Make It Say What You Want!

Let's face it. A person can make the Bible say and mean what they want it to. It's really not that difficult. Unfortunately, the most common idea in 20th and 21st century American theology is that every individual Christian should get to interpret the Bible for themselves. Not only that, but also that this is the proper manner in which to read and interpret God's Word. We hear all too often of the idea that one person's interpretation is just as good as the next person's. We've even extrapolated this idea further and people have downplayed the importance of attending church. Many people refuse to attend church at all, instead favoring a do it yourself sort of approach. I don't know what else to call this other than completely wrong. Christians are not islands unto themselves, free to make Scripture say whatever they would like it to - all the while claiming the Holy Spirit's guidance on their own little divine revelations into the proper meanings of Holy Writ, not caring one wit that their ideas and interpretations are nowhere near what Christianity has always taught and believed.

This is precisely why the Christian Church has creeds and confessions of faith. Not to mention, this is the reason the Church has had numerous ecumenical councils in the past.

The three great ecumenical creeds are a great place to start regarding core fundamental Christian teaching. If a person or church denies anything in these three creeds, a red flag should be raised immediately. If you can't affirm these three great creeds, call yourself something other than Christian. They are in essence saying that they, based on their own personal interpretation of Scripture, know certain things and doctrines in Scripture more accurately than the great fathers of the church who convened and agreed upon these great creeds. Imagine if that person were there, present at those councils. Perhaps the great fathers of the church would sway them, who knows.

One common objection that people bring up here is that they only need Scripture and the Holy Spirit, not the creeds. But this objection completely misses the point. The creeds are summaries of core fundamental doctrines that Scripture teaches. True, they are not Scripture itself, but they tell us what the Scriptures actually teach.

The idea of me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit in a corner actually denies the Bible and the Holy Spirit. It ends up being all me. Both the Bible and the Holy Spirit point a person to Christ, and Christ is to be found in His Word and His Sacraments. This the Bible explicitly states. Moreover, this idea of Christianity that is so popular is actually a rejection of Christianity as well as a rejection of the gifts that Christ gives us. In other words, it's not Christianity at all. It is nothing more than a self-serving individualism that happens to like Jesus - just not the historic one. So it really doesn't like Jesus either on some level.

What Christian rejects the three ecumenical creeds as false? Well, none should. The creeds are core doctrine. If you reject the Apostle's Creed, you reject the most basic teachings of Christianity. If you reject the Nicene Creed, the same thing applies. If you reject the Athanasian Creed, you reject the Trinity and that puts you outside of Christianity and salvation altogether.

But we know better because we've got the Holy Spirit, right? Well, don't you think the Holy Spirit also guided these great fathers of the faith who formulated the creeds? Or do you think they were just hearing from themselves, or worse, evil spirits?

If you are unfamiliar with the three great ecumenical creeds, you can find them here: BOC: Creeds

To summarize here, there is simply no room for interpretation on many core doctrinal teachings of the Christian Church. You don't need to convene your own ecumenical council of me, myself, and I in the corner of your basement, waiting for "God" to talk to you personally and tell you how it really is. In fact, that path is decidedly antichrist. It always leads a person away from core teachings, not towards them.

Just look at the fruits of this idea. Denial of original sin. Denial of the virgin birth. Rejection of the Trinity, usually aligning with some ancient heresy or another. Dualism that separates the natural from the spiritual resulting in a rejection of the Real Presence and of Baptismal Regeneration and ultimately the Incarnation of Christ and the Gospel itself. Not to mention when the Bible gets interpreted by people who flat out admit they are not Christians. Muslims and Atheists do this all the time. We could go on and on.

This idea needs to be outed for what it is: Antichrist. Time has shown us that this leads to nothing but bad theology and usually a rejection of Christianity itself.



Tertullian the Montanist as your supposed Trail of Blood Baptist

There's some documented Trail of Blood Baptist views of Tertullian.

