The Baptism of Our Lord

This Sunday millions of Christians around the world will feast again. Last week it was for Epiphany—the celebration of the gospel going to the nations symbolized in the coming of the wise men from Asia and the Middle East. This week it’s the celebration of the baptism of our Lord. It’s analogous to Epiphany, just much bigger. In Epiphany Jesus is revealed to a handful of people from outside Israel—traditionally three. At this baptism Jesus is revealed to the entire world. A voice from heaven announces to the entire world Jesus’ messianic vocation.

Additionally, Jesus’ baptism is testimony of what God is up to in his Son. Jesus’ baptism calls us back to the beginnings of the Bible – to the waters where the three persons of the Trinity were at work in the creation of the world. Likewise, at Jesus’ … Read More »

Sola Fide: Faith Alone

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) 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 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 security, and man’s perspective for the future.

Sola fide is the … Read More »

The Wrath of God, Part 2

To be sure, Romans 1:18-32 is about God’s wrath. Paul leads out with that in 1:18, connecting it to what has already been highlighted about God’s righteousness being extended in the gospel of Christ. The reason we desperately need God’s righteousness is because we are sorely lacking in the righteousness department and “because (for) wrath is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1:18). That stipulated, an equally important theme in Romans 1:18-32 is worship. Summed up in 1:24-25: Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their heart…because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever!” Amen. And again in 1:21: “They did not honor him.” And 1:23: “and exchanged the glory … 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 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 »

Reformation 500

October is the month that Protestants usually celebrate and remember the Protestant Reformation. Although political, economic, and theological controversies were already churning beneath the surface, the date of the Reformation is usually linked with Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses on the churches in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. These 95 Theses come in the form of pithy and succinct sentences, something more akin to Donald Trump’s twitter feed than a theological tome. And that is not an insult. I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t fully understand the attraction to social media. But there are some really talented and gifted people out there who know how to wield it like a surgeon uses a scalpel. And this is how Luther used the theses when he posted them on the door of the church. For example,

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Confession of Faith or Pledge of Allegiance?

The recent NFL controversy—which is spreading to other venues too—concerning the appropriate posture during the national anthem got my mind running in so many different directions.

First, there is the liturgical path I went down. We are liturgical beings and therefore we need structure and order and routine. It’s just what we do. It’s who we are. It’s all around us if we will look around and see. We need it. We crave it. As such the national anthem serves as the liturgical call to worship of all American sporting events. Very interesting.

Second, I got thinking about the nature of this national anthem itself—this cultural call to worship—and what protests to it signified. Far more than a set of beliefs one is called upon to affirm intellectually, the protests to the national anthems reveal that the American anthem that signals the … Read More »

The Transfiguration

My wife wondered to me if the lady in front of us on our hike was a Christian. “Why do you say that?” I wondered back. “Her shirt,” my wife said, “it says metamorphosis.” An astute observation indeed. At its most baseline meaning the word just means transformation and can refer to almost anything: people, organs, plants, and butterflies. But it is also a profoundly Christian word—a word that we

The transfiguration of Jesus points us forward and shows us what we too will become.

get in English from Greek, the Greek word which is used to describe—among other things—the transfiguration of Jesus. And after six days Jesus took with him Peter, and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured (Gr. metamorphoomai) before them (Mk. 9:2). The importance of this is … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 12: Westminster Standards

The Westminster Standards—made up of The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), and Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC)—serve as the doctrinal standards of our church and of hundreds of other reformed churches across the world. The title Westminster speaks to its provenance. It was drafted in England; and, as we noted last week, it was specifically, at least at the outset, a document that was to clarify and expand upon the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. But there was more to it than that both politically and theologically. Theologically the bar was set pretty high as the commissioners were charged with overseeing a “more perfect reformation of the Church.”

After the Puritans won control of the government (ca. 1652), Parliament called together 166 commissioners in 1646 with the aforementioned goal of revising and expanding the Thirty-Nine Articles. Yes, our standards … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 11: Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

After Henry VIII (r. 1509-47) started his affair with Anne Boleyn he needed to find a righteous way to get rid of his wife Catherine of Aragon (in his defense Catherine had trouble producing a living heir and when she did it was a female. He desperately wanted a male heir and would stop at nothing to get one). Henry–a Roman Catholic—knew that there was no way the church would ever allow him to remarry if he divorced Catherine. So he got creative. He turned his attention to the Bible for justification and sought an annulment rather than a divorce based on Leviticus 20:21: If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless. You see, prior to marrying Henry, Catherine had been married to Henry’s now-deceased brother Arthur. In Henry’s mind … Read More »