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Seeing the Promised Future

In Exodus 24, we find the Israelites at Mt. Sinai as Moses receives the Law. Though the Israelites recognize that the mountain is holy is no place for them, God still invites a number of them up the mountain. Of course, this is only after the people are covered by the sacrificial blood of the covenant. What do the people do up on the mountain? They share a meal in the presence of God.

The parallels to Communion are extensive. Not only does Jesus Himself refer back to this as He shares the Last Supper, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mk 14:24), but the Last Supper itself recreates what is taking place. The disciples are sharing a meal in the presence of God. For Jesus to be so careful to connect the Last Supper back to Exodus 24 tells us that the context of Exodus 24 may also say something about what Jesus is doing that night with His disciples.

In that regard, Exodus 23 is where we find God laying out the terms of the covenant. The gist of the covenant is that if the Israelites will worship God exclusively, then God will bring them into the land and drive out their enemies. He will bless every aspect of their daily lives as well. God is reminding them of where they are heading. Mt. Sinai is a major event in the lives of the Israelites, but this is just a brief stopping point. God has a destination in mind and He intends to get there. Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard God’s promise to bring the Israelites to their own land. We actually heard about this before back in the Passover, another major event in our understanding of Communion.

Immediately following this meal God has with His people on the mountaintop, He goes into all of the details for the construction of the tabernacle, the items used in it, and the need to observe the Sabbath. In short, the place and time the people will be able to meet God. The tabernacle, and later the temple, will be the enduring location of God’s presence. It will be where He promises to be and it His presence that is the center and focus of all Israelite life. In truth, the promise we associate with the Promised Land isn’t so much about the location as it is God’s ongoing presence there. Anywhere God dwells with His people in a personal way is a promised land, because God will bless the residents of that land.

All of this has quite a lot to tell us about Communion. What the Israelites experienced in a brief way would someday become their daily reality. God would dwell in their midst. In Revelation 21, God declares that now He dwells with His people and that this is the defining feature of His new creation. What the Israelites had in a limited way with God at the temple is now shared by all of God’s people forever. The Promised Land of Israel in the Old Testament looks ahead to the Promised land of the new creation in the New Testament. What Exodus 24 meant for the Israelites continues to be true for us in Communion. We are covered by the blood of the covenant. We share a meal with God. We spend a moment of peace and joy with our Redeemer and know that our time together here is brief, but one day what we share here in this meal will be part of our daily lives.

God and His people together. Communion gives us a sample of what awaits us. In addition to the grace and forgiveness we receive as part of the meal, God is reminding us that we still have something to look forward to. We are still confidently following Him to that future and the new creation He has promised.

The Season of Epiphany

The season of Epiphany is soon upon us. We, as the Church, have been celebrating the birth of the promised Savior for the past several days through the Christmas season. Now the season changes. There’s still a bit of the earlier celebration, but the feel and tenor are distinct from Christmas. We take the day of Epiphany to reflect on the visit of the magi and all that is significant with that event, but then we continue on for a time.

Depending on whether you use the new Three Year Lectionary or the older One Year Lectionary, the season of Epiphany may be a bit longer or shorter for you, but it is still a season all its own. Epiphany sometimes gets lumped together with Christmas in our imagery and the two stories occur very close together in Matthew’s recitation of Jesus’ life, but the celebration of Epiphany marks a change. It is not a part of the same story.

The season of Christmas helps us celebrate and reflect on how, at long last, God has fulfilled the promise made so long ago to Adam and Eve of sending the one who will crush the Serpent’s head. The wait is over. The Savior is here. All creation rejoices to know the time has come and those who waited faithful have found their faith rewarded. It’s important not to skate too quickly through this season, as the world around us would like us to do. This event is worthy of taking the time to consider the meaning of the Incarnate Word. Celebrate Christmas. Celebrate through the whole season of Christmas. Christ was born for you and has come to save you.