In On Baptism, Chapter 1, he wrote:

"Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life!"

In Against Marcion, Book I, Chapter 28, he wrote:

"And what will happen to him after he is cast away? He will, they say, be thrown into the Creator's fire. Then has no remedial provision been made (by their god) for the purpose of banishing those that sin against him, without resorting to the cruel measure of delivering them over to the Creator? And what will the Creator then do? I suppose He will prepare for them a hell doubly charged with brimstone, as for blasphemers against Himself; except indeed their god in his zeal, as perhaps might happen, should show clemency to his rival's revolted subjects. Oh, what a god is this! everywhere perverse; nowhere rational; in all cases vain; and therefore a nonentity! — in whose state, and condition, and nature, and every appointment, I see no coherence and consistency; no, not even in the very sacrament of his faith! For what end does baptism serve, according to him? If the remission of sins, how will he make it evident that he remits sins, when he affords no evidence that he retains them? Because he would retain them, if he performed the functions of a judge. If deliverance from death, how could he deliver from death, who has not delivered to death? For he must have delivered the sinner to death, if he had from the beginning condemned sin. If the regeneration of man, how can he regenerate, who has never generated? For the repetition of an act is impossible to him, by whom nothing any time has been ever done. If the bestowal of the Holy Ghost, how will he bestow the Spirit, who did not at first impart the life? For the life is in a sense the supplement of the Spirit. He therefore seals man, who had never been unsealed in respect of him; washes man, who had never been defiled so far as he was concerned; and into this sacrament of salvation wholly plunges that flesh which is beyond the pale of salvation! No farmer will irrigate ground that will yield him no fruit in return, except he be as stupid as Marcion's god. Why then impose sanctity upon our most infirm and most unworthy flesh, either as a burden or as a glory? What shall I say, too, of the uselessness of a discipline which sanctifies what is already sanctified? Why burden the infirm, or glorify the unworthy? Why not remunerate with salvation what it burdens or else glorifies? Why keep back from a work its due reward, by not recompensing the flesh with salvation? Why even permit the honour of sanctity in it to die?"

And he wrote in On the Resurrection of the Flesh, he said,

"Now such remarks have I wished to advance in defence of the flesh, from a general view of the condition of our human nature. Let us now consider its special relation to Christianity, and see how vast a privilege before God has been conferred on this poor and worthless substance. It would suffice to say, indeed, that there is not a soul that can at all procure salvation, except it believe while it is in the flesh, so true is it that the flesh is the very condition on which salvation hinges. And since the soul is, in consequence of its salvation, chosen to the service of God, it is the flesh which actually renders it capable of such service. The flesh, indeed, is washed, in order that the soul may be cleansed; the flesh is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated; the flesh is signed (with the cross), that the soul too may be fortified; the flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands, that the soul also maybe illuminated by the Spirit; the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may fatten on its God."

So as we can see here, he affirmed the Trail of Blood Baptist views of baptismal regeneration and Eucharistic presence.

Oh wait, both are complete opposite of what Baptists believe!

Folks need to stop parroting that woefully inaccurate book Trail of Blood  with claims like Tertullian and the Montanists (who he identified himself with) held to their views when the opposite is true.

Like, seriously.

Here we stand.

Eastern Orthodoxy and Original Sin

I recently had a nice amicable conversation with a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. From the outset, I admit that I am no expert on Eastern Orthodoxy, but I do believe that they certainly have some excellent insights in Christian theology. But their doctrine of sin is not one of them.

If I am understanding correctly, sin in Eastern Orthodoxy is what happens when we act contrary to God. In other words, people are not sinful by nature and only become sinners when they actually sin. The East rejects the classic Christian doctrine of original sin in favor of what they call Ancestral Sin.

Naturally, our conversation came back to the topic of infants. Moreover, it led to the topic of justification and righteousness. And these are the arenas where it seems to me at least, that Eastern Orthodoxy drops the ball.

