Sunday, December 27, 2009

Lutheran Hymns

I received a copy of Martin Luther: Hymns, Ballads, Chants, Truth and Heirs of the Reformation as gifts recently. Both are 4-CD sets. The first is a collection of all the hymns, ballads, and chants written by Martin Luther. The second is a collection of hymns written after the time of Luther. You could get a good theological education just by listening to these CDs. The singing is beautiful as is the musical accompaniment. Unfortunately, some of the lyrics are hard to make out. I think this problem could be solved by not using organ settings that are so close in their predominant frequency to the human voice that is singing. Frequency slotting could also be used but this might give the organ or voices an unnatural sound. There is a booklet provided for each of these sets with all the lyrics. The Martin Luther album is my favorite of the two but has some distracting voice over quotes of Martin Luther about music. I think it would have been better to just print these quotes in the booklet. The hymns on both albums stand in sharp contrast to most modern hymns. There's just so much depth and they're so Biblical.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Facing the Giant Fireproof Potatoes

Inevitably, when discussing movies with other Christians, someone will start telling me about how great some recent Christian movie was. If I start pointing out some problems with the theology of the movie, the other person usually gets very defensive and thinks I'm being too nit-picky. But my problem with the movie is usually not some minor details or even the bad acting (of which there is usually plenty) but with the basic way in which the movie presents Christianity. For a period of time most Christian movies seemed to teach that if you become a Christian God will rapture you off this planet so that you don't have to suffer with everybody else. More recently, the movies keep the person on the planet but protected from suffering and given plenty of earthly riches as a result of their faith in Christ. Joe has a lousy football team, car dealership, marriage, or farm. Joe decides to turn his life over to Christ. All of a sudden people are giving Joe new cars and money and his football team is winning every game.

What kind of message is this? What happens when your neighbor watches the movie and decides to become a Christian so that he can get rich? What happens when your neighbor doesn't make any financial gains after his conversion? Wouldn't he be right to conclude that Christianity is a big hoax? These movies seem to be a great way to promote atheism. Some one will undoubtedly point to a person that they know who now goes to church or something else as a result of these movies. From my experience these results are very short lived and even if they are long-lasting that still doesn't prove that the message of these movies is true.

The fact is, that these movies present a story that is the exact opposite of the way in which the Bible presents Christianity and the way that the church has historically presented Christianity. Historically, the church has not told the stories of those who became wealthy after becoming Christians but those who suffered martyrdom--those who died for the faith. Jesus' faithfulness resulted in His crucifixion. All but one of the Apostles was martyred. John wasn't martyred but he was exiled. People certainly weren't trying to give him new cars and a higher paying job. Stories about the death of martyrs continued after Apostolic times. Some were converted after witnessing these martyrdoms. Some who led very prosperous lives gave up all that they had to serve the church and some of these people were killed for their faith as well. I'm sure that occasionally a person became a Christian and that they experienced some financial gain afterwards but the story of that person's life did not get told and retold by the church.

Even after the Reformation, the stories of the martyrs continued to be told. Various branches of the church would tell stories of different martyrs but they all told the stories of the martyrs. Some groups considered another group's martyrs to be heretics but they still agreed on the importance of telling the story of the martyrs.

Throughout most periods of history if you told people that they would become wealthy if they became Christians they would laugh at you. In many parts of the world today I think people would still laugh at you. The number of martyrs continues to increase. It's really only in Western civilized countries that Christians are not currently suffering severe persecution. Christians should be making movies about those people who have died for the faith not those who have made some extra money after becoming Christians. Don't try to tell me that the guy who would not deny Christ after being tortured in prison somehow has less faith than the guy whose football team started winning games after he became a Christian. There are some low-budget documentary-style movies out there and one really excellent movie called To End All Wars but there should be more. The stories of the martyrs are extremely interesting--much more interesting than the formulaic stories being pumped out by the Christian film companies.

Christian movies should show us why our faith is something that is important enough to die for. Christian movies should show the world that our faith is something that we are willing to die for. If the Christian faith is portrayed as something that people might kill you for believing and somebody becomes a believer they aren't going to accuse you of false advertising if nobody tries to kill them. But if the Christian faith is presented as a get rich quick scheme and they don't get rich, they have every reason to abandon the faith. Our faith is centered on a bloody, dead Jesus hanging on a cross. This faith was handed down to us by those who were beaten and killed for preaching it. Faith in Christ does not prevent suffering. If you put your faith in Christ your suffering is likely to increase.

The real Jesus is nothing like the Messiah that the Jews were looking for. The Jews wanted a Messiah that would take all their earthly suffering away and defeat their political enemies. This is the same type of Messiah presented in Christian film. The Jewish mistake is understandable based upon their misreading of the Old Testament prophecies (and by conveniently ignoring some of the prophecies). But the Christian film maker who knows about the crucifixion is inexcusable. Of course we all are. Every time we try to make a deal with God or get angry when we see that those who have no faith in Christ seem to have easier lives we do the same thing. As Robert Capon said in his commentary on the Parables:

The work of Jesus in his incarnation, life, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension makes no worldly sense at all. The portrait the Gospels paint is that of a lifeguard who leaps into the surf, swims to the drowning girl, and then, instead of doing a cross-chest carry, drowns with her, revives three days later, and walks off the beach with assurances that everything, including the apparently still-dead girl, is hunky-dory. You do not like that? Neither do I. But I submit that it is--unless we are prepared to ignore both the Gospels and the ensuing two thousand years' worth of tombstones with bodies still under them--very much like what the Man actually said and did.

Praise be to God for sending his only-begotten Son to die for our sin of creating false Messiahs.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Word of God is Living and Powerful

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Most conservative Christians understand the "word of God" as referring to a thing--usually the Bible. But this explanation does not make sense when the verse is taken in context.

Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Some would argue that the Bible is simply being personified but I think this misses the point. The "Word of God" is not a what but a who. Although most commentators since John Calvin understand the "word of God" as referring to either the Bible or the message of the Gospel, most patristic commentators understood the "Word of God" as referring to the Divine Logos--Jesus Christ Himself.

There are many churches that seem to exalt the Bible above God. This is just as foolish as exalting your own reason above God's Word. The Word of God first and foremost is Jesus. Jesus is able to discern are thoughts and intentions because He is God. The Scriptures are the word of God in a secondary sense because they are all about Jesus. Many seem to believe in Jesus because He is understood as one of the many things that Scripture tells us about but this is entirely backwards. We believe the Scriptures because they tell us about Jesus and have been given to us by the Triune God.

The Bible is like an infallible icon of Jesus. If I had a photo of my wife and I started showing it around and talking about the photo paper that was used and the background but never said anything about my wife I you might learn quite a bit about how the picture was made but you would never really learn anything about the main subject of the photo. All you would have is a bunch of mildly interesting facts. The same is true of Scripture. If someone can preach a sermon on a passage of Scripture without Jesus as the main subject then the person is not preaching the Scriptures. Those who hear such sermons on a regular basis are really not much worse off than if they sat under a pastor who completely denied the authority of the Scriptures.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I'm Gonna Lift You Up

John 12:32 "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."

