Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Law and Gospel – Not a New Concept

October 13th, 2011 Comments off

Some people think that Lutherans are the ones who made up this whole “distinction between Law and Gospel” thing. Well, frankly, Lutherans have, in my opinion, articulated the proper distinction between Law and Gospel in a way that is unsurpassed in Christendom, but…it is a thoroughly Biblical concept and one that was known in the Early Church as well, even if not always well articulated. Here is Chrysostom demonstrating the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.

‘Suppose someone should be caught in the act of adultery and the foulest crimes and then be thrown into prison. Suppose, next, that judgment was going to be passed against him and that he would be condemned. Suppose that just at that moment a letter should come from the Emperor setting free from any accounting or examination all those detained in prison. If the prisoner should refuse to take advantage of the pardon, remain obstinate and choose to be brought to trial, to give an account, and to undergo punishment, he will not be able thereafter to avail himself of the Emperor’s favor. For when he made himself accountable to the court, examination, and sentence, he chose of his own accord to deprive himself of the imperial gift. This is what happened in the case of the Jews. Look how it is. All human nature was taken in the foulest evils. “All have sinned,” says Paul. They were locked, as it were, in a prison by the curse of their transgression of the Law. The sentence of the judge was going to be passed against them. A letter from the King came down from heaven. Rather, the King himself came. Without examination, without exacting an account, he set all men free from the chains of their sins. All, then, who run to Christ are saved by his grace and profit from his gift. But those who wish to find justification from the Law will also fall from grace. They will not be able to enjoy the King’s loving-kindness because they are striving to gain salvation by their own efforts; they will draw down on themselves the curse of the Law because by the works of the Law no flesh will find justification.’

From ‘Discourses Against Judaizing Christians’ I:6-II:1.

HT: Pastor Mark Henderson

Categories: Theology

Is the Doctrine of Justification Just a “Lutheran” Thing?

October 11th, 2010 1 comment

Here is a good article demonstrating that the doctrine of justification is most definitely *not* just a Lutheran thing, a claim often made by those affiliated with Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. The doctrine of justification is a “Bible” thing and a “Christian” thing, something believed, taught and confessed by the early church fathers as well. Pastor David Jay Webber has a good article on this, at his web site. You’ll find lots of other interesting articles there as well. The article is titled Ambrose and the Doctrine of Justification: A Study in the Catholicity of the Lutheran Church

The Lutherans of the sixteenth century consistently maintained that their cultus and confession were truly catholic: “…nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the church catholic”;1 “…No novelty has been introduced which did not exist in the church from ancient times…”;2 “…our churches dissent from the church catholic in no article of faith but only omit some few abuses which are new and have been adopted by the fault of the times…”3 According to the Lutherans it was Rome, and not Wittenberg, that had departed from the authentic catholic faith of the apostles and Fathers of the Church.

One of the most significant assertions of the Lutheran reformers was that sinners are justified before God by grace through faith alone, and not by human works or merits of any kind. In regard to the Lutheran doctrine of justification, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession makes the following statement:
We know that what we have said agrees with the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, with the holy Fathers Ambrose, Augustine, and many others, and with the whole church of Christ, which certainly confesses that Christ is the propitiator and the justifier.4

Was this claim valid? Was the Lutheran doctrine of justification truly catholic, or was it (as the Pope and his followers claimed) a sectarian innovation? Since the Lutherans appealed explicitly to the ancient Father St. Ambrose (among others) as one who taught what they were teaching, it will be helpful to examine Ambrose’s writings on justification to determine if the Lutherans really understood his position and if his teaching did in fact confirm theirs.

St. Ambrose (c.338-397), Bishop of Milan, has always been remembered as a courageous churchman, an able teacher, and a faithful shepherd. Christendom has also counted him as one of the eight “Doctors of the Church,” and an examination of his writings readily confirms the appropriateness of this honor.

