The start of that title is an interesting bit in Matthew 28:17. It is made all the more interesting because of the liturgical day of Trinity Sunday. On Trinity Sunday we confess the Athanasian Creed which is the most strident of the three historic creeds in its statements and sweep. In that way it mirrors the statements by Jesus right around that interesting bit. What this sermon does is examine the current fetish with doubt, point to the real trouble which is not doubt itself but fear, and look at the ways that both fear and doubt are calls to The Faith, expressed in clear form like the creeds, and to faithfulness. Lastly, it attempts to knock down one of the great fears behind clear statements of the faith, by recalling Jesus’ final words and Peter’s Pentecost sermon…Let all Israel know for certain…(read/listen to the sermon to hear the rest).
I want to pick back up the subject from yesterday. And I want to do it in a very specific way. We can trace a bunch of the problems within the denomination or you could say within the 1st world western church back to the 1960’s. Historically they go back farther, but that is when they erupted. I’ve got a book sitting on my shelf that is one “go-to” historical reference for a prior time of eruption – the reformation. That book is Ozment’s – The Age of Reform. The subtitle is 1250 – 1550. Think about that for a second. When we talk about the reformation we usually think 1517 (Luther’s 95 Theses) and forward through maybe 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia where the Reformed (i.e. Calvin) received official sanction. In Ozment’s construction Luther was the eruption at the end that brought a bunch of streams together. The Council of Trent put a capstone on that age. Everything after that was learning to live with the separate theological peaces negotiated. From a Lutheran perspective our theological peace is expressed in the Book of Concord. The two biggies there are the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord. The formula closed up Pandora doctrinal box for Lutherans just like Trent did it for Catholics. The Reformed would have a more difficult time. There are a bunch of reformed confessions that closed the box for many different groups, but that stream liked opening the box much more. They were “reformed and always reforming”.
Just for a second I want to scan the contents of that last eruption: Original Sin, Free Will, Righteousness of Faith, Good Works, Law & Gospel, Third Use of the Law, Holy Supper, Person of Christ, Descent of Christ into Hell, Church Practices, Election, Other factions and Sects. There are some weighty topics there, but today I can believe in original sin in the form of total depravity and my Catholic neighbor can believe in original sin but expressed more as an inheritance from Adam of an inclination to sin and neither of us will decide that “I need to get a sword and chop off his heretical head”. Not that these things aren’t important, they are, what we think on these things effects how we live even if we don’t know it, but they are settled things. Of those things the reformation peace on the Lord’s Supper is probably the widest. As a Lutheran I might believe, teach and confess that transubstantiation is a little too specific, but the body and blood are truly present , and I think that is the best way to talk about it, but can I really say that Roman Catholics are out of Christ or Zwinglians are heading to hell? The writers of the Concord would probably have said yes. But 430 years later that is a very tough statement. Especially given that all three groups are still around. Unlike the resolution of the early Trinitarian doctrines in the creeds, and especially the Athanasian Creed which states that “whoever wishes to be saved must hold the catholic faith…and the catholic faith is this…” we just don’t put that forward with confessions. Some do, but I think you could get a good consensus around something like: Creeds – definitive doctrine, Confessions – internally consistent ways of living the one Catholic faith.
Now we come to the modern troubles. If I were trying to sit down and write a modern confession that would close Pandora’s doctrinal box I think here are the headings I would start with: science, medical technology, man and woman in Christ. Under science I think you would address things like evolution and modern philosophy. Under medical technology you would address end of life issues and the death penalty but also early life issues such as IVF, birth control and abortion. Then under man and woman in Christ you would discuss such things as divorce, sexual mores, the ministry, and what might be termed gender roles.
What I want to do is flesh some of the controversies and stumble toward some possible confessional statements. Now some of these are what we might think of as “no brainers”. Some, like sexual mores, have very strong and core biblical statements. Others like who is in the ministry are much more muddy than the sides in the controversy would think. And still others are pure extrapolation from biblical principles such as IVF.
Again, this is me thinking out loud. I’m trying to separate true theological thinking from simple justification of “that is the way we always lived, so the modern world must be wrong”. The next time I’m going to start with the easy things – sexual mores. Then I’m going to extend that to IVF & Birth control.
This was a short article from the WSJ that explores some of the background behind a few recent news stories. The stories I’m thinking of most recently are: the Calvin College professor named in the article, Michelle Bachmann and the pope/antichrist or on submission, Tim Tebow, and World Youth Day.
Think for a second of all the people behind those stories – a college professor, a congresswoman running for president, a quarterback, a pope and thousands of largely western (i.e. wealthy) Roman Catholic Kids. All those people are Christian. One of the easy ways to tell that is look at the coverage they all got in the standard media which usually boils down to, “look at these kooks, we don’t get them, but there seem to be a lot of them, look at all the Tebow Jerseys and they guy has played 3 games”. My guess is that if you put the professor, the NFL quarterback and the pope into a bar you’d have an interesting discussion. They’d all agree on the life of Jesus and in slightly different words what it means. (Boil it down to Incarnation, Ministry, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and atonement or salvation.) But ask them about Adam and Eve, or modern Jews and Israel or the military or even sports and watch the differences.
The big word behind this is hermeneutics. That is the big word for how one interprets meaning from any source: written, verbal, or you name it. We read and interpret the Bible. Christians find Christ at the center of that interpretation. That is why the pope, Tebow and the professor actually have more in common together than with most of the journalists covering their stories irregardless of their many differences. At least for me (and Irenaeus who I’m stealing from/leaning on) that is the central role of the creeds. These are the things we all agree on. They lay out the boundaries of hermeneutics. If you read the bible and come up with something that breaks what the creeds say…go back and read again because you got something wrong. At the center of those creeds is the life of Christ and its meaning.
I also wanted to link to this story because of the picture. That is a 1993 work of art – so it is modern. And it was visually striking. There is a physical Adam and Eve, and I suppose that could be a blanket, but in a certain manner it looks like a burial shroud or a veil. In the middle of garden, death was coiled and things hidden. Coming at that picture with Christian eyes you would interpret a whole different set of things than if you were biblically illiterate.