Epiphany changes things a bit. Once we get to Lent, Jesus will be on His final trek to Jerusalem and to the cross. The cross always looms in the distance for Jesus, even from birth. In Lent, it isn’t something on the horizon anymore. It’s directly ahead. Satan has marshalled his forces and Jesus goes to meet them. In the season of Epiphany we’re still living in that time before Lent. Jesus is calling His disciples. He’s teaching and healing people. He’s preaching the good news and restoring people physically and spiritually. Jesus is walking, talking, and living with His people. The sky isn’t being darkened by the looming shadow of the cross, not yet.

This time in Jesus’ life recalls a time when God walked, talked, and lived with His people before death was a concern: back in Eden before the Fall. Sure, Adam and Eve had needs and concerns, but needs and concerns are not the same as worries. They knew their needs would be met and their concerns would be addressed and they had no reason to think anything more about them. This was life with God. Every day was a day of peace and joy.

The season of Epiphany directs our attention back to that day when God lived with His people. It gives us a brief and imperfect view of what awaits us when God comes back. Life with God. A life with no darkness in sight, no sin crouching on the doorstep, no death lurking around the corner. Nothing but light and life forever. Right now, and during Jesus’ ministry, creation was still afflicted with sin, but as we watch Jesus living through this Epiphany season, we see the Son of God who shows no worries about sin. That isn’t to say He is lackadaisical and carefree. He just knows sin, death, and Satan will all be dealt with decisively at the appointed time. Right now He enjoys the time He gets to spend in the lives of His people.

The seasons of the church year all have their own reasons for us to reflect and they all give us reasons to look forward to God’s continued work. The season of Epiphany is a season that does not look forward to a specific celebration, the way Advent and Lent do. In fact, the season of Epiphany is a bit uneventful overall and it is easy to overlook its value. It is precisely in this uneventfulness that we find its purpose. Our lives with God in the new creation will not be looking forward to the destruction of death, the casting out of Satan, or the permanent washing away of sin. All of that will be firmly in the past. At that point, all there is will be the easy and simple life lived in the new creation with God, an unhurried and unworried life lived with Him and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is what we find in Epiphany.

In-Carnation

Incarnation is one of those words used in church that we rarely spend time carefully considering. Most Christians can probably tell you it means Jesus is born as a human being, which is true. But the word gives us much more to consider as we approach Christmas.

Coming from Latin, the word more literally means “enfleshment,” for something that, presumably, did not have flesh before to now have flesh, a living, breathing, animate body. Already that’s an important detail. We aren’t talking about a stone statue or a robot or something like that. We’re talking about a body of flesh; muscles, bones, sinew, and all of the various organs necessary for the body to function. That seems pretty obvious to Christians who are familiar with the Christmas story, but it’s still pretty radical for what people in that day believed. Ancient religions would tell you the gods could be worshipped in statues and images. Some would even say the gods were connected to those images in some spiritual sense.

That God would take on a human body was unheard of. It just didn’t happen. Sometimes a god could look and act human, but never would one actually become human. Those steeped in Greek philosophy would also argue that God would never willing stoop down to becoming human. It just didn’t work. It would be this very idea that fuel many of the heresies that embroiled the early church. God just doesn’t become human. He wouldn’t do such a thing.

So God becoming a human is already upending all expectations and assumptions. The very thing no one thought He would do is exactly what He does do. This is kind of the the theme of Jesus’ life. Jesus goes about doing all of the Jesus kind of things we know from the Gospels. Most of the things Jesus does during His ministry are things we’ve seen prophets and priests doing before. He’s preaching God’s Word. He’s praying. He’s healing people of various ailments, including death. All good things, but now they come with some added significance. This isn’t just a prophet or a priest (though Jesus is both of those things as well). As Matthew reminds us, this is Immanuel, “God with us.” This is God in the flesh doing all of this good stuff. If you want to see God in action, all you have to do is find Jesus. That’s pretty great, right?