Ambrose’s theology is first and foremost a Christ-centered theology. According to Ambrose, “where Christ is, there are all things, there is his teaching, there forgiveness of sins, there grace, there the separation of the dead and the living.”5 Ambrose accordingly focuses on the saving work of Christ as the only hope for sinners: “He gave himself to be offered for our sins, that by his blood he might cleanse the world, whose sin could not be abolished in any other way.”6 “The Lord’s death is my redemption, for we are redeemed by his precious blood.”7 Ambrose’s doctrine of the atonement actually includes two facets. The significance of Christ’s suffering and death as an expiatory sacrifice to God is explained in the following words:

Jesus took on himself even death, that the sentence of condemnation might be carried out, that he might satisfy the judgment that sinful flesh should be cursed even unto death. Nothing therefore was done contrary to the sentence of God, since the condition of God’s sentence was fulfilled.8

Read more…

Categories: Theology, Uncategorized

How to Engage in Intentional and Prayerful Theological Study, According to John Gerhard

August 17th, 2010 1 comment

My colleague, Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, the General Editor of the English translation of Johann Gerhard’s Loci Theologici, shared with me a copy of something he prepared, in honor of, and memory of, Dr. Gerhard, whose heavenly birthday we commemorate today. Here is what Dr. Mayes sent to me:

“Some friends have asked me to share what I’ve been learning from Johann Gerhard’s “Method of Theological Study.”

“With regard to the study of Scripture, Gerhard and many other Lutheran theologians advise a twofold approach: cursory and accurate reading. With the cursory reading, you read the Bible in the vernacular, two chapters in the morning and two chapters in the evening, according to this plan:

“Morning (didactic books): Genesis (50), Job (42), Psalms (150), Proverbs (31), Ecclesiastes (12), Song of Songs (8), Isaiah (66), Jeremiah (52), Lamentations (5), Ezekiel (43), Daniel (12), Hosea (14), Joel (3), Amos (9), Obadiah (1), Jonah (4), Micah (7), Nahum (3), Habakkuk (3), Zephaniah (1), Haggai (2), Zachariah (14), Malachi (4). Apostolic Epistles in the NT. Total: 665 chapters.

“Evening (historical books): Exodus (40), Leviticus (27), Numbers (36), Deuteronomy (34), Joshua (2), Judges (21), Ruth (4), 1 Samuel (31), 2 Samuel (24), 1 Kings (22), 2 Kings (25), 1 Chronicles (29), 2 Chronicles (36), Ezra (10), Nehemiah (13), Esther (10), Judith (16), Wisdom (19), Tobit (14), Sirach (51), Baruch (6), 1 Maccabees (16), 2 Maccabees (15), Fragments of Esther (9), Fragments of Daniel (5), Prayer of Manasseh (1), 3 Esdras (9), 4 Esdras (16). The four Gospels, Acts, Revelation. Total: 670 chapters.

“As you read, you should write the theme of each chapter at the top of the page. E.g., for Gen. 1: “Creation.” If you follow this plan, the heavy thinking is done in the morning, and the lighter reading is done in the evening. The schedule allows you to miss something like 30 days and still finish in one year.

“With the accurate reading, you read the Bible in the Greek and Hebrew, beginning with the NT epistles. In this manner of study, you may only work through a few verses per day, and you are often reading a trusted commentary on the original text alongside. Gerhard says that for each chapter of the Bible, you should take notes on the following things:

“1. The summary and scope of each chapter.
2. Its general outline.
3. Significant emphases of words or phrases. (For this one, I simply note the definition of unusual words or phrases.)
4. The differing interpretations of ancient or recent teachers of the Church. (This is where you compare translations: especially Luther’s German translation of 1545, the Vulgate, if you’re able, as well as the KJV, plus the accurate modern translations.)
5. The resolutions of apparent contradictions.
6. Significant doctrines and observations that are not obvious at first sight.
7. Solid sayings of the Fathers. (Here is where I put the exegesis of passages treated by the Book of Concord, to start off with. Later, as I read Luther or the early church fathers I can add their exegesis in the correct place as I come upon the interesting quotes.)

“This is a work that will require many years. The first time through, Gerhard says, one should concentrate on annotating at least something and leave the rest of the space in one’s very large notebook blank, to be filled in from one’s future study.

“I have started this procedure, but on the computer. I am making one word processor file for each chapter as I come to it. To make it easier, I made a template that has the aforementioned seven items as headings. The reason for taking notes like this is to make preaching, teaching, writing, and debating easier. For the sake of preaching and catechizing, adding an 8th item for illustrations could be helpful.”

Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

Misreading Luther with Bishop N.T. Wright

June 17th, 2010 8 comments

Once again, Wright is wrong. In his latest book, Bishop N.T. Wright, for whom even a number of Lutherans have taken a shine, manages to mangle the theology of Martin Luther and the Lord Christ and His Apostles themselves. Here is a well stated blog post by Pastor M. A. Henderson, and following it some other remarks by Michael Horton, who, like Wright, is a Calvinist in theology. Horton states very accurately the problems in Wright’s latest book:

Welcome to ‘Misreading Luther with Bishop Tom Wright’. (I originally titled this post ‘Wright Wrong on Luther’ but thought it rather too obvious, so I hit upon the above, which might serve as the title of a series if I have enough time.)  What can I say by way of introduction to the topic? Every time I read something the very influential scholar Bishop N T Wright has said on Luther I come away scratching my head and thinking ‘Has he even read Luther?!’ For example, here’s Bishop Wright on the ‘Lutheran’ milieu he grew up in:

“I grew up as a somewhat typical middle-Anglican with a strong dash of evangelicalism, or put the other way around, I grew up in a Lutheran evangelicalism which left me with a strong antithesis between law and grace. I found this all profoundly unsatisfying until I met Calvin and Calvinism. I began to think, “Whew…the law is a good thing. It is holy and just and good. It is right and it has been fulfilled, not abrogated, in Christ.” All of that is right. So, if you are faced with a choice between Luther and Calvin, you simply have to choose Calvin.” [From an interview published in Reformation and Revival Journal, volume 11, numbers 1 and 2 (Winter and Spring 2003), available on-line] [Italics mine]  Now here’s Luther on the law: “In chapter 7, St. Paul says, “The law is spiritual.” What does that mean? If the law were physical, then it could be satisfied by works, but since it is spiritual, no one can satisfy it unless everything he does springs from the depths of the heart. But no one can give such a heart except the Spirit of God, who makes the person be like the law, so that he actually conceives a heartfelt longing for the law and henceforward does everything, not through fear or coercion, but from a free heart. Such a law is spiritual since it can only be loved and fulfilled by such a heart and such a spirit. If the Spirit is not in the heart, then there remain sin, aversion and enmity against the law, which in itself is good, just and holy.” [Italics mine] Imagine that, Luther actually agrees with Bishop Wright that the law is “good, just and holy”! Clearly, Wright has (mis)read Luther as antinomian, and pegged him as the source of what perplexed him growing up in middle-of-the-road evangelical Anglicanism, which eventually sent him running to Calvin as his guiding light (although more than a few Calvinists are upset at the direction Bishop Wright’s theology has taken since, but that is a subject for another post).  If only Bishop Wright had actually read a text as basic as Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, from which the above quote is taken – not to mention the Small Catechism - he would have known that what he was hearing from evangelical Anglican pulpits as a young man was not Lutheranism at all, but antinomianism, which Luther goes on to reject in the very same little preface, following the Apostle Paul closely, of course.  A lecturer at my alma mater, Luther Seminary in Adelaide, once wisely said, “If you want to understand someone’s theology, try to understand their biography.” Alas, it seems that Tom Wright’s youthful misadventures with ‘Lutheranism’ were formative for his theology, which might not matter but for the fact that he is probably the single most influential ‘evangelical’ theologian writing today, and well read by Roman Catholics as well, as a visit to my local Catholic book shop will testify. Indeed, the local bishop is a Wright fan, and no wonder, I might add, given the implications of Bishop Wright’s theology for the magisterial Reformation’s doctrine of justification (of which more anon., d.v.). To the many evangelicals who buy Wright’s books, including his series of popular-level New Testament commentaries which are rapidly filling the place once occupied on the layperson’s bookshelf by another scholar who abounded in dubious opinions, William Barclay, one can only say: caveat emptor!

– + –

Michael Horton has an interesting review in CT of N.T. Wright’s After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters.

Horton is essentially positive about the book’s proposals, and yet mystified at Wright’s repeated caricatures of a rich resource for building on, and supporting, the good points made therein.

An excerpt:

In spite of a few quibbles, I was impressed by this book’s popular presentation of themes that I have come to appreciate in Reformed theology. The eschatological emphasis on cosmic renewal (resurrection, not escape) as the impetus for our lives here and now, the emphasis on the church—in fact, just about everything in After You Believe was a fresh way of exploring many familiar truths.

