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Archive for May, 2008

What do the candles mean in church? A Pentecost thought

May 11th, 2008 Comments off

Candle_flame
Rev. Benjamin Mayes led chapel for us at Concordia Publishing House last week. In addition to stealing all my thunder, since he devoted his homily to Pentecost, and I am giving the chapel service this coming Wednesday, he began with an aside that I thought was quite profound and useful. He paused to point to the burning candles and said, "We’ve always said that the candles we light represent the light of Christ, and that is true, but I was thinking that as we consider the tongue of fire on the candle, we should be reminded of the tongues of fire that appeared on the heads of the Apostles and the rest of the disciples on that first Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12). And then as we recall that event, we consider that today the Holy Spirit is present, and at work among us, through the Word and Sacraments, and so that tongue of fire on the candle is a symbol of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit." I thought that was quite a good thought!

Categories: Uncategorized

Is the Gospel cliche?

May 11th, 2008 Comments off

Crucifiction_spear
Has the Gospel become cliche?
The dictionary defines "cliche" as "something that has become overly
familiar or commonplace." The way the word "Gospel" is used in much of
modern Christendom has, indeed, turned it into a cliche. Tragically, "Gospel" often means anything, and everything, but the true Gospel. The Gospel, as taught in
Sacred Scripture, through Old and New Testaments, is the good news that
Christ is the sacrifice for our sins, and that by His blood we are
cleansed, pardoned and renewed, receiving the righteousness of Christ
as a gift, through faith, alone, entirely by grace, alone. This is the
Gospel; however, for much of Christendom the Gospel has been reduced to
a cliche. Jesus: the kind man, philosopher, moral example, moral
leader, friend of the downtrodden, model of humility, revolutionary,
paragon of virtue, model of human kindness.

What makes all these
"Jesus cliches" appealing is that there is truth to be found in each of
them. But they all fall short and ultimately prove misleading. In the
second part of the Smalcald Articles, Martin Luther sharply focuses on
the "chief article." He is simply laying out the very heart and soul of
what Christianity is all about and what sets it apart from any human
religious opinions or systems. Because of its significance for
understanding the Smalcald Articles, let’s put the entire text on the
table for discussion (italics added for emphasis):

The first and chief article is this:

1 Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 4:24–25).

2
He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John
1:29), and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all (Isaiah 53:6).

3
All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works or
merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
in His blood (Romans 3:23–25).

4 This is necessary to believe.
This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or
merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone
justifies us. As St. Paul says:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28)

That He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. [Romans 3:26]

5 Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls [Mark 13:31].

For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

And with His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends,
in opposition to the pope, the devil, and the whole world. Therefore,
we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine. Otherwise, all is lost,
and the pope, the devil, and all adversaries win the victory and the
right over us.

Looking through the rest of the Smalcald
Articles, we see how Luther comes back to this point, over and over
again. Consider Luther’s statements:

The Mass in the papacy has to be the greatest and most horrible abomination, since it directly and powerfully conflicts with this chief article. (SA II.i.1; Concordia, p. 264)

If
these institutions will not serve this purpose, it is better to abandon
them or tear them down than have their blasphemous, humanly invented
services regarded as something better than the ordinary Christian life
and the offices and callings ordained by God. This too is contrary to the chief article on the redemption through Jesus Christ. (SA II.iii.2; Concordia, p. 267).

Since monastic vows directly conflict with the first chief article, they must be absolutely abolished. (SA III.xiv.1; Concordia, p. 283).

Luther’s constant theme is one echoed throughout the Lutheran Confessions, note for instance:

It is necessary for the chief article
of the Gospel to be preserved, namely that we obtain grace freely by
faith in Christ, and not by certain observances or acts of worship
devised by people. (AC XXVIII.52; Concordia, p. 61).