The person I was discussing this topic with asserted that to be a sinner, a person must have knowledge and choice of the will. This necessarily excludes infants. He also went on to make the claim that becoming righteous is also through a choice of the will. This also necessarily excludes infants. And there is the problem.

Infants, in this person's (EO) theology, are neither righteous nor unrighteous; neither sinner nor saint. Yet they all go to heaven. And that's fine, I don't have a problem with universal infant salvation. But there must be a basis for it, wouldn't you think? And here is where the man I was chatting with had no answer.

The first thing I posited to him is that only justified persons will enter heaven, and to be justified is also to be righteous. Thus, I questioned on what basis infants can be righteous and justified. Keep in mind, he had already asserted that infants are neither righteous nor unrighteous. He then questioned whether infants need justification at all.

So he wants universal infant salvation apart from justification and righteousness.

Here is where the person with whom I was chatting had no answer. He would not go the obvious route, because to do so would be to affirm that Luther had it right and deny the EO stances on righteousness and justification.

In other words, infants, just like the rest of us, must be imputed and clothed with the righteousness of Christ. The only alternative to this stance is that there are people in heaven that are neither righteous nor unrighteous. There are people there who are saved by innocence apart from justification.

Or, perhaps we could concoct a different path to salvation apart from the blood of Christ. I don't know, but I do know that the guy I was chatting with could not answer any of this.

Perhaps this is not an official stance of the Eastern Orthodox, but given their rejection of concupiscence, this stance makes sense in light of Orthodoxy.

Eastern Orthodoxy: Still one big (functionally Pelagian) mystery. Don't fall for the smells and bells and beautiful iconography of the East. It's still a works religion at its core.

Perhaps some persons who are more knowledgeable of the East can comment here.



Arminianism is Soft Works Righteousness

For those of you who are not aware, once upon a time the Reformed Church had a Synod that convened at Dordrecht (1618-19). At this Synod, traditional Reformed Theology was questioned. In response to the Remonstrants, the Synod formulated the 5 points of Calvinism. Thus, on one side there were the Calvinists (Classic Reformed Theology), and on the other there were the Arminians (the Remonstrants).

Now, some of our more classical Arminian (read: not Pelagian like much of American evangelicalism) friends have been claiming the term monergism as something that applies to them.

This is completely untrue.

In their own words, I will show how this is patently false. Here is an article from August of 2009 on the Evangelical Arminians website. The article can be found here: Arminians and Monergism

In the article, the author attempts to show how Arminians are grace alone, faith alone, monergistic people. His own words betray him.

The article starts with a valid concern. Calvinists do indeed often charge that Arminianism believes that man must make a move first and then God will make His move second. This is a valid concern. Arminianism teaches no such thing. Pelagianism does teach that though. Yet, Arminianism is not Pelagianism.

Yet, Arminianism ends up in the same place.

In the author's own words, here it is.

"After being enabled by the Spirit, the response of the sinner is passive. The sinner must stop resisting, repent of their sins, and place their faith in Christ. This gift, like any gift, is not irresistible. The sinner must accept the unmerited gift of God. Once this is done, following the plan of the Father, the Spirit joins the sinner to Jesus and thus begins the Savior’s relationship with the sinner."

"This is the part of Arminianism one could call synergistic, the acceptance of the gift of salvation, and it is nothing to be scared of because it is Biblical. The process of salvation is monergistic. He enables, He convicts, He draws, and He calls. Once the sinner places their faith in God, He is the one who justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies the sinner; just as He had predestined to do (Romans 8:29-30) because the work of Christ on the cross was made for our atonement. Calvinists cannot seem to get past this synergistic aspect, but it is the Biblical view of salvation. (Acts 16:30-31, Ephesians 2:8-9, etc)."

There it is. It's all God...but you must accept it. If you must do something to accept it, how is it all God? In other words, God does everything to save you, but you, as an individual, must make a positive choice to accept this gift. How is this monergist at all? Well, it's not. Monergism means "one work." There is no monergism where there is the formula that "God does it all, but..."