For some reason I hear this verse quoted quite a bit lately. Usually the "lifted up" seems to be taken as referring to praising Jesus or something like that. The following song is just one example:

Gonna Lift You Up
Jonathan Butler
You said if you be lifted, You’d draw all men to you
You said if you be lifted, You’d draw all men to you
So draw me, draw me closer
So draw me
Draw me closer to you
I’m gonna lift you higher, higher….
Gonna lift you up
Oh Lord, I’m gonna lift you up And I’m never gonna stop
Oh with everything I’ve got…
I’m gonna lift you up
You said if you be lifted, You’d draw all men to you
You said if you be lifted, You’d draw all men to you
So draw me, draw me closer
So draw me
Draw me closer to you
I’m gonna lift higher, higher….
Gonna lift you up
Oh Lord, I’m gonna lift you up
And I’m never gonna stop
Oh with everything I’ve got…
I’m gonna lift you up
Oh Lord, I’m gonna lift you up
And I’m never gonna stop
Oh with everything I’ve got…
I’m gonna lift you up
Gonna lift my hands
Gonna lift my voice
I’m gonna lift my worship to you
I’m gonna lift my hands and give you praise
Gonna lift you up
Oh Lord, I’m gonna lift you up
And I’m never gonna stop
Oh with everything I’ve got…
I’m gonna lift you up
Oh Lord, I’m gonna lift you up
And I’m never gonna stop
Oh with everything I’ve got…
I’m gonna lift you up
I’m gonna lift you up
I’m gonna lift you up

But is this what the passage is really about? What if we just look at the very next verse?

John 12:32-33 "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself." This He said, signifying by what death He would die.

John says that the lifting up referred to Christ's crucifixion. What happens if we insert John's explanation into the song?

You said if you be lifted, You’d draw all men to you
You said if you be lifted, You’d draw all men to you
So draw me, draw me closer
So draw me
Draw me closer to you
I’m gonna crucify you higher, higher….
Gonna crucify you up
Oh Lord, I’m gonna crucify you up And I’m never gonna stop
Oh with everything I’ve got…
I’m gonna crucify you up
You said if you be lifted, You’d draw all men to you
You said if you be lifted, You’d draw all men to you
So draw me, draw me closer
So draw me
Draw me closer to you
I’m gonna crucify you higher, higher….
Gonna crucify you up
Oh Lord, I’m gonna crucify you up
And I’m never gonna stop
Oh with everything I’ve got…
I’m gonna crucify you up
Oh Lord, I’m gonna crucify you up
And I’m never gonna stop
Oh with everything I’ve got…
I’m gonna crucify you up
Gonna lift my hands
Gonna lift my voice
I’m gonna lift my worship to you
I’m gonna lift my hands and give you praise
Gonna crucify you up
Oh Lord, I’m gonna crucify you up
And I’m never gonna stop
Oh with everything I’ve got…
I’m gonna crucify you up
Oh Lord, I’m gonna crucify you up
And I’m never gonna stop
Oh with everything I’ve got…
I’m gonna crucify you up
I’m gonna crucify you up
I’m gonna crucify you up

I wonder if this version would ever make it on the jumbo tron screen. This song and other statements I've heard made on the same text make a gigantic mistake. We certainly did crucify Christ but crucifying God is nothing to be proud of. What Jesus said was all about what He was going to do for us and how He was going to do it. It was not intended as a principle for daily living. If it were a principle for daily living or an evangelism program, you better ditch the guitar and drums and pick up a hammer and nails.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Remarriage Revisited

Several years ago, I was studying to become a minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches. I ended up leaving that denomination after coming into disagreement with the PRC on the issue of divorce and remarriage. The PRC teaches that it is always sinful to remarry if the first spouse is living and that those who have done so must break off their second marriages if they are to become members of the PRC. I had defended the position of the PRC for a few years but after digging deeper into the Scriptures, reading several books recommended by the PRC, and studying the doctrine historically I came to believe that it is actually sinful to break off the second marriage. Despite the various rumors that have circulated, this was the reason that I left the PRC. I wrote a paper at the time and attempted to engage in serious Biblical discussion with both ministers and lay people in the PRC without success.

Since that time, after rigorous Biblical study and great doubt about my own reason I've become a Lutheran. Recently, I've had a few people in the Reformed camp ask for a copy of the paper I wrote. I now realize that although I did a sufficient job of showing that it is actually sinful to break off the second marriage, I missed the point. I missed the point because I had the same false presuppositions that the PRC does. I will begin by arguing within the framework of those presuppositions—showing that even if the presuppositions are accepted the position of the PRC is not a logical conclusion from the Biblical texts—and then show why the basic presuppositions are wrong. I will not spend time defending the position that remarriage while the spouse is still living is considered sin by Scripture. There are already excellent books by Andrew Cornes, Gordon Wenham, and Oscar Watkins on this subject. I recognize that my position is contrary to the Book of Concord but I have no secret plans to impose my view on the Lutheran churches.

Matthew 19:3-12 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery." His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry." But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it."

The discussion that Jesus has with the Pharisees in Matt. 19 is based on Deuteronomy 24.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 "When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man's wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance."

The Pharisees (and the KJV) misunderstood Deuteronomy 24:1 as a command. The stricter rabbis of the time taught that if a man found that his wife had committed adultery he was commanded by God's law to divorce the woman and was free to remarry another. The more liberal rabbis taught that a man could divorce his wife for just about any reason. Jesus rightly pointed out that divorce is not commanded in Deuteronomy 24. Verses 1-3 are a description of what was taking place without any real statement as to the rightness or wrongness of it. Verses 1-3 were taking place because of the hardness of the people's hearts. Verse 4 is the only verse that contains a command. Verse 4 forbids the first husband from taking the wife back if her second husband divorces her. Prof. David Engelsma is the most vocal supporter of the PRC position on divorce and remarriage and has written the most extensively on the subject. Just before I left the PRC, I met with Prof. Engelsma to discuss my problems with their teaching that the second marriage is one of continual adultery and that people must break off their second marriages. When I brought up Deuteronomy 24:4 he absolutely refused to make any judgment as to whether or not it still applied because Synod had never made a decision on it and never would until a situation occurred in which someone wanted to reunite with her first spouse and disagreed with what her consistory told her. It is absolutely irresponsible for the PRC to tell people to break off their second marriages while refusing to answer the question as to whether or not it is permissible to return to the first spouse. Engelsma reviews Cornes' book in the May 15, 1994 issue of the “Standard Bearer.” Engelsma gives a positive review of the book but complains that Cornes says that the remarried should remain in what Engelsma calls an “ongoing adulterous relationship.” But Engelsma does not deal with Cornes' argument based on Deuteronomy 24 or the other reasons that Cornes gives as to why he believes they should stay in that relationship. After I met with Engelsma he wrote an article in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal about why we shouldn't go to Deuteronomy 24 to learn about divorce and remarriage but he never dealt with my actual argument. Deuteronomy clearly shows that some great change has occurred in the marriage relationship between the original spouses if a return to the original marriage is an abomination.