It is. Except that, by itself this isn’t all that exciting. Sure, Jesus does do good things, but almost all of those are old news. We’ve seen people praying to God. We’ve seen people preaching the Word. We’ve seen people getting healed. We’ve even seen people raised from the dead. So, until we get to the whole resurrection thing, we haven’t really seen anything new, right? I mean, really new, and not just a rehash of some older stuff. What’s more, if you wanted to go talk to God, you could always go to the temple, so why get all excited about this incarnation thing?

Well, that’s some reflection on the incarnation comes in handy. Yes, you could go see God at the temple if you wanted. Except, you really couldn’t. The high priest was the one guy who actually see God, but even then it was only once a year and he had to be very certain to be properly humble and repentant when he did or the face of God would be the last thing he saw in this earthly life. Everyone else had to settle for something a bit less. You could be around God. You could be in His presence, in a manner of speaking. He was definitely there, but you couldn’t contact him directly. Trying to see God would meaning going in front of God as a sinner. You’d end up like the unrepentant high priest and would swiftly get the boot. Isaiah the prophet knows what it means to be face to face with God while steeped in your sin. It’s a bad place to be. God’s perfect glory simply does not permit any sin. Sin is imperfection. Sin is a rejection of God. God and His opposite just don’t mix and God is more powerful than sin, so out you go.

That’s where the incarnation comes in. He’s still God. He’s still got all of the same glory and power and everything else. He still the very same God he was at the temple, but now He’s wrapped up all of that power and glory and hidden it a human body. It’s all still in there and every so often He lets a little bit of it out for certain people to see. Aside from that you’d never know it was Him just by looking at Him. But He’s still God, and once you figure that out everything changes.

Now my sin isn’t a barrier to approaching God. Sin still needs to be dealt with, but now I can go to God directly and sort it out. I don’t need a mediator or a middle man. Talking to God directly like has always meant swift destruction, but not anymore. Obviously, it’s not as though God is in any danger from my sin. No, I’m the only one who has to worry there. So, in taking on an ordinary human body, one that looks and acts like any other human body, God is keeping me safe. God has come here to be with me, but know that I am a sinner. God makes this human body so that I can be with Him without fear.

That really is something new and different. This changes how I get to interact with God. This also changes how we understand God in church. The temple could be a dangerous place for sinners if they weren’t careful, but now God’s house is exactly where sinners should be. God has covered up and hidden His glory so sinners can be there without fear. Even the presence of God in the Lord’s Supper has sinners in mind. He is still present, but you are safe there. That doesn’t mean we treat God or His things frivolously or with a disregard for the rules He has put in place, but aside from that, we have nothing to fear.

This is what changes with Christmas and Christ’s arrival in the flesh. The tiny baby in the manger is the whole glory of God wrapped up in a ordinary little body. All of this done so that I may enter into the presence of God Himself without fear.

Now and Not Yet

As the liturgical year winds down and the new one begins, we start to consider that overlap of the old and the new, the First Advent and the Second Advent. We see how the message isn’t really any different. In both cases we are waiting. The only real distinction is that we who live after the First Advent know that Christ has truly come, that He has truly died and risen again, and that He will return. This life in-between is governed by these two Advents.

The liturgical cycle that begins at Advent goes through the life of Christ. As disciples of Christ through our baptism, that is what we are called to do. We follow Christ from beginning to end, at least as far as that pertains to history of this world. That’s why the Advent season is important. We know Christ did not spring into existence on Christmas morning. Jesus, the Son of God, always has been and always will be. That means part of Christ’s life in this world has been in preparation for His coming birth.

All of those years of waiting for a savior are hard to imagine, not just because the culture and lifestyles are different, but because it means putting ourselves back into a time before that promise was fulfilled. These days there are people who choose not to celebrate Christmas because the holiday has no real meaning for them. Jesus has no special significance to many in the world. The days we relive in Advent are different. Back then, celebrating Christmas wasn’t an option because the event it commemorates hadn’t taken place.

It’s easy to dismiss this time as just one of remembrance. We recall all of the prophecies. We marvel at how God brings it all together at the proper place and time. We think about what this child will later accomplish. We gather around the manger for a week or so before catapulting into His later life and the beginning of His ministry.

