Tuesday, October 31, 2017

95 Theses for the Church Today

Today is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his famed 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, the spark of the Reformation. He had no thought of splitting the church, only of reforming it. He had no idea of the impact. Small events often have wildly disproportional consequences.

Here are 95 theses from me for the church today.
1. Rightly did the Old Testament teach Israel that there was only one God.

2. Rightly did the early church come to understand that the one God exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

3. Rightly did the early church discern two testaments to go along with two covenants, the old and the new.

4. Rightly did the early church come to affirm the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed.

5. Rightly did the early church come to discern the canon of the New Testament, consisting of 27 books.

6. Rightly did the church recognize with certainly the canonicity of 39 books of the Old Testament.

7. Seven more, along with additions to Daniel and Esther, are in a sort of middle status, a "deutero" canon.

8. Luther demoted them entirely out of the canon. In response, the Council of Trent (1545) promoted them to full status. Both moves changed their status.

9. The doctrine of purgatory, while logical, has no clear basis in Scripture, not even in 2 Maccabees.

10. The doctrine of hell is biblical, but Scripture uses figurative language to point to something we probably cannot understand.

11. The Old Testament does not engage the question of the afterlife much, chiefly in Daniel 12:2-3.

12. Paul never engages the question of hell, but clearly indicates a resurrected body on the Day of the Lord for those who are in Christ.

13. Revelation speaks of a lake of fire, originally prepared for the Devil and his angels.

14. Matthew speaks of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

15. Scripture does not teach that ministers must be celibate.

16. Nor does Scripture teach that ministers must be male.

17. In Christ there is not "male and female," therefore, there is no function in life or the church in which a qualified woman or man cannot serve.

18. The laying on of hands is attested in Scripture as a means of grace whereby individuals are sent with ministry purpose.

19. Scripture also attests to the importance of study for the minister.

20. Therefore, it is appropriate for groups of believers to provide means of education and commissioning for the work of the ministry, known as ordination.

21. The doctrine of justification by faith is well attested in Romans and Galatians, and indicates that, when we first enter the people of God, a right status with God is only attained by putting our trust in him and in his king Jesus.

22. We put our "faith" in Jesus by confessing allegiance to him as our Lord.

23. The writings of Paul in Romans 2, 2 Corinthians 5, and James 2 also indicate that our works as a believer will be recognized on the Day of the Lord.

24. Works follow naturally as a result of having the Holy Spirit.

25. The Holy Spirit inside us empowers the image of God within us to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

26. We can be in Christ, have received the Holy Spirit, have left Egypt, and still not make it to the Promised Land. We can be disqualified for the prize despite having once been justified by faith.

27. Depravity in Paul is a thorough depravity rather than an absolute depravity. Every aspect of our selves is marred by the power of Sin over this world.

28. But the image of God is not destroyed. Thus while we do not have the power to be righteous for justification on our own, the goodness of God is present in us because we remain in the image of God.

29. All the world is under the power of Sin. Augustine called this dynamic a "sin nature."

30. For Paul, human flesh is under the power of Sin in this world unless the power of the Spirit takes over. Paul does not speak of this dynamic as a nature.

31. Temptation is not sin. It is when temptation has conceived by intention that it is sin.

32. There is such a thing as unintentional sin. Christ has atoned for all the unintentional sin of the believer.

33. Paul never says that we sinned "in Adam," as Augustine indicated. Rather, because of the power of Sin we sin like Adam.

34. Therefore, no individual is condemned because of the sin of Adam.

35. Original sin only has validity as a reference to Adam's original sin. I have no guilt because of Adam's sin, only its consequences.

36. The power of the Spirit makes it possible to love God and neighbor and thus to fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law.

37. Paul rejects any theology that considers sin the default life of the believer. We are not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies.

38. The basis of justification is the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

39. The faithfulness of Jesus Christ is his obedience unto death.

40. Paul likens Christ's death to an atoning sacrifice that God offered or displayed.

41. The doctrine of penal substitution goes beyond the scope of what is claimed in Scripture.

42. We find in Scripture the sense that Jesus satisfied God's justice and that Christ died "for us."

43. But Scripture does not develop a doctrine whereby Christ mathematically satisfied a quantitative justice that was the sum of all sins past, present, and future.

44. "Sola fide," faith alone, thus must take into account the full biblical picture. Our act of faith is the trigger of justification.

45. Our faith is more than an intellectual assent but an act of allegiance that involves a life of faithfulness.

46. If our faith allegiance departs from Christ, then those acts can disqualify our justification. Any version of sola fide that does not take these truths into account is not biblical.

47. Being in Christ is a relationship. Relationships are seldom broken by a single moment or act, but they can be broken.

48. In the working out of Christian theology, both Calvin and Wesley suggested that God's grace empowers us to make the choice of faith. These are logical extensions of broader theology.

49. Wesley believed that this "prevenient grace" was a grace that empowered a free choice. This "theology of the iceberg under the surface" fits best with the appearance of a free choice in Scripture.

50. "Sola gratia," grace alone, needs to recognize that grace in the biblical texts derives from the world of patron-client relationships. In this world, grace could be solicited and could come with informal expectations.

51. Biblical grace thus can be solicited by our prayer of repentance, and our faith in God and his Christ can solicit forgiveness and justification.

52. Grace thus also comes with the expectation of commitment to Jesus as Lord. Such grace can be trampled on and insulted. One should not think such grace would then continue.