Deuteronomy 24:4 teaches that there is some kind of change in the relationship between the original two spouses when one of them enters into a second marriage. If there were absolutely no change in relationship then the first husband would be able to take the wife back and should do so. But the Scriptures don't even allow such a thing. God says that this is an abomination. This is not just some concession to the cultural norms of the time anymore than the prohibitions against homosexual acts were. The wife cannot return to the first husband because there is still a bond but the bond has changed. The only explanation that I have found that makes sense of this comes from Gordon Wenham. He notes that in the Song of Solomon and other passages of Scripture kinship terms such as “sister” are used to speak of a person's wife. Adam says that Eve is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh which is similar to the English expression “flesh and blood” and is used throughout Scripture to speak of one's relatives. Through marriage a person in some sense is joined in a kinship relationship with his spouse. If a person is divorced from the first spouse and remarries another the kinship remains but through the wife the two husbands are also joined in a kinship relationship. If the wife leaves the second husband to go back to the first she would be engaging in a type of incest. Three reasons are given in Deuteronomy 24 for forbidding the husband to take the former wife back who has remarried: “she has been defiled,” “it is an abomination before the LORD,” and it “causes the land to sin.” Theses same phrases are used in Leviticus 18 and 20 in the laws against incest that not only outlaw sexual relations between close blood relatives but also close in-laws and the prohibitions remain even if the spouse has died through whom the kinship relationship was originally established.

Some in the PRC have stated that the use of the present tense in Matthew 5:32 (commits adultery) indicates that the adultery is a continual action among the remarried. However, the present tense is not used very often in Scripture to denote continuous action. The most common use in Scripture is the descriptive present. Within the context of the question and answer exchange that is taking place it seems far more likely to understand “commits adultery” as a gnomic or general present. This idiomatic use of the present to denote a general truth is not uncommon in the Scriptures (Matt. 5:32, Mark 2:21, John 3:8, 2 Cor. 9:7, Heb. 3:4). The string of aorists lends support to interpreting as an aoristic present. It is the remarrying itself that is referred to as adultery and not the remaining in the remarried state. Some have used Romans 7:3 where it says that if a woman is joined to another man while her husband is still alive she will be called an adulteress as proof that the adultery is a continual action. Aside from the fact that this passage is about the law and not about marriage, it also does not follow that the adultery must be continual for her to be considered an adulteress. If I go murder someone, people are going to call me a murderer regardless of whether or not I do it on a regular basis.

1 Corinthians 7 says that people should be content in their present state. If Paul had desired to tell people in second marriages to leave their second spouse he very well could have, but he doesn't. He commands married men and women to engage in sexual intercourse with one another and does not have any exception clauses for those who are in second marriages. The adulterous marriage category created by the PRC is foreign to Scripture. Since the Scriptures contain no rules or regulations for this category, there is no clear thus saith the Lord in regard to responsibilities and boundaries. The Scriptures do not refer to second marriages as anything other than marriages and never says that they are any less binding than first marriages. The Song of Solomon is a love poem between Solomon and one of his very many second wives. There is nothing withing the teachings of Jesus or Paul that suggests that prohibitions against divorce apply only to the first spouse. When Jesus speaks with the woman of Samaria in John 4:18 he speaks of all those who she was married to as her husbands.

Numbers 30:6-9 says that even rash vows are binding. The PRC objects that we cannot perform vows which are vows to sin but fulfillment of a marriage vow is not sinful in and of itself. A person can take out a loan sinfully if the paying back of the money makes it impossible for him to provide adequately for his family but the person is still under obligation to repay the loan. The PRC will argue that these are completely different matters because the one is the taking out of a loan which is not sinful and the other is a vow to commit adultery but these labels are superficial. They could just as easily be labeled as a vow to steal (since the man is stealing from what rightfully should be given to his family) and a vow to marry.

Ezra 9-10 has been used by PRC ministers as an example of God telling people who have divorced and remarried to leave their second spouses. But the context of the passage does not give remarriage as the reason. It is possible that some did put away their Israelite wives to marry foreign women (Mal. 2:10-16) but this is not reason given in the passage for the need to separate. The only reason given in the passage itself is that these women were foreigners who would lead God's people into idolatry. If not for 1 Corinthians 7, it might make sense to use this passage to teach that believers should leave unbelieving spouses but it seems better to take this passage as a recounting of a particular historical event to show us how dangerous idolatry really is rather than as an example that should be repeated. The Israelites were told directly by God to kill everyone in the unbelieving nations but it's clear that we are not to follow this example. In this passage the people are told to send the children away as well. The PRC teaches that people still have a responsibility toward children they have in second marriages.

Some have used 1 Timothy and Titus where it says that elders/bishops must be husbands of one wife to teach that in order to be a communicant member you cannot be in a remarried relationship. However, the qualifications for elders and deacons are stricter than they are for communicant members. Elders must be able to teach well but we don't excommunicate someone simply because they are a bad teacher. There are some pretty strong arguments for the idea that “husband of one wife” disqualifies those who have remarried after the first spouse has died but there is nothing sinful about remarrying after the first spouse dies.

How and where did the PRC go wrong? In regards to Matthew 19 in particular, I've now come to realize that both the PRC and I have missed the entire point of the passage. The Pharisees were coming to Jesus in order to have a debate with him about the law. The Pharisees sought their salvation in their obedience to the law. When Jesus answers He's not acting as some kind of new Moses. Jesus is not primarily interested in providing them with principles for living untainted by the sin of adultery. Jesus' point is to show them that they are all sinners. Jesus' point was to show them that both rabbinic schools were guilty of adultery and worthy of God's present and eternal punishment. Only by crushing them with the law would they realize that they could not stand before God with their own righteousness but needed an alien righteousness. Their righteousness could only be found in the crucified Christ.

As the position of the PRC which differs both from the position of the historic church and the position of the historic Reformed and Presbyterian church bodies has had time to ferment, its defenders have become more and more rabid in defense of the doctrine. In the September 1, 1976 issue of the Standard Bearer, a lay person wrote a letter to the editor about his dismay over the decision of synod to allow a PRC minister to serve in the OPC in New Zealand. One of the lay person's big concerns is that the minister will have to administer the Lord's Supper to someone who is living in an adulteress marriage or baptism to the children of such people. The editor, Homer Hoeksema, warns against self-righteousness and minimizes the difference between the position of the PRC and the Presbyterians on the issue of remarriage. He rightly points out that the PRC did not always teach this doctrine and used to commune the remarried and should not expect other denominations to just jump on board. From it's beginnings in 1924 until the mid-1950's the PRC allowed remarried people to become members and receive communion. Even after this time, there were church members who were grandfathered-in and allowed to commune. Homer Hoeksema did not think that the tone of lay person was appropriate but more recent editors of the Standard Bearer have gone far beyond the tone of the lay person. It is not uncommon to hear PRC ministers speaking of the dangers of communing with those who have remarried. Not only is this strange given the PRC's own history but it also leads to a wrong attitude towards communion. The partaking of Christ's body and blood is not for the righteous but for real sinners. Those who deny they are sinners should not be allowed to commune. If I come to the communion rail and thank God that I'm not taking communion with those remarried sinners in the church down the block then I am entirely unworthy to partake.

