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Category Archives: Theology

Theology and the Bible

Augsburg Confession briefly

The Holy Bible is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice for Reformation Christians. The Augsburg Confession is the doctrinal confession of faith adopted by the Lutheran Church. It is part of the Book of Concord, which includes the three ancient ecumenical creeds: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. It also contains the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms, and the Formula of Concord. (reference)

Martin Luther wrote the Catechisms and the Smalcald Articles. Phillip Melanchthon wrote the Augsburg Confession, its Apology, and the Treatise. So, Melanchthon wrote more of the Lutheran doctrines than Martin Luther. Note that the other writings of Luther have no official status among Lutherans, although most of them make for sound reading.

The Augsburg Confession was written in a particular historical context in which the Lutheran movement attempted to explain and justify itself to the religious and civil authorities of the day, notably Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, at the Diet of Augsburg on June 25, 1530. Although reconciliation did not happen, the Augsburg Confession provided the primary confession of the Lutheran movement.

The twenty-eight articles in the Augsburg Confession consist of twenty-one statements of doctrine and seven declarations about abuses, and demands for reforms. Although Melanchthon and his associates compiled the confession, Luther approved it as an accurate account of his doctrine.

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Prayers and benedictions

Prayers from the New Testament (NET Bible)

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,
10 may your kingdom come,
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Mt 6:9-13

22 Jesus said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, if someone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24 For this reason I tell you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your sins.” Mk 11:22-25

17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, 18 —since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened—so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength. 20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms 21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things. 23 Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Eph 1:17-23

I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on the earth is named. 16 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, 18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Eph 3:14b-19

And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight 10 so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. Phil 1:9-11

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7

For this reason we also, from the day we heard about you, have not ceased praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects—bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. 13 He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Col 1:9-14

11 And in this regard we pray for you always, that our God will make you worthy of his calling and fulfill by his power your every desire for goodness and every work of faith, 12 that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Th 1:11-12

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that the faith you share with us may deepen your understanding of every blessing that belongs to you in Christ. I have had great joy and encouragement because of your love, for the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. Philemon 1:4-7

Dear friend, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. 3 Jn 1:2

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Word of faith, part 4

In this final post on the Word of faith movement, I specifically want to address the claims of D. R. McConnell in his book, A Different Gospel (updated edition 1995). He concludes on p.185:

There are many peculiar ideas and practices in the Faith theology, but what merits it the label of heresy are the following: (1) its deistic view of God, who must dance to men’s attempts to manipulate the spiritual laws of the universe; (2) its demonic view of Christ, who is filled with “the satanic nature” and must be “born-again” in hell; (3) its gnostic view of revelation, which demands denial of the physical senses and classifies Christians by their willingness to do so; (4) its metaphysical view of salvation, which deifies man and spiritualizes the atonement, locating it in hell rather than on the cross, thereby subverting the crucial Christian belief that it is Christ’s physical death and shed blood which alone atone for sin.”

I have addressed in part 2 here the idea that a particular theory of the atonement is part of Christian orthodoxy; it is not. Each theory has its advantages and disadvantages. The ransom theory has the particular disadvantage of making the atonement seem to be paying off Satan, but the other theories have their disadvantages, too. McConnell’s objections (2) and (4) thus reflect his sectarianism.

Objection (1) is a common objection to the Word of faith teachings, but it is a misunderstanding. The God of the Bible is a God of laws. Does that mean God is bound by His own laws? That is an old theological conundrum. Are there spiritual laws? See Bill Bright’s famous Four Spiritual Laws here. Where are the books claiming heresy for these spiritual laws? There is no more problem with spiritual laws then with physical laws. The idea that we could get spiritual laws working for us should be no more problematic than getting physical laws working for us.

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Word of Faith, part 3

One of the main teachings of the Word of Faith movement concerns one’s “confession.” This teaching goes back to E. W. Kenyon, but before looking at what he wrote, let’s consider what a leader of the movement, Kenneth E. Hagin, wrote about it in his exposition of Mark 5:25-34 in his book “Exceedingly Growing Faith,” Chapter VI.

The story concerns a woman with “an issue of blood” who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment while he was in a crowd. Hagin points out the steps she took: (1) She said it: “For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.” (Mark 5:28) (2) She did it: she got close enough to Jesus to do it. Because she was unclean she was supposed to stay away from others, so by this action she was taking a risk. (3) She received it: she received the healing from Jesus. (4) She told it: Jesus asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30) She again took a risk by telling her story publicly.

Hagin also references the story of David and Goliath as an example of the importance of saying what one believes: (I Samuel 17):

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Word of Faith, part 2

E. W. Kenyon is widely considered the originator of what is now called the Word of Faith. A previous series of posts showed that Kenyon’s teachings about divine healing were in line with the 19th century faith-cure movement (see here). Theological issues that arise concerning E. W. Kenyon’s writings include his theory of the atonement.

Although theories of the atonement are often considered a part of the orthodox core of Christianity, they are not. Through the centuries Christians have disagreed about the particular reasons for the death of Christ, what its significance is, and what it accomplished. For example, several theories of the atonement are given here.

E. W. Kenyon has his own variation, which combines the Ransom and Substitutionary theories of the atonement, as described in his book “What Happened from the Cross to the Throne” (Seventh Edition, 1969). Here are some excerpts (combining his one sentence paragraphs):

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Word of Faith, part 1

This post begins a series on the Word of Faith movement (also known as word-faith, faith, or by its critics the prosperity gospel or health and wealth gospel). The purpose of this series is to clarify the biblical teachings of this movement. Because many of its expositors lack formal theological education, it is not uncommon for their words to raise theological red flags. But many reject the Word of Faith teachings with little understanding of them, or by taking passages out of context.

