Saturday, March 30, 2013

For Us and Our Salvation...

I am reprinting a piece that I wrote in 2005, because I believe that the truth of what Christ has done for us cannot be repeated often enough, and because the grievous error of denying that Christ's atonement is a substitutionary sacrifice still persists.

On Easter Sunday 2005, I ran across the following (erroneous) statement in a theological forum:

"Substitutionary sacrifice, however, is neither Catholic nor catholic tradition. It was enshrined in popular piety by a tradition of preachers, long before Mel Gibson, who discovered how easy it was to preach and to use in a manipulative way."

In contrast to this erroneous assertion that Christ's death is not a substitutionary sacrifice and that it is not catholic teaching, The Catholic Encyclopedia, in the article on "Sacrifice" (See Part III, Christian Sacrifice), contains the following statement:
(1) The Dogma of the Sacrifice of the Cross
The universal conviction of Christianity was expressed by the Synod of Ephesus (431), when it declared that the Incarnate Logos "offered Himself to God the Father for us for an odour of sweetness" (in Denzinger-Bannwart, "Enchiridion," n. 122), a dogma explicitly confirmed by the Council of Trent (Sess. XXII. cap. i-ii; can. ii-iv).  The dogma is indeed nothing else than a clear echo of Holy Writ and tradition.  If all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and especially the bloody sacrifice, were so many types of the bloody sacrifice of the Cross (Cf. Heb., viii-x), and if the idea of vicarious atonement was present in the Mosaic bloody sacrifices, it follows immediately that the death on the Cross, as the antitype, must possess the character of a vicarious sacrifice of atonement.  A striking confirmation of this reasoning is found in the pericope of Isaias concerning God's "just servant," wherein three truths are clearly expressed:

(a) the substitution of the innocent Messias for guilty mankind;
(b) the deliverance of the guilty from sin and punishment through the suffering of the Messias;
(c) the manner of this suffering and satisfaction through the bloody death on the Cross (cf. Is., liii, 4 sqq.). [Emphasis added.]
Further, The Catholic Encyclopedia's article on "Atonement" contains this statement:
The Catholic doctrine on this subject [Atonement] is set forth in the sixth Session of the Council of Trent, chapter ii. Having shown the insufficiency of Nature, and of Mosaic Law the Council continues:
"Whence it came to pass, that the Heavenly Father, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (II Cor., 1, 3), when that blessed fullness of the time was come (Gal., iv, 4) sent unto men Jesus Christ, His own Son who had been, both before the Law and during the time of the Law, to many of the holy fathers announced and promised, that He might both redeem the Jews, who were under the Law and that the Gentiles who followed not after justice might attain to justice and that all men might receive the adoption of sons.  Him God had proposed as a propitiator, through faith in His blood (Rom., iii, 25), for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world (I John ii, 2)."

More than twelve centuries before this, the same dogma was proclaimed in the words of the Nicene Creed, "who for us men and for our salvation, came down, took flesh, was made man; and suffered."
Thus, according to this statement, the words of the Creed "for us and for our salvation" are implicitly substitutionary.

It is noteworthy that this understanding is entirely consistent with that expressed by evangelical author John Stott who writes:
When we review so much Old Testament material (the shedding and sprinkling of blood, the sin offering, the Passover, the meaning of 'sin-bearing', the scapegoat and Isaiah 53), and consider its New Testament application to the death of Christ, we are obliged to conclude that the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice. Christ died for us. Christ died instead of us.
Regarding satisfaction and substitution, Stott writes:
We strongly reject, therefore, every explanation of the death of Christ which does not have at its centre the principle of 'satisfaction through substitution', indeed divine self-satisfaction through divine self-substitution.
The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one which tricked and trapped him; nor an exact equivalent, a *quid pro quo* to satisfy a code of honour or technical point of law; nor a compulsory submission by God to some moral authority above him from which he could not otherwise escape; nor a punishment of a meek Christ by a harsh and punitive Father; nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father; nor an action of the Father which bypassed Christ as Mediator.

Instead, the righteous, loving Father humbled himself to become in and through his only Son flesh, sin and a curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character. The theological words 'satisfaction' and 'substitution' need to be carefully defined and safeguarded, but they cannot in any circumstances be given

--From "The Cross of Christ" (Leicester and Downers Grove: IVP, 1986), p. 159.
Thus, between faithful Catholics and Evangelicals there is substantial agreement, because the doctrine of the Atonement is one on which all orthodox Christians have agreed from antiquity.