Hence my surprise at the jarring, frequent caricatures of the Reformation, even when the author articulates long-standing emphases in that tradition.

Here’s the conclusion:

While there are many good biblical-theological studies that make the same points, Wright—ever the master of metaphor and turns of phrase—is especially effective in communicating the richness of the Bible’s eschatological horizon to a wide audience. Nevertheless, his imprecision about the views that he targets for criticism is careless, depriving him—and his readers—of resources and allies for a message that is on so many points a vital and necessary corrective.

HT: Scott Clark

Via Justin Taylor

Categories: Theology

Why is the Athanasian Creed So Important?

May 30th, 2010 Comments off

This Sunday many Christians around the world will confess the faith in the words of the Athanasian Creed. Rev. Dr. Ken Schurb did a spectacularly good job on Issues, Etc. the other day explaining the importance of the Athanasian Creed. I highly recommend you give this a good listen.

Here is the text of the Athanasian Creed:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal. As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three Persons are coeternal together, and coequal: so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.

This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.

Why Christian Congregations Should Not Celebrate a Passover Seder

April 10th, 2010 14 comments

Now that we are through Holy Week, let’s reflect on a few practices that have arisen in recent years and examine to what extent they truly do serve the best interest of the Gospel. One of these is Christians having a Passover Seder.  I would say that while perhaps some kind of demonstration with explanation of a Passover Seder is an interesting teaching tool, I think that a congregation that institutes a regular practice of having a Passover Seder during Holy Week is making a mistake. We have no indication from the New Testament that after Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, the Church continued to observe the Passover. The whole point of the “new” testament is precisely that, in Christ, everything the Passover pointed toward, has been fulfilled. Rev. Dr. Daniel Gard raises a number of very valid objections that I think are well worth our time and attention. Let me know what you think of this practice, in light of Dr. Gard’s concerns.

“Is it appropriate for a Lutheran congregation to celebrate a Passover Seder?  This is not an unimportant question since the practice has become rather widespread in our Synod.  In fact, it has even been promoted (complete with Eucharist!) by the Synod’s Board for Evangelism (A Passover Haggadah for Christians , ed. Bruce J. Lieske, no date).  But can it be historically or theologically sustained?

“The historical question is rather complex, as the history of liturgical forms generally are.  To begin with,  we have no manuscript of a Seder Haggadah  which is early than the tenth century A.D. (Siddur Rav Saadya Gaon ).  Nearly a millennium exists between the time of Jesus and the earliest extant text.   Passover Haggadoth  have never been standardized but have always been shaped and reshaped by circumstances and time.  The ritual has been extraordinarily versatile since the tenth century A.D. and in all likelihood was just as versatile in the preceding centuries.  The claim that any ritual now in existence is identical with that used by Jesus is both anachronistic and historically suspect.

“The theological questions are equally complex.  Even if it were proven (which it has not been) that a specific extant Haggadah  is identical with that used by Jesus,  these problems remain.  The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus with the words “the blood of the new  covenant.”  He commanded that we “do this in remembrance of Me.”  But, to do what?  Celebrate a Seder?  Or celebrate His Sacrament?  The two are simply not the same.  On the night in which He was betrayed,  the Blessed Savior gave His disciples something new.  All that came before converged and found fulfillment in Him.  All that has happened since that night has grown from that same point of convergence and fulfillment.  The Galatian Christians failed to understand the radical nature of the new order found in Christ;  as a result, St. Paul found it necessary to correct their Judaizing error.

“It makes no more sense for Christians to gather around a Passover Seder than it does to gather around another sacrificial lamb.  The very Lamb of God has been slain, once and for all.  We would not and could not offer another sacrifice.  The final Sacrifice was offered on Calvary.  We now celebrate only that Lamb’s own feast as instituted and commanded by Him.  It is the Passover of Jesus, and only the Passover of Jesus, which the Church legitimately celebrates.
One final question might be asked.  Why, given the historical and theological questions,  do some parishes regularly or even occasionally sponsor a Seder?  Two responses have sometimes been given.  First, to teach Christians about the context of the Last Supper.  But given the historical uncertainties of the Haggadah , what anachronisms are being taught as historic facts?  Simply teaching our people a biblical and Lutheran Sacramentology and Christology is difficult enough;  why confuse the issue?

