Epiphany

Epiphany: a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

The above definition is usually the one we are using when we speak of something being an epiphany. A moment of clarity breaks in. Insight and perception is found in an otherwise difficult situation. Just a couple of weeks ago I said to my wife: “I think I had an epiphany” speaking of a situation we had been trying to navigate.

The above definition is from dictionary.com and it is the third of four given. The first on the list is more distinctly Christian.

Epiphany: a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.

Epiphany is the celebration of the … Read More »

Advent, Part 2

Living in a post-Christian world means that often our cultural calendars are in conflict with the church calendar. One such example of this happens every year after Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, most Americans begin to celebrate Christmas or the Christmas season as it is often called. You hear familiar carols in the mall, sales and advertising are in full swing, and gatherings of friends and families and co-workers abound. Then December 26 comes and all the decorations and Christmas talk are put away until next year. This is how we generally celebrate Christmas in our culture.

This is not how the church celebrates Christmas. Christmas on the church calendar begins December 25 and runs for 12 days after that. Think here, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” Now you know where the 12 days of Christmas … Read More »

Advent, Part 1

Happy New Year! This is the first Sunday in Advent, which is regarded by Western Christianity as the beginning of the liturgical year. Sometimes Christians mistakenly think of Advent as being synonymous with the birth of Christ or with Christmas. But it really isn’t. In fact, Advent’s primary focus is on what we usually call the second coming of Christ. It’s for this reason that you will find the lectionary readings of the church focusing on this topic, this year.

I like what Laurence Stookey says about this, “What may seem to be an anomaly is a very important theological point: The beginning of the liturgical year takes our thinking to the very end of things.” (Christ’s Time for the Church, 121)

This is important because beginning at the end equips us to make sense of the rest of Jesus’ life and … Read More »

Christ the King Sunday

Ours is a day when Christianity is often reduced to a message about individual salvation and sentimental platitudes about a future place called heaven. To be sure there are individual aspects to our salvation and we do look forward to the reality of heaven to come—though in a profoundly different way than most speak of it. But there is more to our faith than “being saved” or “going to heaven.”

When Jesus began his ministry his charter was simple. He came “proclaiming the gospel (good news) of God” Mark tells us (Mark 1:14). What is that good news? “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” At the heart of Jesus’ message; at the heart of his vocation; that which he came to accomplish and establish is the kingdom of God.

Kingdom … Read More »

Thanksgiving

This week an amazing thing will happen. 323 million people—give or take a few—will pause to say thank you. Of course, the object of that thanks is up for debate, but that’s a different point for a different time. With no disrespect intended for the formation of our country of for those who have served or died for it, I must admit that of all the civic holidays we have in America, I think Thanksgiving is my favorite. I don’t know what it is. The vibe on Thanksgiving is just different from the Fourth of July or from Memorial Day. I enjoy being with family and friends and the food, but there is something more about Thanksgiving. Something that invites one to look around and take in just how much we really have. Sure, we might not have as much or … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Soli Deo Gloria

At the end of every composition Johann Sebastian Bach affixed the letters SDG. They, of course, stood for Soli Deo Gloria—To God alone be the glory. He did it as a way to remind himself and those who would later see it and play it that its goal was to lift people into the heavenlies and direct their thoughts and attention to God alone. And the apostle Paul did the same. In a sweeping summary statement encapsulating every area of our lives he says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). The verse is really amazing. Evidently there is a way to dishonor God in the things and way we eat and drink. The most menial task of our existence is elevated to a canvas for the … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Solus Christus

Although likely a twentieth century addition to the original three solae of the reformation — sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia — solus Christus — by/through/in Christ alone— accurately captures and reflects the message of the reformers. Solus Christus, like the other solae is designed to be set against something else. So Christ alone means that Christ’s person and work is sufficient to save sinners and there is no need for additional assistance, whether from a priest, Mary, the church, or ourselves. It suggests that Christ is all we need to be right with God. It seeks to place Christ at the center of everything. He is the one about whom sola sciptura speaks. He is the one from whom we receive grace. And he is the one in whom our faith is placed. Solus Christus means: Christ at the … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Sola Fide

As noted when thinking about sola scriptura, most religions and religious movements have formal and material principles from which authority is derived and by which doctrines are summarized, respectively. Usually the formal principle is a text(s)—hence sola scriptura is the formal principle of the Reformation—while material principles tend to be the summary or central teaching(s) of the religion or the movement. The material principle of the Reformation is the next sola under consideration: sola fide. This no doubt was what Luther was getting at when he called justification by faith articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae-the point of belief which determines whether the Church stands or falls. Likewise, G.C. Berkhouwer:

The confession of divine justification touches man’s life at its heart, at the point of its relationship to God. It defines the preaching of the Church, the existence and progress of the life of faith, the root of human … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Sola Gratia

More than anything, the Reformation began as a soteriological struggle. Medieval Christianity had degenerated so much that the gospel had become a demand to make oneself acceptable to God by improving on the infused grace received in baptism and the Lord’s supper (see Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity) rather than a donation, that is, a gift from God. This soteriological struggle was envisaged in Luther’s life personally as he wrestled with this theme. We are not talking about an esoteric or abstract theological idea. The Reformation was about the gospel and the Christian life. In some ways, the Reformation was the result of Luther’s personal struggles and the resultant outcomes. He wrestled with the things he saw when he journeyed to Rome. He struggled with his understanding of grace as he read and taught … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Sola Scriptura

All religions have authoritative texts and persons to whom they look for direction and guidance. This is sometimes called the formal principle of religion. As we have noted recently in our Sunday school class, the formal principle of Orthodoxy is the Bible and sacred tradition. In Catholicism it’s the Bible and tradition and the pope and the magisterium. After the reformation, two traditions—Anglicans and Methodists—would come to emphasize a slightly nuanced position which became known as prima scriptura; the teaching that holy Scripture is first among other places of God’s revelation.

In contrast to all of these, the formal principle of the Protestant reformation was Sola Scriptura: by scripture alone. Alone set this off from Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and later Anglicans and Methodists, and their competing and complementing sources of authority.

Scripture alone is the sole repository of God’s authoritative revelation, the … Read More »