It’s unfortunate that we treat Advent this way, because the season of Advent is as definitive for Christian life as the Easter season is. The Easter season reminds that Christ has triumphed over sin and death. Our eternity in God’s kingdom is assured. Yet, for all of the wonderful benefits we receive through Christ’s death and resurrection, we find ourselves doing the very same thing those in the Old Testament did. We wait for the Savior.

We know He will come, just as He did before. We know God will fulfill His promise, just like He did before. Those who waited for Him the first time did so on the evidence of all of the work God had done in the past. In that way, we are no different. We make use of the season of Advent, not because we need time to set up Christmas decorations and sing the nice Advent and Christmas hymns and all of the other church traditions you might find. The season of Advent is important because it reminds that we are still waiting. Like the faithful of old, each day is a day we wake up and remember today could be the day. Each day when we go to bed we remember that, though He didn’t come today, He will. He promised and God always makes good on His promises. Advent keeps us focused and our attention fixed firmly on the future. God has given us many wonderful blessings and we are thankful for them, but He isn’t done yet. There is much more to come.

Thanksgiving

Any study of life surrounding the temple in the Old Testament, and the book of Leviticus in particular, will focus on the purpose of the various sin offerings prescribed.  God wanted to dwell with His people, but for that to happen some means had to exist to address the sin that would prevent them from being where God is.  That made the sin offerings a major concern for the Israelites.  Without these sin offerings, the system breaks down and the people lose the connection to the later work of Christ.

Buried in the descriptions of the various sin offerings, what they are for and how they are used, is a short description of thank offerings.  These offerings have no relation to sin and so stand apart from all of the other offerings described.  There are no set times or reasons for these offerings.  They can be given by the people whenever they feel the desire to respond to God in thanks for what He has done for them.

That tells us something important about the role of sin offerings and thank offerings.  Sin offerings are there because they are needed, not because they are what we should be doing.  I say we offer sin offerings, but this, of course, is in light of Christ.  We offer the only thing that truly pays for our sins, Christ Himself.  Still, were the world still in a state of perfection, Christ’s sacrifice would be unnecessary.  The sin offerings of Leviticus are a response to the sin in the world and they are there specifically to address that circumstance. 

Thank offerings work differently.  They do not deal with sin.  Rather, they speak to a people whose sin has already been dealt with.  If you have not been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, you aren’t in a position to bring a thank offering.  When sin is no longer a concern, sin offerings are also not a concern.  So what is left for the righteous person to do?  Thank offerings.  Giving thanks is what righteous people do and is the activity we continue to carry out when our sin has been taken care of.  This is part of why we continue to celebrate Communion as the epitome of thank offerings. 

Righteous people give thanks.  Even without the problem of sin, we have many reasons to give thanks.  Each day comes with its own blessings and thus many opportunities to respond to God with thanks for what He has done.  That means thanksgiving is a major part of every divine service.  It is not a sin offerings and could not even be given if not for the work of Christ on our behalf.  This is why the thanks we give as part of the sacrament of Communion comes at the end, as we reflect on our status as God’s redeemed people, and not at the beginning where sin and grace are our primary concern. Sin offerings are very much a feature of this world, where thank offerings focus our attention beyond this world to the new world to come.

Looking to the Future

Some recent reflection I’ve been doing has me thinking of how we deal with the present world and how we view eternity. There are certain ways of thinking, talking, and acting that can be found everywhere in our society, even in Christendom, that say quite a bit about what we believe the future holds.

You find this coming out especially in funerals and such where the question of what sort of existence the deceased is experiencing right now has to be dealt with directly. Most of the time we can put off thinking about what awaits us after death because it doesn’t feel immediately relevant. At a funeral, you no longer get to put that question off. Assuming you accept an afterlife of any sort, what does that afterlife look like? What occupies the time of all of those who have died? What, if anything, still awaits them? What thoughts or feelings do they have? Is someone who has died still the same person now in death?