“A second rationale is to reach out and build bridges to the Jewish community.  But is a “Christian” Seder not as offensive to Jewish people as a “Jewish” Eucharist would be to Christians?  Communication with any group of people is rarely enhanced by misappropriating their beloved traditions.  Those Lutherans who use a Seder do so with commendable intentions.  But the inherent problems of the practice result in more harm than good.”

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Gospel

March 26th, 2010 8 comments

Why are some saved, and not others?

January 23rd, 2010 5 comments

The other day, my son asked me, “Dad, why are some people saved, and others are not.” I said, “Aha! You are taking Latin, so tell me what this means. You are asking about the crux theologorum.” He thought for a moment and said, “The cross of theologians?” “Correct you are, sir,” I said, “What you are asking is the old question that has proven the downfall of many theologians through the ages, ‘Why some, not others?’ ” And from there we proceeded into an interesting conversation about a feature of Lutheranism that makes both Calvinists “God predestines some to hell, others to heaven”, on the one hand, and Arminians “I have chosen to follow Jesus!” folks, on the other, frustrated with us. Lutheranism, as does Sacred Scripture, simply does not answer the question why some are saved, and not others. Here’s a great Q/A on this that succinctly states why this is the teaching of the Bible, and, consequently, historic Lutheranism.


I understand that God chose those for salvation before the very foundation of the world. The Bible does not say that there are those who are chosen and that there are those who are not. So, does that mean then that God chose everyone to be saved before the foundation of the world and therefore it is man’s choice whether he will accept God’s saving grace or not? However, one cannot come into God’s grace by himself, but by the Holy Spirit “leading” him unto salvation. Is that the correct interpretation? I am confused by the fact that we were chosen by God before the foundation of the world, yet the very action of choosing can mean that there were those who were not chosen. I know that God wishes everyone to be saved. Can you help me?


The question you are wrestling with is really the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” Theologians throughout history have referred to this question as the “crux theologorum” (“the cross of the theologians”) because of the difficulty (and from the Lutheran perspective, the impossibility) of giving an answer to this question which is satisfactory to our human reason.

Some answer this question by pointing to man’s “free will”–only those are saved who “choose” to be saved. Lutherans reject this answer as unscriptural because according to the Bible even man’s will is “dead” and powerless to “choose” God and his grace in Christ. We are saved not because we “choose” to be saved but because the Holy Spirit works faith in our heart through the Gospel (even faith is a gift!). Others answer this question by pointing to God’s sovereign will: God himself predestines from eternity some to be saved and others to be damned. Lutherans reject this answer as unscriptural because according to the Bible God sincerely desires all to be saved and has predestined no one to damnation.

So how do Lutherans answer this question? The answer is that Lutherans do not try to answer it, because (we believe) the Bible itself does not provide an answer to this question that is comprehensible to human reason. Lutherans affirm, with Scripture, that whoever is saved is saved by God’s grace alone, a grace so sure that it excludes all human “action” and “choice” but rather rests on the foundation of God’s action in Christ and his “choice” (predestination) from before the beginning of time. Lutherans also affirm, with Scripture, that those who are damned are damned not by God’s “choice” but on account of their own human sin and rebellion and unbelief. From a human perspective, there is no “rational” or “logical” way to put these two truths together. Lutherans believe and confess them not because they are “rational” and “logical,” but because this is what we find taught in Scripture.

For a further discussion of this issue, you may want to read Articles II and XI in the Formula of Concord (contained in the Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions).

Source: LCMS.ORG

A Wordless Gospel is Like a Digitless Phone Number

January 12th, 2010 10 comments

How many times have you bumped into the expression, “Preach the Gospel, if necessary, use words.” I detest that expression. I think I understand why some people like it, they want to emphasize the need to not only be hearers, but doers of the Word. OK, I get that, but the vast majority of those who use the phrase do so to denigrate doctrine, to advocate the whole “deeds not creeds” mentality. Well, I overheard on Justin Taylor‘s blog this wonderful retort, which I will use each time I hear this expression, going forward:

Saying “Preach the gospel; if necessary use words” is like saying “Tell me your phone number; if necessary use digits.”

