Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Enduring Afflictions as a Good Work in the Lutheran Confessions

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, art. XXIV.67

"We have already said that a eucharistic sacrifice does not merit reconciliation but comes from the reconciled, just as afflictions do not merit reconciliation but are eucharistic sacrifices when the reconciled endure them."

Ibid., art. IV.192-93.

"Through these works Christ shows his victory over the devil, just as the distribution of alms by the Corinthians was a holy work (1 Cor. 16.1), a sacrifice, and a battle of Christ against the devil, who is determined that nothing happen to the praise of God. To disparage works like the confession of doctrine, afflictions, works of charity, and the mortification of the flesh would be to disparage the outward administration of Christ's rule among men."

Ibid., art. XXIV.25

"The rest are eucharistic sacrifices, called 'sacrifices of praise': the proclamation of the Gospel, faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, the afflictions of the saints, yes, all the good works of the saints."

Ibid., art. XXIV.30, 32

"With the abrogation of Levitical worship, the New Testament teaches that there should be a new and pure sacrifice; this is faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession and proclamation of the Gospel, suffering because of the Gospel, etc. . . .

"The proclamation of the Gospel produces faith in those who accept it. They call upon God, they give thanks to God, the bear afflictions in confession, they do good works for the glory of Christ. This is how the name of the Lord becomes great among the nations."

I think that we tend to narrow the scope of "afflictions," thinking that they are approved of God only when we're being boiled alive by cannibals. But in the ordinary context of everyday work, Peter writes that submitting to an "unreasonable" boss (not exactly, but close enough) "finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly" (1 Peter 2.19).

Or when Paul writes, "never pay back evil for evil" (Ro 12.17), he's talking about ordinary human relationships, not about receiving evil specifically for being a Christian. But, as a Christian, we would receive evil without seeking compensation.

But why suffering? I don't have a complete answer; here are a couple of thoughts.

First, if Jesus was perfected through suffering (Heb 2.10), then it shouldn't be a surprised that the members of his body are perfected through suffering as well. (Not that I entirely understand what that means.) Secondly, we perhaps suffer for other Christians, as Paul did (2 Co 1.3-7). We are also afflicted for our own good (Heb 12.4-11).

More generally, I wonder whether, when we suffer in this world, God is, as it were, only allowing us to see its true nature – that this present world holds nothing in itself but death and uncleanness. This world never mediates life to us – although that is the lie that humans have believed from the beginning. Through suffering, God reveals to us the true nature of this world, thereby teaching us not to trust in it for our life, but to trust only Christ, looking to the world to come, which is where life truly resides in the presence of God. By revealing the reality of the fallen world, afflictions thereby cause us to despise the cheap counterfeit of "life" that this world offers us, and instead directs us to the true life provided by God.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"Lutheran" as a Reformed Insult

I know this is an overgeneralization, but it is sort of funny: The Federal Vision guys in the PCA accuse the anti-Federal Vision guys of having a Lutheran conception of faith and works. The anti-Federal Vision guys in the PCA accuse the Federal Vision guys of having a Lutheran conception of the sacraments.

While I'm unsure that either group is really Lutheran on either score, I'd nonetheless suggest that they all become Lutherans, because that way they can have both together. Of course, they use "Lutheran" as an accusation because, if you're Reformed, I guess you don't want to be Lutheran on either score.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Trusting that God Rewards

I used to be touch uncomfortable with the very last part of Heb 11.6, "without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him."

It sounded a bit crude, that we seek God to get a reward. Of course, seeking God is a source of great reward, as God himself is our portion (as the Psalmist says). Still, it sounded crass to put it as the author of Hebrews put it, like "I've sought you God, so gimme a cookie."

But it struck me that it is ingrained in human nature to believe that God does not want to reward us. We instead believe that God wants to deprive us of good things.

Starting with Adam and Eve in the garden: Eve saw that the fruit was "good to eat." So, you see, in commanding them not to eat of the tree, God was trying to deprive them of something that was good. So they thought they were justified in rebelling against him. (Ironically, Adam and Eve grabbed only death when they reached out to grasp life on their own terms.)

Then there's Israel in the wilderness. They complained that God had brought them out of Egypt only to kill them. They complained that God could not give them the promised land, or had set them up to fail, because of the "giants" in the land.

We do not trust a father to have our best interests at heart who did not spare his only son in order to give us good things; we do not trust a savior who counted it all joy to be crucified just so that he could reward us with life.

We stare blankly at these proofs that God desires to reward us, then turn around and listen to the whispered lie that God wants to deny us good things. We don't trust God to be a rewarder of those who seek him when he desires little else than to reward those who seek him. You'd have to be crazy not to trust a God like that. But I guess we're certifiable at that (Ecc 9.3).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

To walk as Jesus walked

1 John 2.6 always floors me: "The one who says he abides in him ought himself to walk as he walked."

I am floored at the truth that it is my aspiration to walk as Jesus walked; and I am floored at the reality of how miserably I fail to meet that aspiration. Both nonetheless point me to the same promise, "If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 Jn 2.1).

Friday, August 04, 2006

Spiritual adultery & the bitter waters' test of Nm 5

Nm 5.11-31 lays out a test -- a test of bitter waters -- for a wife's unfaithfulness. I've wondered whether Moses' response to Israel's idolatry with the golden calf in the wilderness forms the backdrop for the test.

Ex 32.19-20 provides: "It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses' anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf which they had made and burned it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it over the surface of the water and made the sons of Israel drink it."

As in the bitter waters' test, "curses" (the law) are washed into the water, and the suspected adulteress (Israel) is made to drink the water. The Levites then attack faithless Israel in Ex 32 (at Moses' behest).

Linking the two passages is consistent with the notion that the regulation of sexual relations in the Bible is only secondarily concerned with human sexuality. It's main referent is the relationship between Yahweh and his bride/church.

I think that we often miss this message because we conflate which marriage is the type and which is the anti-type. When we read that Israel/the church is the Lord's bride, I suspect that we usually think that the author is analogizing the relationship of the Lord to his church with the human marriage relationship. Lord/church is the analogy while human marriage is the reality.

But I'd argue that this gets it exactly backward. The real marriage is that between God and his church; human marriage is only a type of that primary marriage.

Paul seems to argue that way in Eph 5.22-33. I.e., the teaching about human marriage is incidental to the lesson about Christ and his church. (That's not to say that the application of Paul's lesson to human marriage is unimportant, only that it's a secondary application of the lesson.)

So, too, Jesus seems to imply as much in Mt 22.30 when he says, "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven."

But why does human marriage pass away in the eschaton? Well, given that the anti-type has come in the marriage of the Lamb and his bride (Rev 19.7-10, Rev 21.2) -- that is, given that the marriage has come -- then the type naturally passes away.

So I would argue that all of the teaching dealing with sex in the Bible should be read Christologically: the immediate application is to the relationship between God and his bride. Human marriage is of course the type or picture of that relationship, and so must be governed by that teaching as well. Mutatis mutandis, God's relationship to his church is revealed in and through the human marriage relationship. Maintaining the clarity of that picture or revelation is what the laws dealing with sexual relations in the OT are concerned with.

Unlike human husbands, however, Jesus is the faithful and righteous husband who always serves and lays down his life for his bride. Because he does not keep anything from his bride -- even to the giving of his own life for her's -- his bride can trust him always, not seeking for happiness in the arms of another god. The law always directs the church back to the arms of her husband, which is the only place where she truly finds protection and life. In that sense the law directs us toward life, even while it does not (and cannot) provide it itself.