Melanchthon hammers the point home in the Apology [Defense] of the Augsburg Confession:

In this controversy, the chief topic of Christian doctrine
is treated. When it is understood correctly, it illumines and amplifies
Christ’s honor ‹which is especially useful for the clear, correct
understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, and alone shows the way to the unspeakable treasure and right knowledge of Christ, and alone opens the door to the entire Bible›.
It brings necessary and most abundant consolation to devout
consciences. Therefore, we ask His Imperial Majesty to hear us with
patience in matters of such importance. For the adversaries do not
understand what the forgiveness of sins or faith or grace or
righteousness is. Therefore, they sadly corrupt this topic, hide
Christ’s glory and benefits, and rob devout consciences of the
consolation offered in Christ. (Ap IV.2-3; Concordia, p. 82).

And again:

It [the article on repentance] contains the chief topic of the Gospel, the true knowledge of Christ, and the true worship of God. (Ap. XII.2; Concordia, p. 158).

This is the chief article
that we are debating with our adversaries and the knowledge we regard
is necessary to all Christians. (Ap. XII.58; Concordia, p. 165).

And:

Among the people, whoever understood the doctrine of repentance as presented by the adversaries? Yet this is the chief topic of Christian doctrine. (Ap. XXIV.25; Concordia, p. 228).

The constant drumbeat of justification continues in the Formula of Concord. Note:

This article about justification by faith (as the Apology says) is the chief article
[see Ap IV 2–3] in all Christian doctrine. Without this teaching no
poor conscience can have any firm consolation or truly know the riches
of Christ’s grace. Dr. Luther also has written about this: "If this one
teaching stands in its purity, then Christendom will also remain pure
and good, undivided and unseparated; for this alone, and nothing else, makes and maintains Christendom.…
Where this falls, it is impossible to ward off any error or sectarian
spirit." [LW 14:37] Paul says especially about this article, “a little
leaven leavens the whole lump” [1 Corinthians 5:6]. Therefore, in this
article he zealously and earnestly urges the use of exclusive terms
[particulas exclusivas], that is, words that exclude people’s works
from justification (i.e., “apart from works of the law,” “apart from
works,” “by grace” [Romans 3:28; 4:6; Ephesians 2:8–9]). These show how
highly necessary it is that in this article, along with the pure
doctrine, the antithesis (i.e., all contrary doctrine) be stated
separately, exposed, and rejected by this method. (FC SD III.6;
Concordia, p. 536)

These and similar errors,
one and all, we unanimously reject as contrary to God’s clear Word. By
God’s grace we abide firmly and constantly in the doctrine of the
righteousness of faith before God, as it is embodied, expounded, and
proved from God’s Word in the Augsburg Confession, and the Apology
issued after it. Concerning what is needed further for the proper
explanation of this profound and chief article
of justification before God—upon which depends the salvation of our
souls—we direct readers to another document. For the sake of brevity we
refer everyone to Dr. Luther’s beautiful and glorious commentary on the
Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians [1535]. [LW 26–27] (FC SD III.67;
Concordia, p. 546).

It is only the Biblical
Gospel that is Gospel—at all. Gospel, of course, meaning in the Greek,
literally, "a message of good news." There any number of other
religious philosophies and opinions that proclaim "good news" but the
actual "good news" of Jesus Christ is what makes Christianity,
Christianity, and it is what makes Lutheranism, Lutheranism.

It
is a hard, but necessary, word to speak to fellow Christians when we
declare that other confessions of the Gospel distract from, and
obscure, the glory and merit of Christ, but they do and that is why we
continue, to this day, and until the return of Christ, to hold high the
banner of the Gospel, as it is so beautifully, clearly and powerfully
confessed in the Book of Concord.

Why? Because we know that it
is only the truth and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that comforts
sinners. We are not interested in any other message. We preach Christ
and Him crucified and risen because it is only Christ and the preaching
of Christ that rescues people from the misery of their sin and an
eternity of separation from God in hell. We know that it is only the
Gospel of Jesus Christ that gives life meaning. It is the Gospel,
alone, that gives us the peace that passes all understanding, and joy,
even in the midst of sorrow and hardship. The Gospel not only gives, it is.
The Gospel is love, hope, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and
self-control. The Holy Spirit gives these gifts as the gifts of the
Gospel. The Gospel is what gives life meaning.