Oftentimes, the description you hear of heaven or whatever you may call it ends up being an extension of life on earth. Your husband loved riding horses on his ranch and now he’s riding his horses off into the sunset in heaven. Your dad passed away some years ago and now your mom just died. Finally they get to go dancing again just like they would always do when they were alive.

Heaven becomes just like earth. A little better perhaps, free from some of the various struggles and grief, but you’re more or less doing the very same things there that you did before. It’s an idealized version of what you knew in life. Your friends and family are all there with you together and you get to relive all of the good old days, but now you get to live them forever.

We don’t get a lot of descriptions of the new creation in Scripture, and those that we do have often come in the form of visions which, by their very nature, aren’t meant to be taken as literal depictions. Of heaven we know almost nothing at all. It’s no surprise that heaven isn’t really described, since it isn’t the goal we’re ultimately waiting for anyway and it isn’t where we’re meant to spend eternity. What we do know of the new creation is that it truly is creation, a physical world. It is the world that has been remade without any flaw.

It’s an interesting point in the Exodus story that usually gets lost in the shuffle. You have all of the plagues. You have the Passover event. You have the parting of the Red Sea. All of these huge, dramatic events. Hidden in there is the goal, what God wants for His people. Even before the people begin crossing the Red Sea, God has already set their sights on the Promised Land. This is what defines them already. They are the people who are being led by God to the Promised Land. Their life in the wilderness or even back in Egypt will not resemble their life in Israel. The Promised Land will be radically different. Everything they did in Egypt will be left behind.

And yet, we find that their life in Israel is not confined to Israel. Some of what they will do and how they will live appears before they arrive. The giving of the Law through Moses is predominantly geared toward how they will live when they arrive in Israel. Inheritance laws, feasts, and so forth that will only have meaning once they get there. But the laws for life in the Promised Land are already given now before they get there, because the goal is already in sight.

The baptismal connection in the crossing of the Red Sea helps us to put this into perspective. The tendency we have in the present day is to take what we see around us now and assume the afterlife will be like what we have now, just better. But that would be like the Israelites assuming Israel was like Egypt, only better. This is not at all what we find. Instead, we see the opposite. The future is not a continuation of the present. Rather, the present is drawing on the future. The goal in Jerusalem was never to build a tabernacle that was just better than the one they already had. The goal was the temple, the place where God would put His name. The tabernacle draws the temple back into the Israelites’ present as they wander the wilderness. In other words, the temple is not a bigger tabernacle. The tabernacle is a little temple.

Here in our day, the same idea continues. The new creation will not just be more of the same. It will be radically different in many ways. How exactly isn’t all that clear, but Jesus’ debate with the Sadducees regarding marriage tells us it will be different enough that trying to understand it now is a bit beyond us. However, there are some things we know about life in the new creation and those are found in the one place that connects the present and the future, the kingdom of God. As Jesus goes about doing the work of the kingdom, He’s bringing the future back into the present.

We Christians know what the future holds. We are always looking toward that future and the fulfillment of God’s promise to us. It is because of this that we can put things in their proper perspective. We see the present in light of that future, as drawing on that future and bringing us into that future. We carry the future with us as we share the Gospel message, not just of what Christ has done, but also of what, in light of Christ, is as good as done already.

Not What, but Who

As the rest of the Western world gears up for Halloween, we Lutherans are recalling the events that led up to the formation of the Lutheran Church.  Martin Luther’s contemplation on Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast,” along with related passages drove a whole new understanding of what salvation means and how it was accomplished.

Once Luther started reflecting on what St. Paul says in earnest, many things started to happen.  A number of other doctrines that Luther had been taught now had to be questioned as well.  The nature of grace, the authority of the pope, the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, and the value of the monastic lifestyle were all up for reevaluation.  After all, if the Catholic Church could be so wrong about how salvation comes to us, then it stands to reason many other things were wrong as well. 