Why did the PRC go wrong? Because they have the wrong hub on their wheel. The PRC has a unique understanding of the covenant and views that unique understanding of the covenant as the central theme of all Scripture. Although the concept of the covenant is a major theme of Scripture, it is not the central theme! Jesus Christ is the central teaching of all Scripture. Jesus did not say that all of Scripture is about the covenant but that all of Scripture is about Him (John 5:39, Luke 24:27, etc.).

When Herman Hoeksema was searching the Scriptures concerning remarriage, he was using a covenant-centered hermeneutic rather than a Jesus-centered hermeneutic. If Hoeksema had read Matthew 19 with a Jesus-centered hermeneutic, he would have realized that Jesus is preaching law to us to drive us to Him. He is the only one who can save adulterers like us. The Apostolic teachings handed down to us in the ecumenical creeds are centered completely upon Christ. They provide both an excellent summary of the Christian faith and lens through which to understand Scripture. They do not carry the same authority as Scripture but they are like a swatch from an expensive dress that can be used to test for authenticity and if we are headed in the right direction. There is nothing in the ecumenical creeds about covenant theology and the various attempts at constructing covenant theologies has only led to numerous Reformed denominations that subscribe to the same confessions but can't agree on which brand of covenant theology is best. Their forefathers were able to create consensus documents such as the Canons of Dordt and the Heidelberg Catechism but their children feel the need to remain separate over these things and anathematize those who disagree with them.

But not only is a covenant-centered understanding of divorce and remarriage wrong-headed, it's simply impossible to apply consistently. If we are going to argue as the PRC does that because God's covenant is unconditional, therefore the first marriage is also unconditional and unchanged (which in reality they refuse to say if it is or isn't because they will not say if a wife can return to her first spouse), then we also have infallible and sinless husbands because Jesus is infallible and sinless and marriage is supposed to be a reflection of Christ and the Church. If we are going to apply this principle consistently then wives may never under any circumstance disobey their husbands since the Church may never disobey Christ.

The PRC position is also a symptom of the Reformed tendency to build inference upon inference, moving further and further from the clear teaching of Scripture. Reason is the devil's whore. Starting with a couple of statements from Scripture while ignoring many others can lead someone just about anywhere and often does. God does not act or behave in ways that we would expect. The Scriptures clearly teach various attributes of God such as omnipotence and omnipresence but if we were to simply start with these attributes and use our reason to create various rules that God would follow we would end up with a very different god from the one found in Scripture.

If we start with the doctrine of the Trinity we have to acknowledge that our reasoning is very limited in regards to who God is. If we were going to reason out a god for ourselves based upon a handful of statements that are true in themselves we would never end up with the Biblical God. The Scriptures themselves testify that God's ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Our only real contact with God can be found in the person of Jesus Christ. But this is a great mystery as well. How could a just, omnipotent God send His only-begotten to son to die for poor, miserable sinners like us who when we met Him killed Him? There is no way of logically comprehending that or reasoning to that point. We accept what God says about Himself because He died and rose again from the dead. By faith we believe what God says but we would be utter fools to create a scenario in which God dying for us makes sense. If we think it makes sense then we do not know that we are sinners. Why on earth would an omnipotent God die for a murderer like me?

If we consider divorce and remarriage as an abstract study in law then we can call in the lawyers and each make a case for a particular understanding of the laws and by-laws that God has given to us in the great book of laws known as the Bible. But if we start with Jesus Christ all bets are off. We simply cannot understand the mind of the one giving the law and if we read the texts as something that we can do then we show no understanding of the one speaking. Jesus was speaking to those who thought they could keep the law and who wanted to read the text in a way that made it doable. Jesus said, “NO! You are all adulterers and murderers and you have no hope of getting better! I'm going to die for your adultery and your murder! If you insist on moral improvement as your ticket to the wedding feast you will be damned!”

Unfortunately, I don't have much hope that the PRC will change it's position on this issue. The process that would be required would be almost impossible. Unfortunately, the process itself makes it almost impossible to turn from any error. A remarried person coming from the outside who requested membership would be automatically denied membership and have no means of protest. More than likely the person would simply join another church body anyhow. It would require a person to already be a member of the PRC and divorce and then remarry. Excommunication would then take place and the person I suppose could appeal to synod. The person would be treated like dirt by many and all kinds of wonderful and fantastic stories would circulate about the person and the appeal to synod would be rejected without any real consideration of the Biblical arguments the person would make since synod would say that the matter had already been settled in the yonder days of Hoeksema. Such a person should probably locked up in some kind of mental health facility for subjecting his or herself to such a process in the first place. The person clearly enjoys punishment. None of this is to suggest that the ministers in the PRC are all agreed on the issue of divorce and remarriage. I know of at least one minister who holds to the view found in the Westminster Confession. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more. I don't know how they can act in good conscience and tell people that they may not become members of the church unless they sin by dissolving the second marriage but apparently my mind is too simple to make sense of such things. I don't understand how a minister can tell me that there is nothing unbiblical about homeschooling and then serve on a committee that casts out a minister who homeschools. I've spoken with PRC ministers who diligently carried out the teachings of the PRC on the issue of remmariage while hoping that they were doing the right thing. I've spoken to elders who also hold to the Westminster view but think that the view of the PRC makes sense from a practical perspective and it helps keep out the rampant divorce and remarriage found in all those other churches. But isn't this what the Pharisees were doing, at least part of the time? Creating human laws to keep people from breaking the real ones? God sending His only-begotten Son to die for me is not very practical. Turning from its current position would also probably cause some kind of division in the PRC and create one less PRC distinctive. Unfortunately, all denominations at various times forsake the truth in an attempt to preserve the institution. LCMS Inc. certainly does this and so we shouldn't expect PRC Inc. to be any different. Institutions will always develop whenever two or three gather together to worship but the institution must always be the slave of the Gospel. When preservation of the institution becomes the central goal then the institution loses all reason for existence. Fear of the disintegration of institution will always put a person in the same place as Jesus' opponents.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Worship Without Words: the Signs and Symbols of Our Faith