Categories: Theology

Many and Colorful Ways of Destroying the Church

January 7th, 2010 Comments off

I was struck by this powerful remark:

The ways of destroying the church are many and colorful. Raw factionalism will do it. Rank heresy will do it. Taking your eyes off the cross and letting other, more peripheral matters dominate the agenda will do it-admittedly more slowly than frank heresy, but just as effectively over the long haul. Building the church with superficial ‘conversions’ and wonderful programs that rarely bring people into a deepening knowledge of the living God will do it. Entertaining people to death but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the centrality of self-crucifying love will build an assembling of religious people, but it will destroy the church of the living God. Gossip, prayerlessness, bitterness, sustained biblical illiteracy, self-promotion, materialism-all of these things, and many more, can destroy a church. And to do so is dangerous: ‘If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple (1 Cor. 3:17).” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

- D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 83-84.

Categories: Christian Life, Theology

A Former Woman Lutheran Pastor on How She Realized Women’s Ordination is Wrong

October 19th, 2009 25 comments

WomenOrdinatesYes, I’m reporting on a former Lutheran, turned Roman Catholic, who renounced her ordination. Let me say that I do not necessarily endorse every word in this article, but it is safe to say that one of the tragedies in this story is the fact that she could only escape the grip of feminist/liberal theology at her ELCA seminary by moving to Romanism. It is important however to see in her story her recognition that the ordination of women has never had any good, solid theological justification. In Australia, where the struggle to push through the ordination of women has now failed, the theological arguments for the ordination of women simply could not stand up to the clear, and theological arguments made against it. Finally, the demand that women be ordained rests on social/cultural and emotional arguments, and it is absolutely no coincidence that the very same foundations are the reason why the ELCA has embraced homosexual clergy and homosexual “marriages.” Here is the source for this article.

Jennifer Ferrara Was Won Over by the Pope’s Theology of the Body

SPRING CITY, Pennsylvania, 21 JUNE 2004 (ZENIT)

When she was younger, Jennifer Ferrara never would have foreseen the day when she became a sort of apologist for the all-male Catholic priesthood.

But that’s what the former Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism has become.

Ferrara, who became Catholic in 1998, recently told her conversion story in “The Catholic Mystique: Fourteen Women Find Fulfillment in the Catholic Church” (Our Sunday Visitor), which she co-edited with Patricia Sodano Ireland, another former Lutheran pastor.

Ferrara shared with ZENIT how her search for theological justification of women’s ordination in Lutheran seminary eventually changed her mind about the priesthood and opened her heart to the Catholic Church.

Q: How did you as a former Lutheran pastor come to realize that women should not and cannot be ordained as priests?

Ferrara: When I entered seminary, I was a garden-variety feminist who believed men and women were basically the same. I thought it patently obvious that women should be ordained.

I really gave the issue little thought, but to the extent that I did, it was a matter of equal rights. I also was not particularly orthodox in my beliefs. I had studied religion in college; I did not lose my faith in the process but adopted a mishmash of heretical ideas.

While in the seminary, I gradually became theologically orthodox, which was — considering the environment of mainline Protestant seminaries — a minor miracle. Slowly, it began to dawn on me that women’s ordination was a new development that needed theological justification. I did not come up with a full-blown defense until years later when I was a parish pastor.

By that time, I thought of myself as an “evangelical catholic.” Evangelical catholics view Lutheranism as a reform movement within and for the one Church of Christ. Therefore, Lutherans have a responsibility to work toward reconciliation with Rome.

The fact that I was a Lutheran pastor put me in an awkward position, theologically speaking. I was an impediment to that reconciliation for which I longed. This forced me to take a hard look at the issue of women’s ordination.

Q: What did Luther himself think of the idea of women priests?

Ferrara: Though Martin Luther did not believe in women’s ordination, I found support for it in his writings.

In his “Lectures on Genesis,” he argues that God did not intend for men and women to have different roles. Differentiation between the sexes is a result of the fall of our first parents. As a form of punishment, women have been subjected to men and, therefore, have been deprived of the ability to administer to affairs outside the home, including those of the Church.

Luther believed that male headship was a matter of natural law. As a Lutheran pastor, I disagreed. The acceptance of equality between the sexes throughout the Western world demonstrated otherwise.

According to Luther, societal arrangements should be preserved within the Church, lest we give scandal to the Gospel. I thought restricting ordination to men had become a modern-day scandal. Ordaining women seemed like the best way to serve our Lord in this time and place.