There is no "but." No "you must choose." No "you must accept."

In other words, Arminianism, even the classical variety, slips in that one little thing that we must do in order to be saved.

There is no way around it, Arminianism is a soft form of works righteousness. Anything that gets slipped in that we must do in order to be saved, as something that comes from our will, is works. There is no way around it.

To put this simply, it is 100% God and His works that save us. If we add in anything that we must do to the equation, we enter the realm of synergism and thus works righteousness. Arminianism falls into tat category. And yes, if we say that we must accept Christ in order to be saved, we are falling back on our own work.

Calvinism has its own issues, but this is not one of them.




I was talking with an evangelical friend of mine about how even the early church was not clear on the Gospel sometimes. I mentioned the apostle Peter and how the apostle Paul rebuked him publicly for not being clear on the Gospel.

My friend said, "Well, Peter was not clear on the *application* of the Gospel."

The statement was said in passing, but it got me thinking as to how stark the differences are between Lutheranism, which is the 200-proof Gospel, and the rest of Christianity. 

You see, for us Lutherans, the *application* of the Gospel *is* part of the Gospel, because if the Gospel does not *apply* to *me* in space and time, then it is not good news for *me*.

It is all about pastoral care.

It is about comfort and assurance.

If it is only general categories, then I am still left with doubt.

This is why the Sacraments are pure Gospel for us. They are the Gospel applied in space and time. They are not secondary. They are part of the Good News that Jesus applies His forgiveness to *me*.

We find the Revealed God in Jesus Christ as for us in Word and Sacrament.

For *me*.

For *you*.


Book Giveaway!!!

In honor of our blog creeping up on 100,000 views, we are going to give away a free book. The book we are giving away is a copy of Reading the Psalms with Luther. It is new and in its original wrapping from Concordia Publishing House. The book contains all 150 Psalms with comments on each Psalm from Martin Luther, as well as a prayer at the conclusion of each Psalm. The Psalms are also pointed for chanting. This is an excellent little resource that you will be sure to pick up again and again.

The drawing will be held on Reformation Day, 2015 and the winner announced on All Saints Day on November 1.

All you need to do to enter is send your name and email address to ajtaylor1123@gmail.com. Once again, we will inform the winner on November 1.

Thank you for reading From Geneva To Wittenberg!

Mary: Mother of God

There is a deep aversion within mainstream Evangelicalism to call  Mary anything other than the mother of Jesus. The terms "Mother of God" or even the ancient "Theotokos" are frowned upon. But why?

I think there are two major reasons as to why this is so. The first reason is that people do not understand the theology behind the title. The second reason is that people are scared of Roman Catholicism in particular and church history in general; instead preferring an approach that boils down to "me, my bible, and the Holy Spirit."

The most common arguments that I have run across regarding the term Mother of God is that a) this makes Mary divine, b) this allows for prayers to Mary, and c) she is simply the mother of Jesus the man.

Look, I understand the hesitance. I really do. Yet, all of these arguments fall flat. In the first case, the answer is no, it does not make Mary divine. In all actuality, calling Mary the Mother of God is a statement about Jesus. Jesus was really God while in the womb of Mary. After all, we confess that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Apostle's Creed). If Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, He is God, even at conception. Therefore, Mary was carrying the fully divine -and fully human- Jesus in her womb. Really and truly, Mary bore God in her womb. It does not make Mary divine!

In the second case; that this title allows for prayer to Mary, well, that is simply not true. In reality, Mary being the Mother of God and praying to her don't have much to do with each other. One does not naturally flow from the other one, as it were. This doctrine of praying to Mary for interecession is extrapolated from other ideas in addition to Mary being the Mother of Christ.