Only the good
news is the power of God that saves. Therefore, we stand fast and
proclaim this alone-saving truth: the Gospel of Christ, the chief
article of the Christian faith. We can not do otherwise. God help us.
Amen.

Categories: Lutheranism

BOC FAQ — Frequently Asked Questions about the Book of Concord

May 3rd, 2008 4 comments

Help_faq
A poll was taken of over 2,000 Lutheran pastors, asking them to list the questions they most frequently are asked about the Lutheran Confessions as contained in the Book of Concord. Here are the questions, in the order of frequency. Following the questions, answers are provided.

What is the Book of Concord?
What are the Lutheran Confessions?
What does Concord mean?
What does confession mean?
What is in the Book of Concord?
What are the Ecumenical Creeds?
What is the Augsburg Confession and Apology of the Augsburg Confession?
What are the Small and Large Catechisms?
What are the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope?
What is the Formula of Concord?
Who wrote the Book of Concord?
Since we have the Bible, why do we have the Book of Concord?
A friend of mine says it is wrong to use creeds or confessions. How do I respond?
Are the Lutheran Confessions just for pastors and theologians?
What documents should a layperson read first in the Book of Concord?
What is a confessional Lutheran?
What is an "unconditional subscription" to the Confessions?
Why is an unconditional subscription to the Lutheran Confessions so important?
Do all Lutheran churches have the same view of the Book of Concord?
Do other churches have confessions like the Lutheran Church?
Summing things up…

Bookofconcord
What is the Book of Concord?

The Book of Concord is a book published in 1580 that contains the Lutheran Confessions. (The image to the left is the title page from the first edition of the Book of Concord, printed in Dresden Germany, on June 25, 1580).

What are the Lutheran Confessions?
The Lutheran Confessions are ten statements of faith that Lutherans use as official explanations and summaries of what they believe, teach, and confess. They remain to this day the definitive standard of what Lutheranism is.

What does Concord mean?
Concord means “harmony.” The word is derived from two Latin words and is translated literally as “with one heart.”

What does confession mean?
When used in this context, confession means “to say what you believe.” The Lutheran Confessions are statements of faith that Lutherans use to say to the world, “This is what we believe, teach and confess. ”

What is in the Book of Concord?
The Book of Concord contains the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the Augsburg Confession, the Apology [Defense] of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, and the Formula of Concord.

What are the Ecumenical Creeds?
Creed is from the Latin word credere, which means “to believe.” The three creeds in the Book of Concord are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. They are described as “ecumenical,” meaning “universal,” because they are accepted by the majority of Christians worldwide as correct expressions of what God’s Word teaches.

What is the Augsburg Confession and Apology of the Augsburg Confession?
In the year 1530, the Lutherans were required to present their confession of faith before the Holy Roman Emperor in Augsburg, Germany. The Augsburg Confession was publicly presented on June 25, 1530. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession was written to defend the Augsburg Confession. Apology means “defense” when used in this way.

What are the Small and Large Catechisms?
Martin Luther wrote two handbooks in 1529 to help families and pastors teach the basics of the Christian faith. The Small Catechism and the Large Catechism are organized around six topics: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. The catechisms were so universally accepted that they were included as part of the Book of Concord in 1580.

What are the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope?
Martin Luther wrote a set of doctrinal articles in 1537 for an alliance of Lutheran princes and territories, known as the Smalcaldic League. Luther’s articles were widely respected and were eventually included in the Book of Concord. At the same meeting that considered Luther’s articles, Philip Melanchthon was asked to expand on the subject of the Roman papacy and did so in his treatise, which was also later included in the Book of Concord.