Paraclete Press sent me a complimentary copy of Worship Without Words: the Signs and Symbols or Our Faith. It explains the symbols that you find in churches that have some kind of historic architecture as well as words used during the service. The author is Roman Catholic but she covers Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches as well. I found the section on architecture to be the most helpful. I'm always getting words like chancel, sanctuary, nave, and narthex confused in my head. This book has some very helpful diagrams. One is an overhead shot diagramming the various parts of a church with a cruciform floor plan. Another gives a view from the nave looking towards the sanctuary. In many Protestant churches when people talk about the sanctuary they are referring to the area that people sit in but this is really the nave. As the book points out "nave" is the Latin word for ship and "In ecclesiastical art, the Church is represented as a ship sailing toward heaven. The ship's "passengers" are the parishioners who sit in the main part of the church." This isn't the type of book you are likely to read all the way through but it's an excellent reference.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Music from the Lutheran Service Book

If you wonder what Lutheran liturgical music sounds like or are trying to figure out how certain parts from the Treasury of Daily Prayer should be sung, check out the free LSB audio files.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale and am mildly embarrassed that I agreed to review it. Is this book profound? No. Will it change your life? I sure hope not. Is it a fun read? Sure. Throughout the Internet you will a number of sites dedicated to so-called "Chuck Norris Facts" created by all kinds of people. This book is a compilation of Chuck Norris' 101 favorite facts such as "When Chuck Norris does a push-up, he isn't pushing himself up. He's pushing the earth down" or "When Chuck Norris wants an egg, he cracks open a chicken." Most of them are pretty funny. Then Chuck Norris provides some story in his life that relates to the particular Chuck Norris fact. Usually they are stories about how Chuck Norris pulled himself up by his boot straps and how you can too. There is mention of God but usually in a very general creator sense. It's all the theology of glory for you Lutherans out there. Then we are given a quote from some famous person (modern military leader, contemporary Christian musician, George Burns, or C.S. Lewis). They are most often of the "Be strong!," "Carry a gun!," "Don't be afraid!" variety. Then Chuck Norris tells us about the code he lives by which usually involves something about not giving up or staying out of debt or learn to laugh with people. Do I recommend the book? The "facts" are funny but you can find them all over the Internet and the rest of the book isn't very good. I guess it could make a fun gag gift.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Jack Daniel's: the Spirit of Tennessee Cookbook

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson. I'm not much of a cook. I like to grill but anytime I have tried something fancy in the oven, things have not gone well. But I found this book intriguing. I like things cooked in alcoholic beverages. I like to use beer or wine for marinating meat but I had never cooked with Jack Daniels before. I was missing out.

The book is attractive and filled with nice pictures. It has some nice, short articles about people of Tennessee. Not all of the recipes contain Jack Daniels but many of them do. There are recipes scattered throughout such as "Possum and Sweet 'Taters" that seem to be intended as something fun to read than actually do. It includes directions on how to capture the possum, prepare him, and kill him. I would consider trying this but would probably fail.

So far I've made five of the recipes and have succeeded at four of them. I made the banana pancakes but failed miserably because of my own poor pancake making skills. There was lots of burning despite the fact that this was the one thing I didn't light on fire. My wife was able to successfully cook the second half of the batch. They were pretty good but I'm not a huge pancake fan. I successfully made the spiked pancake syrup. I'm not big on pancake syrup either but it was pretty good. The intoxicated chicken turned out well and was very good (which involved whiskey and the igniting of it during the cooking process). Better yet was the corn chowder (which also involved the igniting of whiskey during the cooking process. It was delicious. But the best recipe of all was the Flaming Tennessee Tenderloin. It was the best pork I've ever had and was impressive from the presentation point of view as well. My wife arranged the sliced pork in a heart shape and I poured the ignited whiskey on top of it to create a flaming heart.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cycles of Grace: Hymns from the Great Feasts

This is the last of the albums by Fr. Apostolos Hill that I received as complimentary copies from Liturgica. It's just as beautiful and there is enough variance between them to warrant buying all the albums. This one is a 2-CD set. The numbering of the tracks is a little confusing because rather than starting over at the number "1," the CD case simply continues numbering at "20" which means you have to brush up on your math skills and subtract 19 to figure out what track you are on. The liturgical texts span the liturgical year.

The first two tracks are not liturgical texts about the Nativity of Christ, but the Nativity of Mary--the Theotokos. The tracks rely upon church tradition.

Tracks 3-6 cover the Exaltation of the Cross which commemorates the finding of the cross that Christ was crucified on. These are some of my favorite texts on the album. The first ode from track 5 says:
Moses marked a straight line before him with his staff and divided the Red Sea, opening a path for Israel who went over dry-shod. Then marking a second line across the waters thus inscribing the invincible weapon of the Cross, united them in one overwhelming the chariots of Pharaoh. Therefore to Christ let us sing, for He has been glorified.

The second ode finds the cross in Aaron's rod. The fifth ode says:

O thrice blessed Tree where on Christ the King and Lord was hung. The foe who tempted mankind with a Tree was caught in the trap set by He who in the flesh was nailed to You, granting peace unto our souls.

The sixth ode finds the cross in the figure of Jonah stretching out his hands to God in prayer while inside the fish. The seventh ode tells how Christ was present with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. The ninth ode refers to Mary as a "mystical paradise" and I have no idea what that means. Track 6 says:

The Cross is the guardian of the whole earth; the cross is the beauty of the Church. The Cross is the strength of kings; the Cross is the support of the faithful. The Cross is the glory of angels and the wonder of demons.

Today the Cross is exalted and the world is sanctified. For Thou who art enthroned with the Father and the Holy Spirit hast spread Thine arms upon it, and drawn the world to knowledge of Thee, O Christ. Make worthy of divine glory those that have put their trust in Thee.

Tracks 7 and 8 are for "The Entry of the Theotokos Into the Temple." She is seen as the fulfillment of such Old Testament imagery as the jar of manna, Aaron's rod, and the tablet of the Law.

Tracks 9-13 are some excellent liturgical texts on the "Nativity of Christ." Track 9 reads:

Today is born of the Virgin Him who holdest all creation in the hollow of His hand.
He whose essence is untouchable is wrapped in swaddling clothes as a babe.
The God who from of Old established the heavens lieth in a manger.
He who showered the people with manna in the wilderness feedeth on milk from the breasts...

Tracks 14-19 are for the "Theophany of Our Lord." Track 14 ties the passing of the Israelites through the Red Sea to the baptism of Christ.

Tracks 20-23 are for "The Meeting of Our Lord." They contain portions of the Nunc Dimittis and I kept wanting to hear the whole thing.

Tracks 24-27 are for the "Annunciation of the Theotokos." I had some problems with some of the theology in these tracks.

Tracks 28-29 are for Pascha. I would have liked to hear more Pascha texts.

Tracks 30-31 are for the Ascension.

Tracks 32-34 are for Pentecost.

Tracks 35-38 are for the Transfiguration.

Tracks 39-40 are for the "Dormition of the Theotokos." The texts seem to be based mostly on church tradition. The texts are not my favorite but musically they are very interesting.