Dissent from the idea of substitutionary atonement has come from the Socinians, an anti-Trinitarian, heretical sect, who rejected the notion of vicarious suffering and satisfaction as inconsistent with God's justice and mercy.  In their eyes the work of Christ consisted simply in His teaching by word and example.

The Socinians held that:
  • that there was no Trinity,
  • that Christ was not consubstantial with the Father and Holy Spirit,
  • that He was not conceived of the Holy Spirit, but begotten by St. Joseph, and
  • that His Death and Passion were not undergone to bring about our redemption.
Views similar to those of the Socinians have been seen also in the work of liberal theologians such as Horace Bushnell (1802-1876), Albrect Ritschl (1822–1889), and their modern-day descendents.  Indeed, among liberals there is, at best, a professed agnosticism regarding the effect of Christ's atonement.  At worst, there exists an outright denial of the biblical witness to the precious truth that:
  • "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). 
  • "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).  
  • "Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit..." (I Peter 3:18).
  • "...whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men" (Article II).
  • "for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world..." (BCP 1979, p. 335). 
As we remember once again Jesus' glorious victory in the events of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let us confess boldly the truth of what God has done in Christ for us and for our salvation!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Alabama School Bans the Word ‘Easter’

Raging religiophobia.

From here
Boys and girls at an Alabama elementary school will still get to hunt for eggs – but they can’t call them ‘Easter Eggs’ because the principal banished the word for the sake of religious diversity.

“We had in the past a parent to question us about some of the things we do here at school,” said Heritage Elementary School principal Lydia Davenport. “ So we’re just trying to make sure we respect and honor everybody’s differences.”

Television station WHNT reported that teachers were informed that no activities related to or centered around any religious holiday would be allowed – in the interest of religious diversity.

“Kids love the bunny and we just make sure we don’t say ‘the Easter Bunny’ so that we don’t infringe on the rights of others because people relate the Easter bunny to religion,” she told the television station. “  A bunny is a bunny and a rabbit is a rabbit.”
There are two things wrong with this:  One, diversity is about including various perspectives and beliefs, not banning them.  It is positively Orwellian to censor or ban a point of view in the name of increasing diversity.  But the second thing wrong with this is that the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs have NOTHING to do with Christianity or any other religion.  "Easter"merely designates the date or time of year when bunnies and eggs are used.  It's like a Thanksgiving Dinner or a Labor Day Picnic.  Simply referring to Easter bunnies or Easter eggs implies no endorsement of religion whatsoever.

What kind of understanding of freedom, free speech, and living in a free society are schools teaching children when they communicate that certain words--words alleged to pertain to religion--must be banned for the sensitivity (or imagined sensitivity) of others?  It is about time we got these religiophobic (yes, it really is a word) idiots to explain why they keep perpetrating this kind of nonsense.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Holy Week, Rob Bell, and the Pilgrim's Progress through Vanity Fair

As we approach Holy Week this year, my contemplation of those mighty acts by which Christ secured our redemption has followed a rather strange and circuitous route that began when I read an article on Stand Firm about former evangelical pastor, Rob Bell, speaking at a forum at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, and, during the course of his remarks, saying that he now supports gay marriage.  (As one commentator noted, that's like going to Iowa to announce your support for corn.)

It is astounding how much press Rob Bell has gotten since he denied the reality of hell in his book, "Love Wins," and since he resigned as pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids Michigan, more than a year ago.  Currently, Bell is reported to be working on a television series for the ABC network.

The piece I was reading concluded: "In 2011, Time magazine named Bell to its list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World."

How and why did the media choose to make a celebrity out of a pastor of a medium-sized megachurch in Grand Rapids, Michigan?   I know several megachurch pastors who speak to a great many more people each week and have been doing it a lot longer than Rob did at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids Michigan.  But their books will never rank among secular best sellers.  They will never become one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World."  And they will never have a show on a mainstream television network.  Why is that?

It is an age-old question: "Lord,why do the wicked prosper?  Why do they have power?  Why do the godly seem to be silenced in their presence and ignored by the world?"

When I read about Rob Bell's latest pronouncement and reflected on his rise to fame, the immediate thought that came to my mind was from Luke's Gospel,
“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.  If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  And Jesus answered him, “It is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
  and him only shall you serve.’”  (Luke 4:5-8) 
Recipe for Satanic success:  1. Learn to speak really well.  2.  Constantly adjust your appearance to the latest fashion.   3.  Rise to prominence as a Christian pastor and then, once you have gained the public's attention, gradually begin to deny everything Christianity believes.