Many Reformation historians and Luther scholars will argue that Luther’s discovery of salvation by grace forms the basis of his whole theological outlook.  His new-found understanding of grace led to his development of the Law/Gospel framework for reading Scripture and his complete rejection of works of any sort as a means to salvation.  Anything that suggested we can or should earn our salvation was a direct rejection of God’s free gift of salvation and thus had to go.

God’s free gift of grace is the most essential element of the Gospel and is so important to God’s plan of salvation that Luther determined there was nothing anyone else could offer that would tempt him to sacrifice it.  With God’s gift of grace, nothing else matters.  The Law that drives to acknowledge our sin and the Gospel that announces the forgiveness of that sin through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is one of the most basic teachings of Scripture and pervades everything the Lutheran Church does and teaches.  Yet, for all of its importance and for all that Luther did with that new understanding of grace, I’ll argue there was something Luther discovered that’s even more essential, more fundamental, something without which even the proclamation of the Gospel becomes null and void.

A big sticking point for Luther was the conflict between Scripture, as the divinely inspired Word of God, and Tradition, the idea that the Spirit guides the Church throughout the ages and can reveal new and important teachings and practices.  Many of the teachings and practices Luther saw coming from Tradition had no basis in Scripture, (such as that Mary was taken up into heaven, sort of like Elijah), or worse, contradicted Scripture, (such as that Mary was born without original sin).  You might be able to make the case that some of these teachings were harmless, but those that contradicted Scripture presented unique problems.  This is especially true when dealing with the pope, who claimed the sole authority to distribute God’s grace to the Church.  Either God’s grace is freely available to all or it is given to the pope to distribute.  These both can’t be true.

A similar problem arises as Luther deals with other reformers who are cropping up shortly after him, notably John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli.  Both Calvin and Zwingli criticize certain aspects of what Luther does and says.  Luther doesn’t agree with their criticisms, but, for the sake of a Church free from more divisions, he is willing to let some of those things slide if it will bring unity.  One place he absolutely will not bend is on the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.  Calvin and Zwingli are unwilling to accept that Christ is bodily present in the bread and wine and so agreement cannot be reached on a point Luther considers essential and the Church divides further.

Though grace and forgiveness might be the terms we hear from Luther more often than any others, I’ll argue these things are not what ultimately forms the foundation of his theology.  When Luther faces off against Calvin and Zwingli who refuse to acknowledge that the plain words of Christ who says, “This is my body,” can mean exactly that, Luther responds that this is what Jesus says.  Whether I understand it or not, whether it seems possible or not is irrelevant.  He said it, so it must be true.  Luther makes the same point when dealing with the Catholic Church.  What the pope says or what any other man says is meaningless because they only thing we can stand on is the Word of God. 

In both cases, Luther is making a vital point.  For as important as the message might be, the message itself is secondary to the speaker.  The pope, John Calvin, or anyone else can say anything they like.  They have no power of their own.  They have no authority.  They are creatures just like every other person who has ever lived.  Any claim they make, whether supernatural or mundane, has no power and they have no ability to enforce it.  God, however, has no such limitations.  It doesn’t matter how outlandish or improbable His promises are.  It doesn’t matter how far-fetched His statements about the future in general, or mine specifically.  If He says it, it is true and it will happen just as He says.  God stands behind everything He says.  If He says He is present in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, then He is.  If He says His forgiveness is free without any merit or worthiness in me, then it is.  No one can refute any of these statements because we have no power or authority to do so.  This is why one of most-used refrains in Lutheranism is, “The Word of the Lord endures forever.” This and this alone is the foundation of our faith.

Flying Buttresses

Periodically you’ll hear a theological thought that isn’t one of the primary ideas you usually consider when reading through Scripture. For instance, a friend of mine recently pondered how Mary Magdalene encounters the resurrected Christ, she supposed Him to be the gardener. Given that Jesus is the Second Adam, tasked with living Adam’s life and getting right everything Adam did wrong, my friend thought it an interesting parallel that the resurrection should take place in a garden. It is almost as if Jesus stepping out of the empty tomb is a reestablishment of Eden.