What is the Formula of Concord?
After Luther’s death in 1546, various controversies arose in the Lutheran Church in Germany. After much debate and struggle, the Formula of Concord was adopted in 1577 by over eight thousand princes, political rulers, theologians, and pastors, effectively ending the controversy.

Who wrote the Book of Concord?
The ancient creeds in the Book of Concord were prepared by early church pastors and theologians. Philip Melanchthon, a layman, was a professor of Greek and theology at the University of Wittenberg. He was chiefly responsible for writing the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. Martin Luther wrote the Small and Large Catechisms and the Smalcald Articles. A group of Lutheran theologians prepared the Formula of Concord. They were Jacob Andreae, Martin Chemnitz, Nicholas Selnecker, David Chytraeus, Andrew Musculus, and Christopher Koerner.

Since we have the Bible, why do we have the Book of Concord?
The Lutheran Confessions are a summary and explanation of the Bible. They are not placed over the Bible. They do not take the place of the Bible. The Book of Concord is how Lutherans are able to say, together, as a church, “This is what we believe. This is what we teach. This is what we confess.” The reason we have the Book of Concord is because of how highly we value correct teaching and preaching of God’s Word.

A friend of mine says it is wrong to use creeds or confessions. How do I respond?
The Bible itself not only contains numerous confessions and statements of faith by believers, but it also urges us to confess the faith. If a confession is completely in accord with Scripture, we can hardly claim that the content of the confession is merely “man-made” (1 Corinthians 12:1–3).

531154
Are the Lutheran Confessions just for pastors and theologians?

No. They are for all people: pastors, theologians, and laypersons alike. They are important statements of faith. They are not necessarily easy to understand, but they are so important that everyone who is a Lutheran should be aware of what the Book of Concord is and should have a copy of the Lutheran Confessions. There is an edition of the Book of Concord prepared specifically for laypeople to read, filled with notes, annotations, illustrations, and many other useful materials to aid reading and understanding. It is titled Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord and is available from Concordia Publishing House. You may order a copy on the Internet, or by calling 800-325-3040.

What documents should a layperson read first in the Book of Concord?
The Small Catechism is called “The Layman’s Bible” by the Formula of Concord because it does such a good job of summarizing the most important teachings of the Bible. The Large Catechism would be the next document to read carefully. The Augsburg Confession is the primary Lutheran Confession and should be read by every layperson. The Smalcald Articles are lively, bold, and powerful and capture readers’ interest. The time and attention needed to read the longer documents in the Book of Concord are well worth the effort since they are filled with such powerfully comforting and instructive biblical truth.

What is a confessional Lutheran?
A confessional Lutheran is a person who uses the documents contained in the Book of Concord to declare his faith to the world. The contents of the Book of Concord are cherished by such a person precisely because they are powerful means by which the correct teachings of Holy Scripture can be taught and shared with other people. The spirit of confessional Lutheranism is reflected well in the last words written in the Book of Concord: “In the sight of God and of all Christendom, we want to testify to those now living and those who will come after us. This declaration presented here about all the controverted articles mentioned and explained above—and no other—is our faith, doctrine, and confession. By God’s grace, with intrepid hearts, we are willing to appear before the judgment seat of Christ with this Confession and give an account of it (1 Peter 4:5). We will not speak or write anything contrary to this Confession, either publicly or privately. By the strength of God’s grace we intend to abide by it.” (FC SD XII 40).

What is an “unconditional subscription” to the Confessions?
Confessional Lutheran pastors are required to “subscribe,” that is, to pledge their agreement unconditionally with the Lutheran Confessions precisely because they are a pure exposition of the Word of God. This is the way our pastors, and all laypeople who confess belief in the Small Catechism, are able with great joy and without reservation or qualification to say what it is that they believe to be the truth of God’s Word.