If you are at all interested in Byzantine Chant I would highly recommend this album.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hymns of Paradise: Hymns of Life and Hope

This is the second of three albums of Byzantine Chant in English by Fr. Apostolos Hill that I received a complimentary copy of from Liturgica. The chants on this album are a collection of liturgical texts for funerals and are just as beautifully chanted as the chants on the first album I reviewed. This is the only funeral CD I own and if you only have the cash to buy a single funeral album this should probably be your first choice. I don't like the liturgical texts quite as much as those contained on Gates of Repentance but it's still an excellent and very peaceful album and some beautiful female chanting.

The album begins with a beautiful prayer requesting God to give rest to the departed. The Book of Concord does not forbid prayers for the dead and neither do I. There's a petition at the end addressed to the Virgin that I don't think is entirely inappropriate but I'm not sure why we are saying that we are her servants.

The third track is a beautiful version of the Trisagion Hymn where we call upon God to have mercy on us. The album has a number of beautiful chants of various Psalms. Track seven is one of my favorites and part of it says:

The choir of saints has found the fountain of life and the door of Paradise. May I also find the way through repentance, the sheep that was lost am I, call me up to You, O Savior, and save me.

Tracks 9-16 are funeral hymns by St. John of Damascus. The rightly show how empty, sad, and fleeting life can be and how rest can only be found in Christ. Track 10 reads:

Like a flower that wastes away, and like a dream that passes and is gone, so is ever mortal into dust resolved; but again, when the trumpet sounds its call as though at a quaking of the earth, all the dead shall arise and go forth to meet You, O Christ our God...

Part of Track 16 reads:

The death which you have endured, O Lord, is become the harbinger of deathlessness; if You had not laid in Your tomb, the gates of Paradise would not have opened; wherefore to them now departed from us give rest, for You are the friend of mankind.

Track 18 is a chanting of the Epistle reading--1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. Track 19 is a chanting of the Gospel reading--John 5:24-30. The chanting of the Gospel reading is the most beautiful chanting I have heard anywhere. Someone needs to make Fr. Apostolos Hill do a chanting of the entire Bible.

Tracks 21 and 22 are Greek versions of tracks 2 and 3.

If you are really anti-prayers for the dead you will probably have more theological problems with this album than Gates of Repentance but otherwise there is less objectionable material. If you are interested in liturgical chant I highly recommend you make both of these albums part of your library.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gates of Repentance: Hymns from Great Lent and Holy Week

Liturgica has been kind enough to send me complimentary copies of all of Fr. Apostolos Hill's recordings of Byzantine Chant in English. These are the most beautiful recordings of Byzantine Chant I've ever heard and some of the most beautiful recordings I've ever heard of music in general. The liner notes are so thick that they are hard to get back inside the case. They contain lots of information including the lyrics to all the songs. I do have some theological problems with the album but that is because I have some theological problems with Eastern Orthodoxy.

Byzantine Chant is monophonic but often accompanied by a bass drone called an "ison." The ison adds beauty to the recordings and really made some of the chants stick in my head. I had a hard time getting the following from track 12 out of my head while I was trying to take an insurance exam:

God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us, blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.

This particular album is a collection of hymns from Great Lent and Holy Week. Samples can be heard on the website. The album begins by asking God to grant us repentance, rightfully recognizing that repentance itself is a gift from God. My favorite songs on the album compare the singer to a Biblical character. Track 4 places the singer in the place of the Publican:

Mine eyes are weighed down by my transgressions, and I cannot lift them up and see the height of heaven. But receive me, Savior, in repentance as the Publican and have mercy on me.

Track 5 uses imagery from the story of the Prodigal Son:

When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants.

Track 21 is based on the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Track 22 is based on the Parable of the Wedding Feast:

I see Thy Bridal chamber adorned, O my Saviour, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter therein. O Thou giver of light make radiant the vesture of my soul and save me.

Track 26 identifies the singer with the thief on the cross:

When the thief beheld the Origins of Life suspended on the Cross, he said: were not He is crucified with us incarnate God, the sun would not have hidden his rays, nor the earth quaked with trembling. But You who endured it all, remember me, O Lord, when you come into Your Kingdom.

Track 19 speaks of Christ defeating death already in the resurrection in the resurrection of Lazarus:

By means of Lazarus has Christ already plundered you, O death. Where is your victory, O Hades?

Track 22 is a profound meditation on the crucifixion of Christ:

Today is suspended upon the Tree, He who suspended the land upon the waters. A crown of thorns crowns Him, who is the king of the angels. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery, Who wrapped the heavens with clouds. He received smitings, He who freed Adam in the Jordan. He was transfixed with nails, Who is the Son of the Virgin. We worship Thy Passion, O Christ. Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection.

There were also some tracks that caught me off guard. Track 20 speaks of God sending fire to devour our adversaries and contains this imprecation:

Bring more evils upon them, O Lord, bring more evils upon them who are glorious upon earth. Alleluia.

Track 25 is the most politically incorrect of the tracks:

The Jews, O Lord, condemned You to death, O Life of all, and they whom You did cause to cross the Red Sea nailed You to the Cross. They to whom You gave honey from the rock to eat, offered You gall.

Although there is nothing false in the statement above, I think it would be better to say, "We, O Lord, condemned You to death..." and continue the same pattern of placing the singer in the place of the villain.

When the songs on the album stick to the Biblical events they are superb. When they deviate I start to question their theological accuracy. The album contains songs which are prayers addressed to Mary and the saints. I don't believe it is necessarily always wrong or sinful to call upon Mary or the other saints to pray for the church because we are told in Scripture that the saints do pray for the church. However, we do not have the promise that they hear our prayers. But I don't believe it is necessarily wrong in a general way to call out to the saints to pray to the church the same way perhaps that the Psalmist calls upon every creature that has breath to praise the Lord. If I chant that Psalm I don't expect all or even any of the creatures to hear me or understand what I am saying. In the Lutheran Service Book we have a hymn written by an Anglican based on the Orthodox liturgy that calls out to Mary and all the saints in heaven to praise God:

Ye watchers and ye holy ones, Bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones, Raise the glad strain! Alleluia!....
O higher than the Cherubim, More glorious than the Seraphim, Lead their praises. Alleluia! Thou, Bearer of the Eternal Word, Most gracious, magnify the Lord. Alleluia...

I believe that all of the above is entirely appropriate. Mary is higher than the angels because she was given the great privilege of the Theotokos (God-bearer). Mary was given a special calling far above that given to any man. I am convinced from the Scriptures and the tradition of the church that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life on earth and that her virginity even remained intact through the birthing process. She is rightly honored by the church and all generations should call her blessed.

However, some of the songs on this album go to far. Track 2 calls upon the Theotokos for purification. An Orthodox Christian might say that they are really calling upon Mary to pray for their purification but it really sounds like Mary is the one doing the purification. Track 6 refers to Mary as the "Queen of virtues" and that she is bringing us "fortune of good deeds" making it sound as if the good deeds of Mary are contributing to our salvation. Wasn't the work of Christ enough? We are called to wash ourselves in the blood of the Lamb, not the blood of Mary. Track 13 refers to Mary as the "Champion Leader"

To thee the Champion Leader, I thy servant ascribe thank offerings of victory, for from all terrors hast thou delivered me; and since thou hast that power which is unassailable, from all dangers set me free, that I may cry out unto thee, "Hail, O Bride without bridegroom!"