Scripture doesn’t specifically make this connection, but there’s enough going on that it isn’t a main theme that Scripture works with. When you think of the primary ideas found in Scripture, you’re usually thinking in terms of salvation, resurrection, eternal life, forgiveness, the Gospel, the sacraments, and those sorts of things. Since Scripture spends the most time on those ideas, it’s important we make them our focus as well. Luther reminds us of that in his baptismal booklet, where he points out that candles, white garments, and all of the other trappings of the typical baptismal rite are all well and good, but none of them are actually what constitutes Baptism. If you had to strip it down to the barest essentials, such as in the case of an emergency Baptism, you would still have everything necessary for God’s gift to come to that person.

Nevertheless, all of those secondary ideas and themes help us better appreciate what God does through the Gospel, forgiveness, and all of the rest. God speaks of salvation, forgiveness, and all of those other ideas in many different ways. He knows different ideas will resonate with different people. Different events and circumstances in our lives may need us to think about the Gospel in slightly different ways. The candles often used in a baptismal rite may not mean much to you at the time, but perhaps when you light that baptismal candle 30 years later, the realization may hit you that God has been at work through your baptism all that time and it may give you a new appreciate for His work. The thought that the empty tomb is in a garden and that’s where the risen Christ first encounters people may be a minor point, but looking at it from the big picture, from Genesis to the Gospels and from the Gospels to Revelation and the new creation described there, may give you a new sense of the scope of God’s salvific work and how everything Christ does stands at the center of salvation history.

Watching the development of architecture through medieval history is fascinating. Cathedrals throughout the ages grow bigger and more ornate as time goes on, but eventually they can’t get any bigger. In order to better support larger structures, someone comes up with the concept of the flying buttress, a large column that stands next to the main building and connects to it in order to help hold the weight of the walls and roof. Do you have to have buttresses to have a cathedral? No. But they do allow for a bigger, more beautiful construction. So it is with all of these other thoughts and ideas we piece together from Scripture and make use of in the life of the church. Are they necessary? Perhaps not. But they do enhance our understanding and appreciation for the work God does and for that reason, we are glad to have them and make use of them.

The Logos

Christology (the study of Christ), pneumatology (the study of the Spirit), soteriology (the study of salvation), etiology (the study of origins), eschatology (the study of last things), ecclesiology (the study of the church), and a few more are all areas of study that fall under theology, the study of God.

Theologians use all of these words as shorthand for different words when discussing specific aspects of God and His work in the world.  Whole libraries could be filled from what has been written about any one of these fields.  Each has occupied theologians in discussion and debate since the very beginning of the Church.

Any good theologian can tell you that the Greek word “Logos” means “word” or “study”.  It’s where we get the -ology in all of those big words.  It’s also the word John uses to describe Jesus in his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Logos…”  There are ways of over-spiritualizing this idea of Jesus being the Logos and the fact that we use words with -ology in them.  Instead I’ll say that anything you say in any one of these areas is ultimately theology, is something you are saying about God.  This is a realization Luther came to over the course of his work in the Reformation.  All theology is connected because all theology says something about who God is and what He does.

As an example, if my view on eschatology (that is, where we are all headed at the end), then our understanding of salvation changes as well as our understanding of what Christ is all about and then what it means to be the Church.  For instance, if I say my goal is heaven, then this world doesn’t matter much.  Jesus came to save me from physical existence.  Nothing in this world truly matters except for sharing with others the message of how to escape.  On the other hand, if the goal isn’t heaven but a new creation, then Jesus comes not just to save me, but all creation.  The whole story of salvation changes.

All theology is connected.  This is why altar and pulpit fellowship between church bodies is a tricky thing.  Lutherans and Catholics both agree Christ is physically present in Communion.  But, that one little  point of agreement doesn’t smooth over all of the other places where we disagree on things like what salvation means and how it comes to be ours. That’s why sharing Communion with others isn’t as simple as agreeing Christ is present and offers forgiveness in the meal. All theology is connected and we must be truly in agreement if we are going to proclaim our unity at the Lord’s Table.