The example of Rob Bell solidified in my mind a realization that had been growing for quite some time, namely that there are individuals in this world who possess fame and power precisely because it has been given to them by the prince of this world, who has the power to do so, in order to advance his purposes.  It is no wonder that Rob Bell gets accolades from the secular world for telling them what they want to hear.

"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions..." (1 Timothy 4:3)

Listening to Rob Bell, the secular world can delude itself into thinking that all of Christianity will eventually come into line and validate their lifestyles.

The Apostle Paul speaks of "following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2), by which he means the devil.  

It should not surprise us that the values of this world are not reconcilable with the values of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).  But, when it comes to the great acts of redemption that are commemorated in Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, we must remember that Jesus, speaking of his death, said, "'Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.' He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die." (John 12:31-33)

The victory won during Jesus' Passion and Resurrection is a victory over sin but also over Satan's power and reign.  Jesus' death freed us from the penalty for our sins and broke the dominion of evil.  His death and resurrection life are freeing us from the power of sin and the influence of evil.  And his coming again will free us from the presence of sin and put us beyond the reach of evil for all eternity. 

But on the way to that Celestial City, we pilgrims on this earth must encounter our Vanity Fair.  Blessed is the one who is not deceived by it.  As John Bunyan, wrote:

Then I saw in my dream, that when [the two pilgrims] were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is "Vanity"; and at the town there is a fair kept, called "Vanity Fair"; it is kept all the year long. It bears the name of Vanity Fair, because the town where 'tis kept is lighter than vanity; and also because all that is there sold, or that comes thither is vanity.  As is the saying of the wise, "All that comes is vanity."
This fair is no new erected business; but a thing of ancient standing. I will show you the original of it.

Almost five thousand years agone, there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two [pilgrims] are; and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the City lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair; a fair wherein should be sold of all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long. Therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold: as houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms; lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts...
Now, as I said, the way to the Celestial City lies just through this town, where the lusty fair is kept; and he that will go to the City, and yet not go through this town, must needs go out of the world.
"Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world." 1 Corinthians 5:10
[Jesus], himself, when here, went through this town to his own country, and that upon a fair day too; and as I think, it was Beelzebub, the chief lord of this fair, that invited him to buy of his vanities; yea, would have made him lord of the fair, would he but have done him reverence as he went through the town.  Yea, because he was such a person of honour, Beelzebub had him from street to street, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a little time, that he might, if possible, allure that Blessed One to cheapen and buy some of his vanities.  But he had no mind to the merchandise; and therefore left the town without laying out so much as one farthing upon these vanities.
Rob Bell told the media that the evangelical subculture is dying.  No, Rob, it is liberal Christianity that is dying--look at the numbers.  But far more than that, the way of the world is death--eternal, spiritual death.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.  (1 John 2:15-17)
My prayer for all of us, including Rob Bell, is that we will turn away from the world's allure and consider the true cost of discipleship.  This week, we walk the way of our Lord, the Way of the Cross, and the way to eternal life.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Flying with a Man of the People

Flying home from Washington, D.C. this evening (in clerical attire), I was sitting there (in coach, needless to say), and happened to think of certain religious dignitaries I am aware of who insist on flying first class and what kind of statement it makes concerning the common people they are supposed to care about and the Lord they are supposed to represent.  The irony was underscored when we arrived in Milwaukee, and I stood up to retrieve my bag from the overhead compartment to discover my wife and I had been sitting in the row behind Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker, who was also flying in coach, coming home after rocking the CPAC convention in Washington, D.C., with a speech some have described as "electrifying."  I don't know who was sitting in those first three first-class rows tonight, but it wasn't the chief executive of the great State of Wisconsin, of whom I happen to be very proud.

How do we who are in positions of public trust, whether it be in government or in the Church, act when we are spending other people's money?  I am reminded that air travel is how I first met Archbishop (now Cardinal) Timothy Dolan.  Unlike Anglican bishops who wear purple shirts, Roman Catholic bishops wear black shirts just the same as priests.  So I got on a plane to Milwaukee one time to find myself sitting across the aisle from a jovial clergyman (also in coach), only to realize that it was Archbishop Dolan.  What a great and humble man!  While his elevation to the archdiocese of New York and then cardinal was well deserved, many in Wisconsin think his time as Archbishop of Milwaukee was all too brief. 

I couldn't help but pull for Cardinal Dolan during last week's election of a new Pope.  However, the election of Pope Francis appears to be an excellent choice, especially given the burgeoning growth of the Roman Catholic Church in parts of the Global South such as Latin America.  He is, by all accounts, a man of the people also, who took the bus rather than a limousine as a Cardinal in Argentina.