When I started to think about becoming Roman Catholic, I disagreed with the Church’s teachings on women’s ordination. I actually thought about writing an article outlining what I presumed to be the theological deficiencies with the Catholic position, which in retrospect seems like sheer hubris.

In order to prepare for it, I read John Paul II’s theology of the body. There I encountered a vision of creation that challenged all my feminist notions about men and women.

Q: How so?

Ferrara: According to John Paul, men and women were not created essentially the same. Masculinity and femininity are not just attributes; rather, the function of sex is a constituent part of the person. Men and woman both express the human but do so in different and complementary ways. Believe it or not, this was a radically new idea to me.

The differences between men and women lie in the way they express love for one another. Men have the more active role in the relationship: The husband is the one who loves while the wife is the one who is loved and, in return, gives love. True authority is exercised through service. As John Paul II says, “To reign is to serve.”

However, men and women serve in particularly masculine and feminine ways. At the heart of this diversity in roles is the difference between motherhood and fatherhood.

No matter what men and women do, they bring paternal or maternal characteristics to their vocation. This is just as true of those who have chosen the religious life as it is of those who become biological parents.

This means the Roman Catholic priest is not simply a father figure: He is a spiritual father. To state what has ceased to be obvious in a society governed by the principle of androgyny: Mothers and fathers are not interchangeable. Women are not men and, therefore, cannot be priests any more than they can be fathers in the physical sense. If women can step into the role of priest, then it is no longer one of fatherhood.

To understand all of this required me to give up my functional view of the ministry. In most Protestant denominations, the pastor serves a role within the priesthood of all believers. He or she preaches the Word and administers the sacraments.

In the Catholic Church, the priest acts “in persona Christi.” Christ is the bridegroom; the Church is his bride. This nuptial mystery is proclaimed throughout the Old and New Testaments.

According to the Catholic understanding of the priesthood, the priest represents Christ himself, the author of the covenant, the bridegroom and head of the Church. This is especially true in the case of the Eucharist, when Christ is exercising his ministry of salvation.

One must utterly disregard the importance of the nuptial mystery for the economy of salvation in order to make an argument for women’s ordination.

If the Church were to ordain women, the entire understanding of the importance of the feminine and masculine in the working out of our salvation would be lost. Much is at stake here. Once I really saw that, it was relatively easy for me to give up my ordination and embrace the Church’s position. ZE04062121


Jennifer Ferrara on Proper Roles in the Church

SPRING CITY, Pennsylvania, 22 JUNE 2004 (ZENIT)

Women can find innumerable opportunities for service in the Church if only they embrace their proper role, says a former Lutheran minister who now extols the all-male Catholic priesthood.

Jennifer Ferrara, who became Catholic in 1998, recently told her conversion story in “The Catholic Mystique: Fourteen Women Find Fulfillment in the Catholic Church” (Our Sunday Visitor). She co-edited it with Patricia Sodano Ireland, another former Lutheran pastor.

Ferrara shared with ZENIT how women will find fulfillment in the Church if they understand that only Catholicism recognizes the importance of the feminine in society and in salvation. Part 1 of this interview appeared Monday.

Q: What role is left for women in the Church if they cannot be priests?

Ferrara: It is not a matter of a role “being left for women” but of women embracing their proper role. There has always been plenty for women to do in the Catholic Church.

Remember, the ordination of women in Protestant communities is a recent development. Before then, women had almost no role to play in those denominations. Protestant churches are starkly masculine.

As a Lutheran, I had no female models of holiness to turn to for comfort and guidance. Though many Protestant denominations ordain women, they do not recognize the importance of the feminine—mother Church embodied in Mary—in God’s plan for salvation.

I do not see why many Catholics discount the importance of the women religious in the life of the Church as if they were second-class citizens. They are our spiritual mothers.

Protestants have never recognized such a role for women. Moreover, there are also all sorts of lay apostolates, orders and associations women can join.

Q: Your conversion from a Lutheran minister to being a Catholic also meant giving up your former ministerial role, yet some women in the Church argue they feel excluded because they cannot become priests. What would you say to them?

Ferrara: I would begin by saying I understand their anger and frustration.

At first, I was bitter about the prospect of giving up my ordination in order to join the Church. However, I would also tell them my life as a Roman Catholic laywoman, wife and mother has taken on a new sense of definition.

For the first time, I am trying to listen to what the Church has to say about who I am rather than expecting the Church to conform to what I think she should be.

