The Inevitable Incarnation

Many religions tell of God becoming man, because humans sense that we could not know God otherwise. But Jesus is different…divinely different.  

In 1819 using a razor and glue, the former American President Thomas Jefferson, one of the most brilliant men of his age, cut and pasted passages of the New Testament to create The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, popularly known as the Jefferson Bible. Jefferson’s Bible removed all of the miracles of Jesus, most mentions of the supernatural, the Resurrection, and all mentions of His divinity. In a letter to William Short (1820), Jefferson wrote that “Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God.” Thomas Jefferson clearly regarded the man Jesus as a great moral teacher, but rejected the concept of Jesus as God.

He was not alone. The Koran teaches that Allah has no son, and that those who believe that he does will be destroyed. Many critics throughout history have lauded Jesus for his moral example but lambasted early Christians for making him God. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity; without Him Christianity could not exist. At the same time, Jesus is the stumbling block of Christianity; the gospel as written in the New Testament is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:23).

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Religion and the Workplace

What is the role of religion in the workplace? The answer is not none…

A coworker was disciplined for asking people in his section how he could pray for them. Another was rebuked for having Bible verses on his desk. Does religion, especially Christianity, make the work environment hostile for others? How do we balance the freedom of speech for all involved. We must begin with a definition of religion. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, religion is:

1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power(s) recognized as the creator and governor of the universe. 2. A particular integrated system of this expression 3. The spiritual or emotional attitude of one who recognizes the existence of a supernatural power(s) 4. An objective pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion

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What Was the Most Important Part of Luther’s Theology?

Luther’s allegiance to the Holy Bible (solo Scriptura) as the ultimate source of authority in Christianity was the most important point of his theology. It is hard for Christians in the 21st century to imagine how the first 350 years of the faith must have been, when the only Bible available was the Old Testament, possibly the Apocrypha, the gospels and the letters of Paul, and some other letters. There was no firm agreement on what constituted the inspired Word of God, and therefore the dangers of heresy were great.

It is little wonder, therefore, that the church came up with a combination of means to judge whether a teaching was orthodox or not. Creeds such as the Apostle’s Creed, which summarized the key points of Christianity, a single bishop in each city who served as the source of authoritative interpretation, and an increasing understanding of which books belonged in the New Testament and which did not, were the means by which the early Church defeated Gnosticism and a host of other heresies that could have destroyed the new faith in its cradle.

The danger, of course, in using such a combination is that believers are tempted to put creeds or authoritative teachers above the Bible. This is exactly what happened. At the Council of Carthage in August 397, church authorities recognized (they did not determine) which books should form the New Testament. These books bore apostolic authority, were consistent with the teachings of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and other Christian teachings, and they were recognized throughout the church as God’s inspired truths.

After the Bible was completed, the reasonable thing to do would have been to recognize that the authority of creeds and bishops is derived from and therefore subordinate to the Word of God. Creeds are useful teaching tools but are essentially mini systematic theologies and therefore necessarily oversimplify or even distort the truths of the Lord. Bishops are usually well educated and faithful and their word can be trusted, but they are still sinful men and liable to errors of omission and commission. Creeds and bishops were still needed because in cultures with few books and little literacy it is important to have such lesser authorities, but God‘s word was the ultimate authority.

What happened, unfortunately, was that the authority of the bishops was magnified, not diminished, until church leaders were presenting as truth teachings that were clearly falsehoods, such as the practice of indulgences. Unbound to the Bible, creeds also proliferated and promulgated misinterpretations of it. Over hundreds of years, these errors gained the authority of tradition and tradition, not the True Word, became the ultimate source of authority. Believers suffered greatly from both of these errors for centuries.

Luther came at a time when mass printing and distribution was possible and literacy was rising fast. Over a millennium after Carthage, he and others rediscovered what should have been apparent all along. The Word of God, not creeds based on it or bishops and other churchmen explaining it, was the real source of truth. Everything believers teach and do must be measured against the only real source of authority, the Bible, and not the other way around.

Tradition still has authority and much of what we do in the modern church, such as worship services at 1100 on Sundays, midweek prayer meetings, and Christmas on December 25th, is based on it. Creeds still have authority, because they are quick and useful ways to teach important Biblical truths to men. However, the Bible is supreme. Luther recognized this, and all of his other great contributions, such as sola fide and sola sacerdos, came from that foundation.

The Benadictines

Ours is a day of self-indulgence, where we are promised to “have it our way” and told “you deserve a break today”.   Famous songs trumpet “I did it my way” and anything and everything, from privacy to health care to “self-expression”, has become a right.  Few would argue for self-denial and some even hold that self-denial is bad and unhealthy.   Abraham Maslow told us that our greatest need was self-actualization, Henry Ford taught us how to make anything faster and cheaper on an assembly line, and we soon discovered that life is really “all about us”. 

Most men and women in history have either been self-indulgent or aspired to it, much like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof sang in “If I were a rich man”. There have been a few, like the Spartans in Greece, who believed that self-discipline and self-denial were valuable, and perhaps even better, than self-indulgence.  Benedict (480-540) was one such man. 

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