Pope Francis to Lutheran Pilgrims: Seek Unity through Charity

The full text of Pope Francis’ prepared remarks to Lutheran pilgrims in the Vatican on Thursday

CHR Comment: Nearly 500 years ago, the historic disruption of western Christendom took place as Protestants and Roman Christians disagreed on the doctrine of justification. The dialogue between liberal Lutheran church leaders and the papacy has continued for decades. Pope Francis expresses his hope that the dialogue will end in “communion.” Anticipate something taking place during the upcoming Reformation anniversary observances in 2017.

Source: Pope Francis to Lutheran pilgrims: seek unity through charity – Vatican Radio

Puritan Preacher Elkanah Wales

CHR Comment: Elkanah Wales (1588-1669) of Pudsey was a faithful pastor and preacher who was ousted from service during the Great Ejection of 1662 when several thousand ministers were forced out of the Church of England. Pastor Wales continued to preach and teach house to house and was arrested for his activities. He died at 80 years old. His farewell sermon was published under the title Mount Ebal levell’d or redemption from the curse. The links below are to essays exploring his work. His book is available over Google Books at the third link below.

On a personal note, Elkanah Wales was apparently an ancestor on my mother’s side of the family.

Source: Elkanah Wales of Pudsey (1)

Elkanah Wales of Pudsey, Part 2

Mount Ebal Levell’d

Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597

Historians have uncovered evidence that St Mary’s Chapel (pictured) at the Kirk of St Nicholas in Aberdeen was used as a prison for 24 witches during the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597.

CHR Comment: The witch hunt was conducted by Protestants and meticulously described in official records. Historians have recently discovered the role of St. Mary’s Chapel in the East Church, which served as the holding sell before someone was taken to be burned. The Scottish witch hunt was part of a broader phenomenon in Europe at this time. The Salem Witch Trials in New England occurred about 100 years later. This article includes numerous photographs of the church.

Source: Witch prison found in Scotland’s St Mary’s Chapel at the Kirk of St Nicholas | Daily Mail Online

The History and Witness of the Church

The Book of Acts opens with two events of great salvation-historical importance: the going up of Jesus from earth into heaven (the Ascension), and the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples (Pentecost). Both events are commemorated by Christians in this season of the year. Jesus’s resurrection from the dead inaugurated God’s new beginning, which the New Testament calls “the last days.” . . . .

CHR Comment: Timothy George offers an Easter/Pentecost reflection on the Church’s witness to what is history and what is myth, citing the testimony of Barth, Eusebius, Calvin, and Bonhoeffer. His somber reflection on the state of the Church of England gives way to hope in the power of the Gospel.

Source: The One Really Interesting Story | Timothy George | First Things

“No Other Gods” in Luther’s Catechisms

The wording of the First Commandment in Luther’s Catechisms may, at first, feel a bid strange: “You shall have no other gods” (Exodus 20:3). How does one have a god? Such wording seems to imply that there are indeed other gods beside the one true God.

First, we must recognize that the wording in the catechism is an abbreviated form of the commandment, which actually runs another three verses. (In the Reformed and Eastern Orthodox traditions, the verses are divided into two commandments.) Using an abbreviated form was a medieval practice that made memorization easier. For the catechism, Luther built on this practice but included more of the text (Exodus 20:5–6) as a summary or “close” of the commandments. Here is the full statement of the commandment from Exodus:

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

We see then that the Lord forbids His people to have or make gods/idols before which they would bow down or serve (cf. Exodus 32). To understand the word “have,” consider the following expressions: I have a family; I have a father; we have a president. The word “have” does not mean simple possession of something. It describes a relationship—a bond—between persons or things. The Creator will not allow His creation to set up objects or barriers between Him and His people. As He said it positively and emphatically in the opening to the Ten Commandments:

I am the Lord your God . . .

Now that He has freed Israel from the bondage of Egypt, He will not let them return to bondage by serving other gods or masters. This truth is foundational, not only to biblical/Christian faith, but also to western ideals of the freedom and value of the individual. Each human being is loved by God and, as a created being, has a direct relationship with the Creator.