Why is an unconditional subscription to the Lutheran Confessions so important?
Authentically Lutheran churches insist on a subscription to the Confessions because they agree with the Bible, not merely in so far as they agree with Scripture. Otherwise, there would no objective way to make sure that there is faithful teaching and preaching of God’s Word. Everything would depend on each pastor’s private opinions, subjective interpretations, and personal feelings, rather than on objective truth as set forth in the Lutheran Confessions.

Do all Lutheran churches have the same view of the Book of Concord?
No. Many Lutheran churches in the world today have been thoroughly influenced by the liberal theology that has taken over most so-called “mainline” Protestant denominations in North America and the large Protestant state churches in Europe, Scandinavia, and elsewhere. The foundation of much of modern theology is the view that the words of the Bible are not actually God’s words but merely human opinions and reflections of the personal feelings of those who wrote the words. Consequently, confessions that claim to be true explanations of God’s Word are now regarded more as historically conditioned human opinions, rather than as objective statements of truth. This would explain why some Lutheran churches enter into fellowship arrangements with non-Lutheran churches teaching things in direct conflict with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.

Do other churches have confessions like the Lutheran Church?
Yes, they do. Most other churches have confessions scattered throughout various books. The Book of Concord is unique among all churches in the world, since it gathers together the Lutheran Church’s most normative expressions of the Christian faith into a single book that has been used for nearly five hundred years as a fixed point of reference for the Lutheran Church. Other churches have various catechisms and confessions they can point to, but few have as complete a collection of confessions that has received as much widespread use and support, for so long a time, as the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord of 1580.

Summing things up…
To be a Lutheran is to be one who honors the Word of God. That Word makes it clear that it is God’s desire for His Church to be in agreement about doctrine and to be of one mind, living at peace with one another (1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11). It is for that reason that we so treasure the precious confession of Christian truth that we have in the Book of Concord. For confessional Lutherans, there is no other collection of documents, statements, or books that so clearly, accurately, and comfortingly presents the truths of God’s Word and reveals the biblical Gospel as does our Book of Concord.

Hand in hand with our commitment to pure teaching and confession of the faith is, and always must be, an equally strong commitment to reaching out boldly with the Gospel and speaking God’s truth to the world. That is what confession of the faith is all about, in the final analysis. Indeed, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13). This is what it means to be, and to remain, a genuine confessional Lutheran.

by
Rev. Paul T. McCain
© 2008 All Rights Reserved
Permission is granted to copy and use this FAQ for non-commercial purpose with the provision that the content of the FAQ not be changed and that it be reproduced in its entirety, with this copyright notice.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Pluralism Sunday or Pentecost Sunday?

May 2nd, 2008 1 comment

I receive a lot of news releases from various church press agencies and entities. Most are about as exciting as reading stereo instructions, but every once in a while along comes one that makes me sit up and take notice.

May 11 is Pentecost Sunday but apparently some Christians believe that the celebration of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, often referred to as the birthday of the Holy Christian Church, would be a good day to celebrate Pluralism Sunday, a day on which all world religions are honored for the good they do their adherents. This is a tragedy of indescribable proportions.

Read the following, and weep. Then pray that God the Holy Spirit would stir the hearts of the faithful to reach out in love and compassion for all those are wandering as sheep without a shepherd, either caught up in the error of false and damning beliefs, or who have wandered away from the sheepfold of Christ. Here is the press release, and following it, is the description of the event on the web site of the Center for Progressive Christianity. The Center for Progressive Christianity has 325 web pages of congregations that have indicated they want their affiliation with the CPC to be made public knowledge.

Pluralism Sunday – May 11, 2008 – Worldwide
Christian churches around the world will celebrate Pluralism Sunday on May 11 in worship – in recognition that other religions may be as good for others as their faith is good for them. The worship services will include speakers from other faiths, and music and liturgical elements from other religions, honoring the religious diversity of the world.