With songs like that it's no wonder Mohammed thought that the Trinity consisted of God, Jesus, and Mary. Discernment is definitely required for listening to this CD but it is well worth it. There is so much beautiful and unique music.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beyond Smells and Bells: the Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy

Paraclete Press provided me with a complimentary copy of this wonderful little book. It offers a nice defense, written in simple language, of the historic Christian liturgy. Mark Galli is an Anglican but focuses on the similarities between the historic liturgies in the Western church. He shows how the liturgy brings us into the Biblical stories and makes us contemporaries of Biblical events. He tells us how the liturgical calendar can help us order our lives and draw us into community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It's the perfect antidote to the Jesus and me attitude of many American Christians. The liturgy shows us how to properly approach a Holy and Loving God. The liturgy keeps us from idolatry. Without the liturgy we are easily drawn into idolatry. We determine what is true and our own standing before God based upon our feelings and ideas. Apart from the historic liturgy we can easily get sucked into thinking that whatever makes us feel spiritual must be the best way to worship God. Our feelings become our god. The liturgy shows us what is important and what is objectively true and show us that God does not fit inside of our brains or heart. The Trinity is a great mystery and true Christian worship can only be worship of the Trinity and centered on the Trinity. Modern worship tends to be focused on the worshiper. Christian worship must be focused on Christ and His work. The historic liturgy is all about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

This book could be used for a variety of situations. A liturgical church could use it to educate their members as to why the historic liturgy is important. A non-liturgical church could use the book to try to transition itself into a liturgical church. Church bodies with a liturgical history that are departing from historical liturgy should seriously consider this book. There are plenty of seeker-sensitive non-denominational churches out there and they can probably do contemporary worship a lot better than you can. Pastor Baby-boomer man: I know you think you're hot stuff up there with your guitar and quite the rebel. I know you think you know how to communicate to the youth. But you're just preparing the kids to go to the mega-church down the block. Why would the kids want to see the Sha Na Nas when U2 is down the street? Meanwhile, there are lots of younger people who are really interested in worship that is more mysterious. If you want the kids to come, you might want to consider buying some incense and doing some processionals instead of the PowerPoint and the guitar. Kids are tired of watching their teachers at school fumble with the PowerPoint, they don't need to see you trying to muck with it. The historic liturgy is even toddler-friendly. Little kids that can't read will quickly memorize the liturgy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cyril Lucar, the Synod of Jerusalem, the Clarity of Mud, and Slander

I have great interest in Eastern Orthodoxy. I have no intention of converting but I would very much like to understand this particular manifestation of the historic Christian faith. There are things like their synergistic view of salvation that I completely disagree with but I would like to understand them better. Unfortunately, every time I think I am starting to understand them I run into a giant wall of mud.

My most recent attempt to understand Eastern Orthodoxy involved a conversation I was having on another blog about the Synod of Jerusalem (1672) which met to refute the Calvinistic teachings of The Eastern Confession of the Christian Faith (1629) by the Patriarch of Constantinople Cyril Lucar. Timothy Ware, Pelikan, and other Orthodox scholars that I've read write under the assumption that Lucar was a Calvinist and that he did author these documents. Other Orthodox scholars deny that Lucar could have ever written such a thing. After reading the arguments for and against I find the arguments that Hadjiantoniou makes that Lucar is the author of this document pretty strong. Kevin Edgecomb has a very interesting blog and disagrees with me but his argument that Lucar could not have written this confession seems to beg the question. Kevin argues that this is a forgery done by a Calvinist. But it seems to me that if this were so, the Confession would also conform to Calvinist teaching on sacraments and the icons but it definitely does not. Kevin says that an Orthodox writer would never write such a document with "bare listings of Biblical citations as evidence." But if Lucar was drinking from the wells of Geneva as those who believe he wrote this document claim, isn't it possible that he might start writing as they did? He seems to be someone who didn't buy into the entire Calvinistic system but who appreciated the reverence that they had for Scripture and came to believe certain things that they did that were not specifically addressed in the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

Perhaps I'm completely wrong in my belief that Lucar is the author of this document but that wouldn't make the wall that I ran into any less muddier. The Synod of Jerusalem not only addresses the false teachings of Calvinists, it also addresses the supposedly false teachings of Lutherans. I've often wondered what authority this document has for Orthodox Christians. Kevin Edgecomb claims that this is not considered an Ecumenical Council but it is ecumenically received and has ecumenical application. Decree 17 says:

In the celebration of this sacrament we believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is present, not typologically...nor by impanation, so that the divinity of the Word would be united hypostaticallly to the bread of the Eucharist that is set forth, as the followers of Luther most ignorantly and wretchedly suppose...

The Lutheran Confessions explicitly reject impanation. If I claim that someone else is ignorant because they believe something and they do not really believe that thing wouldn't that mean that I am actually the ignorant one? Later on Decree 17 says:

The body and blood are present, not by superhuman grace...nor by impanation, as though the body of the Lord, being infinite, perhaps by being united with the divinity of the Only-begotten, is also united to the bread that is set forth in the eucharist, so that the bread is body and the wine blood by a metonymy and not by a change (as the madness of Luther claimed)...

I can't find anywhere that Luther teaches any of this nonsense. This amounts to nothing but slander and if anyone reads a treatise by Luther on the Sacrament of the Altar and comes away thinking that Luther was teaching that "the bread is body and the wine blood by metonymy" then that person is truly mad.

Decree 15 says:

We believe that there are in the church sacraments of the Gospel, and that they are seven in number...any number of the sacraments other than seven is the product of heretical madness.

However, some Eastern Orthodox believe that numbering the sacraments is a false teaching. Wouldn't that mean that Orthodox folks who believe we should not number the sacraments are mad heretics?

Decree 18 asks the question:

Ought the Divine Scriptures be read in the vernacular by all Christians?

It answers:

No. For that all Scripture is divinely inspired and profitable we know, and it is of such necessity that without it it is impossible to be Orthodox at all. Nevertheless it should not be read by everyone, but only by those who with fitting research have inquired into the deep things of the Spirit and who know in what manner Divine Scripture ought to be searched, taught, and read. But to those who are not prepared this way, or who cannot distinguish, or who understand what is contained in Scripture only in a literal way or in any other way contrary to Orthodoxy, the catholic church, knowing by experience the mischief arising from this, forbids them to read it. Thus it is indeed permitted to all Orthodox to hear the Scripture, that they may believe with the heart unto righteousness and confess with the mouth unto salvation; but to read some parts of the Scripture, and especially of the Old Testament, is forbidden for the reasons mentioned and for other similar reasons. For prohibiting unprepared persons from reading all of Sacred Scripture is the same as requiring infants to abstain from solid food.