What Is Happening in the Anglican Communion? Commentary on the Recent Suspension

The Anglican Communion suspended the Episcopal Church, it’s American branch, from voting and decision-making for three years on Thursday over its acceptance of same-sex marriage.

CHR Comment: What is happening in the Anglican Communion? Here is a long-view, historical explanation.

When the Anglican Church adopted its Thirty-Nine Articles of doctrine in 1563, it attempted to be both inclusive and exclusive. The articles were written in a form that embraced the conservative Reformation but spoke against the radicalism of the Anabaptists. The articles also distinguished the Anglican Church from the Romanism of the papacy.

The Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888) defined modern Anglicanism as a church, emphasizing inclusiveness and seeking union with other church bodies. Anglicanism went on to embrace and promote the most important theological movement of the twentieth century: ecumenism. Anglican inclusiveness looked for common ground between churches and deemphasized the differences. The result was that Anglicanism constantly played an important role in unifying, ecumenical events. Liberal inclusiveness became one of its most important values.

Ironically, that inclusiveness is now dividing the Anglican Communion. A majority of western Anglicans want to include homosexuals in church life without defining homosexual behavior as sinful or calling homosexuals to repentance. These Anglicans are acting in accord with their prevailing emphasis on inclusion as a virtue that overrides or overlooks longstanding Christian doctrine and practice. In contrast, Anglicans in the former British colonies of Africa and elsewhere are much more conservative theologically and morally. They are alarmed by the decisions of the Episcopal Church USA, which has redefined marriage. American Episcopalians are also undermining the unity and cooperation that Anglicans had achieved through the ecumenical movement since other Christian church bodies do not want to approve the marriage of homosexuals.

Which view of Anglican theology and identity will prevail? Only time will tell but an important factor to consider is the rapid growth of Anglican Churches in Africa and in other former colonies. The more conservative Anglicans resent the old “colonialism” of England and the “imperialism” of the U.S. As they grow in numbers while the English and American churches decline, the churches in the former colonies will likely become more and more influential in defining the future of their church body.

Source: Anglicans suspend Episcopal Church over stance on same-sex marriage

In Honor of David Steinmetz, Church Historian

David Curtis Steinmetz, one of the leading church historians of our time, died this past November at age 79 on Thanksgiving evening.

CHR Comment: Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School writes about an influential mentor for church historians in America. Steinmetz focused his studies on the history of biblical interpretation, taking his work to the heart of what happened in the Reformation and connecting it to the ongoing life of the church, where every service and sermon must grapple with the meaning and application of Scripture.

Source: In Honor of David Steinmetz | Timothy George | First Things

Sunni-Shiite Schism Compared with Catholic-Protestant Divide

A disagreement 14 centuries ago over Islamic leadership following the death of the Prophet Mohammed –whether it should be by merit or bloodline–divides a religion that will be world’s largest this century.

CHR Comment: Reporter Gregg Zoroya attempts to make the Sunni-Shiite conflict more understandable to western readers by comparing it to the conflicts that followed the Protestant Reformation. Both the Muslim conflict and the Christian conflict had issues of authority at their center and resulted in wars, which makes the different events comparable to some extent.

Zoroya points out that the conflict in Islam was over who would succeed the prophet Mohammed as a leader. In the Reformation, the conflict was different. Before the Reformation took place, the medieval church was developing the modern papacy and often conflicted with kings  and councils over issues of authority . Martin Luther appealed to the Scriptures as the ultimate authority since popes and councils erred. When the papacy took offense at Luther’s teaching and concluded that he was harming the church, Luther and his supporters appealed for a council to address the issues. The papacy did not wish for such a counsel to take place, which would undermine papal authority by putting the Protestants and the papal supporters on equal footing. Ultimately, the papacy did call what we know today as the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which established the doctrine and practice of Roman Catholicism in distinction from Protestantism. Not long afterward, the European wars of religion arose (Thirty Years’ War; 1618-1648), which brought horrible devastation.

When reviewing religious history, it is important to note that conflicts often have their origin not in religion itself but in the varied interests of religious people. There are always political and economic factors that attach themselves to the spiritual issues.

Source: Ancient Islamic Sunni-Shiite schism inflames a modern world