The third objection is a true argument in one way. Mary is actually the mother of Jesus the man. That is true. But, Christ is one person, not two. Thus, if Mary is the mother of Jesus the man, she is also the mother of Jesus the God, for you cannot separate the natures of Christ from His person. To do so is to commit the heresy of Nestorianism. Or worse.

To sum this all up, the terms Mother of God as well as the Greek Theotokos are both terms about Christ far more than they are about Mary. And to deny what either of them actually teaches runs a person headlong into Christological heresy.

Therefore, as Confessional Lutherans, we ought to cherish these terms as terms that are part of our catholic heritage. Not only so, we ought to use them freely because they are true and accurately reflect what we believe regarding Mary!

Using them does not make us Roman Catholics, nor does it require that we seek Mary as an intercessor. Using them simply makes us orthodox. These terms are, to put it bluntly, biblical. The Roman Catholic church did not invent the term Mother of God in order to elevate Mary to some sort of divine status. We use it because we are orthodox Christians. We are not Nestorians or some other sort of heresy.

So, use these terms freely. They are true. They are historical. They speak about Christ. And they are biblical.



Keep That Gospel Pure

There is only one Gospel. Scripture makes this explicitly clear.

Galatians 1:6-9: I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

St. Paul writes in his epistle to the Galatians that there is indeed only one Gospel. He goes even further and says that those who pervert it are accursed. In this brief post, we will examine how our friends in two different theological systems - Calvinism and Arminianism - flirt with this line.

Let us use another passage from St. Paul to guide us in our definition of the Gospel. Here it is:

1 Corinthians 15:1-5: Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.

Notice what St. Paul preached to these people. Notice that this is the Gospel by which they are saved. He preached to them that Christ died for them and rose again for them. He tells them that this is what is saving. Notice also that St. Paul says that the Gospel is all about Christ. In other words, St. Paul refuses to mingle law in with Gospel.

Calvinism messes with the Gospel with its doctrine of limited atonement. Calvinism cannot preach consistently to the sinner that Christ died and rose for them until after they are certain that the person is truly saved. But in Calvinism, how does one know who is truly saved? The only way one can make a judgment on this is by looking for a totally changed life. But then, who is to say that the person is not deceived if they fall away and reject Christ later in life? Calvinism desires to uphold monergism, but due to the doctrine of limited atonement, they rip the heart out of the Gospel. There is no surety of Christ for you no matter what in Calvinism. How do they know that Christ died for them? How can they objectively know this, with 100% certainty, if Christ only died for the elect? Pretty much they have to be certain they are elect. And in Calvinism, without a 100% certainty in Word and Sacrament and the atonement, they must look to their own faith to an extent.

Arminianism messes with the Gospel by inserting law into the Gospel, thereby diluting it and making it something other than pure grace. They do this by making a person's choice via their own free will the dominant factor in salvation. Christ's work is never enough in Arminianism and the will of the person must be exercised in order to make it effective. Hence, Arminianism adds something we must do to the Gospel. This is a grave error indeed! Arminianism, no matter what cute theological terminology is used, is a form of works salvation due to turning faith into a meritorious work. Not to mention all the off shoots of Arminianism such as Wesleyanism, Open Theism, and free will Baptist theology.

Ironically, these two bitter theological opponents ultimately put the sinner right back in the same place. Neither one can objectively put the sinner at the cross and in the pure grace of the Word and the Sacraments. Calvinism cannot objectively say that Christ is for you. Not at Calvary, and not in word and Sacrament. Reformed Sacramentology does not allow for this. Arminianism says that you must do something in addition to Christ's work and grace freely given.

Ultimately, both theologies put the sinner right back at themselves. Both have the sinner asking themselves if they are really truly saved.

In the end, both theologies have a problem with Christ's objective promises, despite one being monergist and the other synergist.

In Calvinism, Christ is for the elect. Period.

In Arminianism, Christ is for you, but only if you ____.

In Scripture, Christ is for you. Period. End of story. In His death and rising. In the Word. In the Sacraments.

Christ for you. That is pure Gospel.