I agree that Scripture should be read and studied within the context of the church but the above goes much farther and would seem to make both the EOB and the OSB heretical projects. Why would you want to encourage even more people to read the Bible in the vernacular if you believe what the Decree says above? Shouldn't Orthodox bookstores require people who buy Bibles to prove that they are under the guidance of a priest?

Article 17 teaches transubstantiation but I've heard modern Orthodox theologians reject the term for the same reasons that Lutherans reject the term.

There is even disagreement in the Eastern Orthodox church as to who is a "heretic." I've been listening to an interesting podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. In it, Fr. Andrew defines various terms and talks rightly defends the teaching that what we believe about determines what kind of god we worship. He explains that only someone who was once part of the true church can rightly be called a "heretic." Kevin Edgecomb applies the label to Martin Luther which would only make sense if the Eastern Orthodox taught that the Roman Catholic Church was the true church. Obviously, Edgecomb does not mean this but everything gets pretty muddy when different definitions are attached to the same word.

A convert from Lutheranism to Eastern Orthodoxy wrote "There is No Lutheran Church." But if the same type of criteria were applied to the Eastern Orthodox Church we would have to conclude that "There is No Orthodox Church." It is certainly true that the Eastern Orthodox Church has done a better job than any other denomination in adhering to its own confessions among very diverse peoples but it does not have the complete adherence that it claims to have. Those who confess "one holy catholic and apostolic church" will have to either conclude that it's a myth or that it's something other than what the Eastern Orthodox claim it is. The author of "There is No Lutheran Church" presents some legitimate problems within Lutheranism along with some misunderstandings. We should pray that these inconsistencies be removed from the Lutheran church.

Collectively, as church bodies we should never be gazing about the church bodies around us and saying, "Thank God that we are not like these other denominations..."

We must always be beating our breasts and saying, "God be merciful to us sinners. Purge out the heresies that we practice."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Liturgica has been kind enough to provide me with complimentary copies of their products to review. They have an excellent selection of liturgical recordings, books, and gifts. I will be reviewing some recordings by Fr. Apostolos Hill. Fr. Hill's music is in the Byzantine chant tradition but his arrangements have a unique beauty.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gregorian Advent

I've been looking for music to listen to during Advent and this was selling used on Amazon for a couple of dollars so I thought I would give it a try. This is now the only CD I own that is nothing but Advent music and it's pretty nice. There's nothing spectacular about it--the performance and the recording are both good. The liner notes are as slim as can be. It's just straightforward, traditional, Gregorian chant. But it has songs for each of the four Sundays in Advent and I believe it will serve me well throughout the Advent season.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Confronting Death: A Christian Approach to the End of Life with Walter Wangerin Jr.

Paraclete Press sent me a complimentary copy of this DVD. A small study guide is included to use with a group. Wangerin speaks from his own experience of dealing with cancer and offers some good practical advice. Wangerin tells about how important it is to comfort those who are not sick that are in close relationship with the sick person. The video is touching without being sappy and the production quality is okay.

Unfortunately, although the DVD claims to offer a Christian approach, it doesn't deliver. Wangerin's ideas seem to be formed more by his life experience and psychology than they are by Scripture. Wangerin hopes that his part of his spirit will live on in the trees that he planted. It's not that he doesn't quote Scripture but that he's not looking to Scripture to see what it says about death and dying. He's taking ideas from elsewhere and then trying to read them into Scripture. I just don't think a passage where Elijah is grieving because all of God's true prophets have been killed and now they are trying to kill him are intended by God to be used as an example of general grieving over death. The Bible has plenty to say about death and plenty of comfort to offer. Someone could easily create a DVD about confronting death entirely based on the crucifixion. Unfortunately the crucifixion is only mentioned to tell us that Jesus was very quiet on the cross and so we should be quiet when we die as a witness to those around us that we are peaceful in death. That's just not the point of the passage at all. Jesus was being crucified! He could barely breathe! Our attention should be brought to the things that he said on the cross because of the great effort he would have had to put in to saying them! Because we have been joined to Jesus death in our baptism we will also be resurrected as Jesus was resurrected! That is the great comfort we receive in the Scriptures. But there is no talk at all of a bodily resurrection in Wangerin's video. He says that his resurrection will be when Jesus calls Him after he dies in some ambiguous spiritual way.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Paul says not to grieve as the world does. He doesn't say not to grieve. Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. We can have hope--a certain expectation--that we will be resurrected bodily and that our brothers and sisters in Christ will be partakers in the bodily resurrection. If we place our hope in stories and feelings that exist in the mind of Wangerin, how can we have any certainty at all?

It's wonderful to hear the stories of saints who have gone before us that have peacefully entered into eternal life but I don't think they did so because they had a guilt-trip laid on them that they better do so as a witness to those around them. My wife and I lost identical twins and one of the pastors that came to visit us kept talking about how important it was to show that we were different from the world and not to grieve. Someone in that situation does not need the Law, they need the Gospel. A quiet stillness that is brought about because you are afraid what the world will say is not a true peace--it's a lie. True peace can only be found in the Gospel.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Coming of Christ: A Celebration of Faith in His Name

Paraclete Press sent me a complimentary copy of this Gregorian Chant CD performed by Gloria Dei Cantores Schola. The first seven tracks are Advent music and 8-32 tell the story of the life of Jesus from His nativity to early childhood. Recordings of Advent music are difficult to find. I've even seen CDs that are labeled "Advent" that are entirely made up of Christmas music and others that have only two Advent songs. There are countless Christmas albums but only a handful of really good Christmas albums. But it's even difficult to find a poorly done Advent album. When stores start decorating for Christmas and playing Christmas music in October, Advent can be difficult to celebrate. Advent is certainly not the money-maker that Christmas is--they can sell you an Advent wreath and calendar but that's about it. A penitential season like Advent certainly isn't as conducive to selling stuff. I suppose it's not surprising that stores would do away with Advent, but unfortunately much of the church-world has done away with Advent as well.

So anyhow, it's joy not just to find a CD with some Advent music on it but it's truly wonderful to find one as good as this one. All of the tracks are exceptionally well-performed. This CD has both male and female voices. My collection of male Gregorian chant is larger than my collection of female Gregorian Chant and I find male Gregorian chant easier to listen to for long periods of time. It's also easier for me to understand the words in male Gregorian Chant. But female Gregorian chant can beautiful and this is some of the best I've heard. The recording didn't sound very good on my car stereo. I noticed the same thing with another CD I own that has female Gregorian chant--Paschale Mysterium. But both sound absolutely beautiful on my home stereo.

The first and last tracks on The Coming of Christ are short organ pieces. These also sound horrible on my car stereo but sound excellent on my home stereo. I actually think the CD might be better without these organ pieces. They are well-performed and well-recorded but I just find them distracting.

The CD has some good liner notes, describing the various pieces. It also lists both the Latin text and an English translation which is very helpful.