God and not a matter of works – that it is an element of the gift of faith. In review of Luther, the gift of faith makes believing in the promise of baptism possible; apart from the faith God has given us, baptism is meaningless. Baptism, like faith, is God’s work alone. Cognitive belief in the idea that baptism only works when it is joined to God is what allows the sacrament to function properly – again, one has to acknowledge that this gift comes from God and, only, God – faith understands the gift of baptism (Luther, “Large Catechism”). One can speculate that baptism is not justification in Luther’s eyes, rather it is sanctification, “But here in Baptism there is brought free to every one's door such a treasure and medicine as utterly destroys death and preserves all men alive” (Luther, “Large Catechism”). In retrospect, baptism appears to be a means of cleansing, also known as sanctifying, one who possesses faith.

By way of conversation with Martin Luther on baptism, I am drawing close to a comfortable position on baptism. First, I recognize that baptism signifies one’s initial belonging to the church. Second, it is the work of God that gives baptism meaning and sanctifies the believer who comprehends that baptism is the work of God alone. Third, I approve of the idea that baptism, like the cross, is a divine work given to those who receive faith as a means of accepting salvation. Fourth, I am apprehensive to support that the lack of baptism, by water, is able to condemn any person; instead, I’m inclined to think that baptism’s role in salvation is one way, but not the sole means of sanctifying the believer.

Therefore, if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism, which not only signifies such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. For therein are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong (Luther, “Large Catechism”).

Fifth, baptism is equal to repentance and repentance is the sanctifying response of the divine gift of faith. Sixth, repentance is a return to baptism (Luther, “Large Catechism”). In closing the discussion on baptism, it is faith that prompts repentance and baptism is just the beginning of repentance in the life of one who has faith.

Inspiration and Authority of Scripture

In prior segments of this discourse, I referred to several Latin terms (Sola gratia, Sola fide, Solo Christo, and Soli Deo Gloria), now, I turn my attention to the last of the terms, known as the “Five Solas,” Sola scriptura. In line with John Calvin and other Reformers, the Church is subject to the authority of Scripture. As a Biblical Scholar, what this means for me is that theology originates from Scripture and is determined by the interpretation of Scripture. Presumably, most Fundamentalists and Evangelicals might say, I have a loose definition of Sola scriptura and, the inspiration and authority of Scripture. In truth, I probably do maintain a loose, but informed, definition of Sola scriptura. This notwithstanding, I do believe in the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture. The following two paragraphs summarize my view and interpretive lens on Scripture from a college paper of mine (Inspired Beyond Fallibility).

The body of Scripture, according to the position held herein, refers to the Old Testament; additionally, both the New Testament and Old Testament were canonized by church fathers. I believe that both the Old and New Testaments are the result of divine inspiration. Personally, I contend that the view of Inerrancy (original biblical manuscripts are free of error and all information they possess is accurate), and the theory of Dictation (God said it; humans wrote it) disregard context. “For instance, if the writers of biblical texts are, indeed, human, they bring their humanity, culture, attitudes, and opinions with them to the text…. Frankly, the notion that any text made it from: oration, to scribe, to audience, to editor (redactor), to translation – without alteration or error – is na├»ve” (Tim Kellogg, Inspired Beyond Fallibility).

Moreover, human beings are fallible; thankfully, this does not interfere with the authority of Scripture. Alternatively, it intensifies the authority of Scripture – because God transcends human fallibility. Arguably, most orthodox Christians believe that Jesus was simultaneously God and human; if one can accept the humanity of Jesus, why shouldn’t we be able to accept the human elements of Scripture? I unequivocally accept Scripture through a lens of humanity. Likewise, I affirm that Scripture is “God inspired” text (it was overseen by and is safeguarded by God). As a result, Scripture is a sacred and divine text, while possessing fallible human elements. “Scripture is divine revelation from God to humans that uses human circumstances, fallacies, and problems to convey a message that is, ultimately, divine…. Thus, Scripture is, both, divinely inspired and humanly fallible; yet, it remains a, relevant, transcendent revelation of God” (Kellogg, Inspired). Not to mention, it’s an important part of my life and Biblical Scholarship has radically reshaped how I read Scripture and inform my theological ideas.

Post-Evangelicalism (part three): Moving the Conversation Forward

Second on the list of dangerous terms, “the presence of God;” personally, the first thought that comes to mind when I hear this term is feeling God’s presence. Unreservedly, I have to cognitively accept on an intellectual level that God is present – in existence – and active in this world. Alternatively, I do not feel the presence of God; not to worry, I’m a religious person and not a spiritual person – I base my doctrinal opinions, primarily, upon orthodoxy and not existential faith, feelings, or spirituality.

Third on the list of abrasive terms, “spirituality;” formerly, I thought of myself as spiritual, but not religious. Such thinking was problematic because its simplicity gave way to inconsistent and dysfunctional theology. Another way of phrasing this is spiritual piety. As it turns out, the spiritually-pious nature of Evangelical theology was at the root of its downfall for me and remains an irritation in my life. Reading the Bile every day, having a relationship with God, feeling the presence of God, and being more spiritual does not make someone a better Christian – it makes them a follower of works based theology. Spirituality creates a faith that is unstable.

The fourth and final term on the list of dangerous and abrasive terms, “Evangelical;” candidly, this word offends me. When I speak of Evangelicalism, I am talking about a cultural movement within Christianity across denominations. The basic function of Evangelicalism is to simplify religious faith in Jesus Christ and eliminate the nonessential elements – basically, making discourses, such as this one, worthless. To some degree, I do not mind simplicity because the gifts of God are for everyone. In contrast, the very concept of God presents implications of mystery. Trying to simplify that mystery away, may lead one down the path of heresy (useless doctrine that is unorthodox and false). Before I anger my Evangelical friends and family, I want to clarify that Evangelical culture and the Theology of Glory failed me miserably, but you’re entitled to your opinion and I love you no matter how much I disagree with the Evangelical theological worldview. At any rate, I have no intention of ever returning to an Evangelical lens of faith because I left it so I could receive the gift of faith in God and deter the allure of Deism or Atheism. The Theology of the Cross, allows me the validity of intellectual religion that is not going to fall apart when life is chaos and disaster. Hence, I have moved past Evangelicalism into Post-Evangelicalism and found deep religious substance within Lutheranism. Ergo, I am a Post-Evangelical Lutheran.