53. "Sola Christi," Christ alone is the effective basis for justification. God has chosen of his own free will the offering of Christ as the sole basis of justification.

54. Abraham was justified by faith in God when he was still uncircumcised, that is, a Gentile. He is thus the model of those who are justified by faith in God who are not Jews, as well as the model of faith for those Jews who are justified by faith.

55. He is at least possibly a model of those who have faith in God even though they have not yet heard of Christ. Such individuals would still be justified by faith on the basis of the offering of Christ.

56. When Augustine, Wycliffe, and Calvin read the predestination language of the New Testament in absolute terms, they did injustice to half of the biblical language.

57. Predestination is primarily about the plan of salvation rather than the individuals who are saved, and God's plan involves the participation of human wills.

58. When the Reformers invoked "sola scriptura," they had a pre-modern hermeneutic that was unaware of the extent to which their reading of Scripture was still guided by the rule of faith God developed in the church.

59. The Reformers only eliminated extraneous aspects of catholic tradition that were obvious to them but retained many appropriate core features of tradition, like the Trinity.

60. Because individual interpretation of Scripture uses the individual to provide the "glue" that joins the different teachings of the Bible together and serves as the basis for determining the continuity and discontinuity between that time and our time, the Protestant principle arises. The Protestant principle, set forth by Paul Tillich, is that Protestant churches will continue to split and re-split, to multiply without end, because there is no common basis to join scriptures together or determine the connection between that time and today.

61. Today there are over 30,000 Protestant churches who think they are just following scripture alone. In short, history has shown Luther the loser of his debate with Erasmus.

62. Interpretation and exegesis only tell us what it meant. They do not tell us how God wants us to appropriate it.

63. The Bible should thus be appropriated in communities of faith.

64. The appropriation of Scripture not only requires contextualization by communities of faith.

65. The appropriation of Scripture to individual situations requires improvisation. There is no Pharisaic list of application that can account for every possible situation.

66. Communion was originally a meal that remembered the Last Supper of Christ and looked forward to another meal with him in the eschaton.

67. God has used communion throughout the centuries as a means of grace, whereby the partaker with faith is spiritually empowered to love of God and neighbor.

68. Baptism was a Jewish rite that the early Christians used to signify the washing of sins and incorporation into the people of God.

69. As children were born to these first believers, it is at least possible they were baptized as well. Certainly this became the tradition of the church.

70. Infant baptism indicates that the child is in the people of God, a partaker of its faith, until the child reaches a point when he or she could make that faith his or her own.

71. The child receives a grace mediated through the community in which he or she is baptized. It is a protecting grace.

72. The adult in baptism receives a means of grace as well through the community. It is an including grace. The adult is now reckoned fully in the people of God.

73. The legalization of Christianity was not evil.

74. The organization of Christianity is not intrinsically evil.

75. Nevertheless, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When the church and state coincide, oppression eventually happens.

76. Therefore, the church should be very cautious about its involvement with the state.

77. In keeping with the way God governs the world, the church should not try to force the world to believe as it believes.

78. The church should not try to force the world to pass laws that fit with its particular theological understanding--especially the understanding of one specific Christian group.

79. The church should focus its involvement with the state on supporting laws of general morality--those which prevent harm to others.

80. In keeping with the prophets, its activism should focus on protecting those who cannot protect themselves and empowering all the members of society.

81. The social gospel was not wrong because of its focus on helping the needy and marginalized--this is what Jesus did on earth.

82. The social gospel was wrong because it left out other essential parts of Christian faith--Jesus as Lord, not least.

83. Fundamentalism is a reduction of the Christian faith to a visceral reaction against changes in modern culture.

84. All truth is God's truth, no matter where he reveals it or we discover it by his grace.

85. The New Testament says "Love God and love neighbor" is the fulfillment of the whole law. There is no commandment of God for our lives that is left out (Matt. 22:37-40; Rom. 13:8-10).

86. The love of neighbor includes the love of enemy. God himself loves Satan still and grieves at his perdition.

87. The love of neighbor and enemy never contradicts the love of God, for God never asks us to do or be anything for him that is unloving toward our neighbor.

88. God's justice fits within the context of his love. He is not a slave to justice.

89. God has the authority to forgive without payment. This would be no problem for him but less helpful for us.

90. Our love of God and Christ consists in our submission to his will as our Lord, and his will is that we love one another. God's will is that we love what he loves, and he loves not just the individual but the whole of humanity, groups within humanity, and indeed his creation.

91. There are many points on which Christians disagree. Paul gives guidelines for such situations.

92. On matters of personal conviction, each person should be fully convinced of what God expects of him or her.

93. Despite individual freedom, Christians should behave in a way that is loving toward others. Despite individual freedom, Christians should behave in a way that builds up the faith of others.

94. Paul affirms that no object is intrinsically unclean. It is a matter of personal understanding and conviction. Many actions are not intrinsically unclean. It is a matter of your intention as you act.

95. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. Everything else is mostly ice cream on the cake.


::athada:: said...

TL;DR says the modern reformer.

Jim+ said...

Next time, try something controversial and sarcastic. In other words, channel your inner "Jim McNeely."



Bud Bence said...

"About a quarter before eight, while he was describing the basic tenets of the Protestant faith, I felt my heart strangely warmed." Oops, Wesley said that, not Luther. Great summary, Ken.

Martin LaBar said...

Good job. Thanks.

I may have missed it, but didn't see anything about care for the environment, or last things.