In general, modern people chafe against revealed authority because they expect the outer life of institutions to be rendered serviceable to the psychological inner life of individuals. Therefore, if women want to be priests and claim to feel pain because they are not priests, it automatically follows that they should be priests.

Yet women who insist they have a call to the priesthood and use their pain as evidence of an authentic interior call from God are, in fact, using the protean politics of pain and not Catholic theology to explain their experiences.

If they truly wish to empty themselves and renounce their own will for the sake of God and Church, they will find innumerable opportunities for service.

Q: How do you explain John Paul II’s claim that men and women were not created as identical beings to those who think men and women are the same, interchangeable?

Ferrara: I have found that those who are determined to embrace the principle of androgyny are not open to hearing about the Pope’s teachings.

However, the average person knows instinctively that men and women are not the same. This is especially true of those who have children. They see mothers and fathers, boys and girls, are inherently different.

John Paul II’s teachings explain reality. That is where I begin. If you can get people to acknowledge the simple premise that men and women—though equal in dignity and importance—are different, you can begin to talk about what this means for the roles they play.

Q: What can be done to combat the movement for women’s ordination?

Ferrara: Those of us who oppose women’s ordination cannot allow ourselves to be put on the defensive. We do not have to apologize for our stance. The best way to combat the movement for women’s ordination is to present the Church’s teachings in a positive light.

We do not raise the status of women by convincing them that they need to be men. Though women can and should be allowed to do most of the jobs traditionally filled by men—bringing to them a feminine sensibility—they cannot and never will be biological and spiritual fathers.

Those who insist otherwise effectively deny that which is noble and holy about being wives and mothers—biological and spiritual—in the plan by which God intends to redeem his creation.

The Catholic Church is one the few institutions, maybe the only one, left in the world that recognizes the importance of the feminine not only for the proper working of society but for our salvation. We need to be willing to say just that. ZE04062223

Categories: Theology

On Women Pastors: From Johann Gerhard

October 10th, 2009 Comments off

Here is an interesting bit of Gerhard shared with me by Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, who is working on the Gerhard Loci Theologici series of volumes. In this particular section, Gerhard is responding to the accusation from his nemesis in these volumes, the Roman Catholic theologian Bellarmine, who accused the Lutherans (and Calvinists) of agreeing with heresies from the first five centuries. You’ll find the particular heresy being treated here to be very interesting: committing the office of the holy ministry to women.

Fourth, the heresy of the Peputians. § 210. (IV) “According to Augustine (De haeres., c. 27), the Peputians give so much authority [principatus] to women that they even honor them with the priesthood. In art. 13 of those which Leo condemned, Luther says that in the sacrament of penance a woman or child can absolve as much as a bishop or pope can. Now, in fact, a woman is the chief pontiff of the Calvinists in England.”

We respond. (1) We do not entrust the ordinary administration of the ministry to women, which the Peputians once did. As for the fact that in an extreme case of necessity we concede to the laity the administration of baptism, the Papists agree with us in this.

(2) Luther is speaking about an extraordinary case of necessity when a priest cannot be had. There, he says, the absolution of a Christian woman or even of a child can accomplish as much as that of a priest. He says: “In the remission of a fault the pope accomplishes no more than any priest and, in fact, when a priest is absent, than any Christian.” He also teaches: “The power to wipe out fault is placed not in the quality of the minister but in the faith of the believer. We must not assign the effecting of remission to any such power of the minister, such as the Papists claim, but to the faith by which we embrace the word of Gospel promise.” On the other hand, he has by no means taken away the function and dignity of the ecclesiastical ministry, for he writes as follows in his Post. eccles., for the Sunday after Easter: “In 1 Corinthians 14 the apostle requires that all things be done in order. But if we all wanted to administer the sacraments, what will become of the order? If we all wanted to preach at the same time, what sort of croaking will we have? We all have the power to administer the sacraments, but no one should rashly take it upon himself to do this except he whom the Church has appointed for this task.” We must believe the same about the power of loosing and binding.

(3) We know that Elizabeth was the queen of England, but that she usurped the functions of the ecclesiastical ministry is the lie of Cochlaeus. Bellarmine is repeating it here. He would have done far better if, remembering that the popess John VIII came from England, he had abstained from the false accusation he makes here.