While there certainly have been excesses, this series of posts will provide reasons why core Word of Faith teachings are within the broad range of orthodox Christianity. That said, this series of posts does not justify lavish lifestyles, deceptive practices, or false claims. The focus is on the core teachings of the Word of Faith and their biblical justification.

It is important to know from the outset that there are three independent 19th century movements that have some similarities but are radically different: (1) the nature cure, (2) the mind cure, and (3) the faith cure. All sought healing apart from the allopathic medicine that was considered mainstream.

(1) “Nature cure, or natural care refer to methods of self-healing, often using fasting, dieting, rest, or hydrotherapy.” Also included are orthopathy and naturopathy. (Wikipedia)

(2) Mind cure is a “healing system according to which feelings or thoughts are the most important factor in human health. Negative thinking is believed to cause disease, whereas good health results from positive thoughts.” (Free Dictionary) “William James used the term ‘New Thought’ as synonymous with the ‘Mind cure movement.'” (Wikipedia)

(3) Faith cure is “a method or practice of treating diseases by prayer and exercise of faith in God.” (Merriam-Webster)

The teachings of the Word of Faith movement grew out of the faith cure (3) movement, not the others.

Bibliography

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God the Creator and Designer

The Christian doctrine of creation declares that the reason there is something and not nothing is because God created something ex nihilo, out of nothing, and that is what it means to say that God is the Creator. This is the primary creation, since the secondary creation such as the birth of new organisms occurs ex aliquo, out of something.

Did God create a mere something, that is, an entity with no identity, a whatever, a primordial blob? Or did God create and design a particular something, an entity with identity? Read the first verses of Genesis again:

1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Creation ex nihilo gets us to verse 3, with its deep, formless void and nonspecific light. After that, God is the Designer, separating and naming.

Some theologians consider design to be beneath God, as if the Divinity were merely a Platonic demiurge. But God created a particular something, which is described in terms of creating and designing rather than a single create-and-design action. We should accept the distinction between Creator and Designer, whether we separate them or not.

The theological significance of Design has been underappreciated. But it makes a difference whether the creation is made into distinct entities and kinds or is only a mass differentiated by degrees. The differences between plant and animal food and sacrifices, for example, only make sense if plant and animal are different kinds of organisms – or vegetative and animal souls are different kinds (species) in Aristotle’s terms. Above all, the difference between humans and other creatures is essential to the significance of the fall and redemption of mankind (and Aristotle’s distinction of the rational soul).

Classical creationism underestimated the extent of within-kind variation. Modern evolutionism makes the opposite error and vastly overestimates the extent of variation. Some scientists are developing a middle position, despite much opposition, that combines natural kinds with substantial variation and adaptation. Such a moderate view is quite consistent with the biblical Creator and Designer.

Note: God alone can make extrinsic design into an intrinsic nature through divine creative power. Perhaps the design was intrinsic all along but it could have been extrinsic at one point, at least insofar as it is in a logical sequence of steps, if not a chronological sequence.

Intellectual hierarchies

Societies have an intellectual hierarchy reflected in their academic hierarchy that exhibit their scale of concepts and values. There are basically three groups of intellectual disciplines: the study of divinity (theology), the humanities, and the sciences. There are six possible ways of ordering these three, which shows the intellectual state of a society.

(1) Theology, humanities, sciences: This is the medieval and Renaissance order.

(2) Theology, sciences, humanities: This is the early modern order, which is deistic with scientific realism.

(3) Humanities, theology, sciences: This is the conservative Catholic order, which is humanistic and traditionalist.

(4) Humanities, sciences, theology: This is the liberal Catholic order, which is humanistic with scientific realism.

(5) Sciences, theology, humanities: This is the conservative Protestant order, which is scientistic with theological realism.

(6) Sciences, humanities, theology: This is the late modern order, which is scientistic and humanistic.

Order number (1) is the proper one because it places the highest truth (God) first, then humanity second, then the world after these are properly understood.

Disciples and relatives of Jesus

There are many disciples of Jesus in the Bible, but there are twelve that are particularly the disciples, or simply, the twelve. Some of these are related to each other. In the small town region of Galilee where Jesus lived that would not be surprising.

What follows is a summary of the disciples and relatives of Jesus, given that we don’t have as much detail about them as we would like. First, the twelve disciples, which are listed four times in the New Testament (Mt 10:1–4, Mk 3:13–19, Lk 6:12–16, and Acts 1:13):

Simon Peter and Andrew, brothers who worked with Zebedee’s family fishing business. Jesus gave Simon the nickname Peter.

James and John, sons of Zebedee and Salome, whom Jesus nicknamed Boanerges, “sons of thunder”.

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Basic Gospel

Basic Gospel Message

Vic Scaravilli is a Catholic who put the following on his website here. I’m reposting it (with permission) and note that Evangelicals would agree that this is the gospel, with some nuances about baptism.

The Basic Gospel Message

By Vic Scaravilli

God loves each one of us. He loves me and He loves you with an unconditional love. You are precious in His eyes.

There is something that has kept us separated from God, something that has kept us from experiencing His love in our lives. That something is called sin. The result of sin is spiritual death. We have all sinned and never can be perfect.

Does that mean we can never know and experience God’s love? No, because God loved us so much He sent His only Son to die for each one of us. Jesus is the only bridge that takes us from our sin to the love of God. By His death and resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of heaven for everyone.

This is called salvation. It is the free gift of eternal life that is completely given to us by God’s grace. Salvation is the life in Jesus that begins now and will be for all eternity.

The free gift of salvation must be accepted in order for it to be our own. We must experience an internal conversion experience that changes our hearts. Once we accept Jesus into our hearts and allow Him to come into our lives, we begin to experience His love.

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