Pluralism Sunday is sponsored by The Center for Progressive Christianity, www.tcpc.org. It is a network of over 5000 affiliates and nearly 400 churches nationwide which have adopted a "Welcome Statement" that affirms that other religions can be as good for their followers as Christianity is for Christians. Churches in Australia, New Zealand and Britain are also participating in Pluralism Sunday. "We do not claim that our religion is superior to all others. Instead, we celebrate that we can grow closer to God and grow deeper in compassion, and we can understand our own traditions better, through a deeper awareness of the world’s religions," says Rev. Jim Burklo, the event’s national coordinator.

Here are the plans of a few of the other churches participating in Pluralism Sunday around the U.S.: Epiphany Community Unitarian Universalist Church of Fenton, Michigan, has invited a Zen Buddhist with a Christian background to be the preacher that day "so that we can experience the similarities of our faith paths," according to Anne Lerche, the pastor Mizpah United Church of Christ in Hopkins, MN, will do a pulpit exchange with Bet Shalom Temple (Jewish) on Fri, May 9, and Sunday, May 11.

The Prince of Peace Church in Anniston, Alabama, will conduct a service that will include readings from the Muslim and Buddhist traditions, and hopes to have a guest speaker from a local mosque. Barbara Currie, pastor of the Congregational Church in Deering, NH, will preach about how Jesus is the church’s gate to God, yet there are other equally important and creditable gates to God for other people.

For more information about Pluralism Sunday, see its website: www.pluralismsunday.org, and contact: Rev. Jim Burklo, coordinator, Pluralism Sunday, for The Center for Progressive Christianity: jtburklo@yahoo.com – 415-847-8997 or Fred C. Plumer, President: 253-303-0022

Web site text:

On Pluralism Sunday, May 27, 2007, Pentecost, progressive Christian churches around the US will explore and experience other religious traditions. 

Speakers, music, liturgies, and other elements from various religious traditions will be included in worship services.  This event is sponsored by The Center for Progressive Christianity. 

Participating
congregations will benefit by being included in national and regional
publicity for the event by TCPC, creating a special “evangelism”
opportunity to reach out to people who seek open-minded, open-hearted
churches. To be listed as a participating church, contact Rev. Jim Burklo, Pluralism Sunday’s coordinator, at jtburklo@yahoo.com as soon as possible. Indicate
your church contact person, email address, phone, church web address,
and any plans you have for celebrating Pluralism Sunday in worship on
May 27.   For resources and information to help your church participate, see www.tcpc.blogs.com/pluralism_sunday .

Progressive Christians thank God for the diversity of religions in the world! We don’t claim that our religion is superior to all others.
We grow closer to God, grow deeper in compassion, and understand our
own tradition better by honoring and exploring the world’s religions.

 

Many
if not most people think that in order to be a Christian, it’s
necessary to believe that Christianity is the only valid way to
salvation, and that other religions are inferior at best and evil at
worst. But Pluralism Sunday spreads good news: there
is a way to be Christian without making this prideful claim, which has
been the cause of so much inter-religious division and misunderstanding. Pluralism
Sunday takes a big step beyond mere “tolerance” of other religions, and
affirms that other faiths may be as good for their adherents as our
faith is for us.

Acts chapter 2 in the Bible recounts the powerful legend of Pentecost.  When Jesus’ disciples gathered in Jerusalem, the “curse of Babel”
was reversed, and suddenly people who spoke different languages could
understand each other.  This coming Pentecost, May 27, progressive
churches will celebrate the Holy Spirit of harmony and understanding
that is possible among followers of different spiritual traditions. 

PLURALISM SUNDAY is:

*
time to bring people of other faiths to our churches to preach or help
lead worship and celebrate other religions through songs and liturgies

* time for children and adults to learn more about the rich traditions of other faiths

* time to let the wider community know that our churches embrace religious pluralism.

 

To learn more about PLURALISM SUNDAY nationwide, contact Rev. Jim Burklo, TCPC Pluralism Sunday coordinator, at 415-332-3790 or jtburklo@yahoo.com, and look at  www.tcpc.blogs.com/pluralism_sunday for more background.

 

Categories: Liberal Christianity