We need more leaders like this in government and the Church who know whom (or Whom) they represent.  May their tribe increase!

Friday, March 15, 2013

North Korea exposes life in the USA

More food for thought as you pray for North Korea: What the North Korean people are told (falsely) about the United States.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pray for North Korea

I love making up funny captions for pictures.  When I saw this recent photo of North Korean troops on military exercises, I was tempted to label it "Camo FAIL!!!" because the whole point of camouflage is not to be seen, and these uniforms the North Korean troops are wearing make them stick out like beacons on the late winter terrain.

But as I viewed a whole slideshow of photos, my heart went out to the North Koreans.  Their government spends untold amounts of money on a military machine while their people go hungry.  Sources have reported for years that North Koreans are actually shorter than their South Korean cousins due to malnutrition.  The BBC recently investigated and confirmed this phenomenon.

For North Korea, the war goes on--a war (or the illusion of one) that serves the purpose of keeping the North Korean people militarized and constantly on edge, making them willing to sacrifice (i.e., starve) for the sake of the "glorious revolution," and allowing the government to classify the people into social categories based on their loyalty to the State.  North Korea groups its citizens into 51 social categories, graded by loyalty to the regime, according to The Economist.  Of those groups, 29 are considered to make up a mostly rural underclass that is hostile or at best ambivalent towards the regime.

And the tragegy is: Nobody wants to harm North Korea or its people--NOBODY!!!  If any military action is ever undertaken against North Korea, it will be to stop the madness of the North Korean leadership that keeps threatening its neighbors with nuclear attacks and selling weapons of mass destruction to other rogue states around the world.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center) reportedly instructed his military to be ready to deal "deadly strikes" while visiting an artillery unit near the Yellow Sea border that has been the scene of several clashes between North and South Korea. Reports by the state media of Mr. Kim's base visits follow more than a week of aggressive rhetoric from Pyongyang, which has said it abrogated the 1953 cease-fire.

South Korea, for its part, would love to be reunited to its northern brothers and sisters and to live in peace.  And I am sure most of the North Korean people would like that as well.  If North Korea stopped their aggression and opened their borders, no one would invade their country.  They could enjoy healthy international relationships and the same freedom and prosperity as the South.  There are plenty of South Koreans who would love to share the love of Jesus Christ with them.  All they would lose is the dictatorial government that has held them prisoner for more than 60 years.  But there is the problem: those who benefit from being part of the dictatorial regime obviously don't want this to happen.

What can an ordinary Christian in the West do?  Pray.  Kim Jong-un is a young leader.  I believe he is receiving bad advice, and it is playing into his feeling that he needs to prove himself.

So how do we pray and act?
  1. A united church in prayer will bring about a united Korea.  Christians of all denominations need to unite in prayer for this and other world needs.
  2. Pray for wisdom for South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye, the first woman to be elected as President in South Korea.  (Park is the daughter of South Korea's 3rd president and saw both her parents assassinated--her mother by a North Korean agent in 1974, and her father by his own intelligence chief in 1979.)  Pray that she may have wisdom for such a time as this.  
  3. Ask God to restrain the the North Korean military from advancing against South Korea.
  4. Pray for Christians in both Japan and South Korea to stand together as one. 
  5. Ask God to touch the heart of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and draw him to become a believer.
  6. Pray for the persecuted church in North Korea. (See the very important article on North Korea's Christians linked below.)
  7. Ask God to influence China, that it will no longer support this rogue nation.
  8. Pray for those in the government and the military in South Korea to have wisdom and protection.   Ask the Lord for a great revival among the leaders.       
Also worth reading: a very important article on Christians in North Korea:
"A Christmas Prayer for North Korea's Christians," from The Wall Street Journal.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Breaking: Video from Fort Worth, Quincy Conciliation meeting

According to a report from Episcopal News Service, nine bishops of the Episcopal Church who filed amicus briefs in support of breakaway dioceses in Texas and Illinois have expressed “regret for any harm to the Bishops, clergy and laity of the Dioceses of Fort Worth and Quincy” and will help defray expenses incurred by the Episcopal Church in bringing their case to what the canons call "conciliation."  The Anglican Communion Institute has issued a response saying, "members of ACI will not be intimidated by the complainants or the PB’s office or those who collude with it."

To All the World has obtained exclusive video footage from the January "Conciliation Meeting" which took place in Virginia.  Reliable sources who were present have confirmed that this is an actual record of the proceedings: