Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Be Patient

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
James 5 (NRSV)

Today’s advent words are ‘patiently waiting’.  It’s hard for any of us at any age to be patient. It’s especially hard at Christmas. Remember how difficult it was when you were small to wait to see what wonderful gifts Santa would bring? Did you peek in closets trying to get an advanced view?

James used the Old Testament prophets as an example of patience. “Brothers and sisters,” he writes, “as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”  One of the prophets he surely had in mind was the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah refused to give in to the despair of his time. Isaiah still managed to hope in God. And under the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit Isaiah was able to write, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

“He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth . . .”   He may not say it, but in there you can still hear “BE PATIENT.”

No matter what else you think Christmas is about, it is also about patiently waiting. It is not just  about a house so lit up you can see it from space, or about giving or receiving the biggest and best gift money can buy.  It isn’t about eating ham or turkey.  It’s not simply about spending time with family-- as precious as that may be.  It isn’t even about celebrating an infant’s birth in a manger.

Did you catch that? Christmas isn’t even ultimately about celebrating an infant’s birth in a manger. Christmas is about the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan of salvation. IOW;
            God has a plan for our world.
                        A plan that extends from creation
                                    Through the manger
                                                through the cross
                                                            and the empty tomb
                                                                        to eternity. 

God is at work bringing in a perfect world a world where all people will live in harmony and dignity together as children of God a world where that which is broken will be made whole a world of peace, joy and love. Sure, the babe in the manger is an important part of that plan, and it is right and good that we celebrate his birth. But Christmas is only a part of the entire Christ event. It is not only about the coming of Christ, but it is also about the coming of God’s Kingdom when Christ shall reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords forever and ever.

Pastor Jim

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Happy Reformation Day

PJ’s Blog

In honor of the 499th reformation Sunday (just past) and looking forward to the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (October 31, 2017), I am turning over this space today to one of my colleagues and most respected reformed scholars, Pul Tambrino, Ed.D, Ph.D.  This is from a column he writes entitled “Ask Augustine”.

Pastor Jim

October 31, 2017 will mark it’s 500th. Anniversary.  Is that because today there is very little difference between Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism?  But if not, what are the major differences between Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism?

While it is true in recent years we have rightly seen evangelicals and Catholics come together on an unprecedented scale in common opposition to abortion and issues of moral relativism and theological pluralism as well as, in defense of our love and worship of the same Lord.  In this regard evangelicals and Catholics are bound together contending against all that opposes Christ and His cause.  Still, theologically what divided Protestants from Rome on October 31, 1517 still divides us today.

As to what it is that still divides us, most people would point to the different views Roman Catholics and Protestants have concerning the papacy, Mary, the saints, purgatory or the sacraments.  However, these distinctive differences all stem from the doctrinal dispute over justification.  At the time of the Reformation, Luther maintained that the Reformed doctrine of justification was the article upon which the church stands or falls and Calvin held that it was the hinge of salvation.  This was countered by Rome's Tridentine conclusion that the Reformation doctrine of justification was worthy of the anathema of the church.

Admittedly the debate over justification suffers from a crass caricature by which the Protestant position is incompletely characterized only as “justification by faith” and the Roman Catholic position is incompletely characterized as only “justification by works.”  Popular sentiment falsely concludes that Protestants are not concerned about works and that Rome is not concerned with faith.

Roman Catholicism has always given an important and necessary place to faith in so far as justification is concerned.  Moreover, Protestantism has always held that saving faith necessarily, inevitably and immediately yields the fruit of works.  The difference in the two views is that in Roman Catholicism, “Faith plus Works yields Justification” while in Protestantism, “Faith yields Justification plus Works.”   That is, in Roman Catholicism “Works” is a necessary precondition for justification.  In Protestantism, “Works” is a necessary fruit or result of justification.

Protestantism holds to the vicarious atonement of Christ.  It is vicarious because it is accomplished by imputation (transfer), actually a double imputation (transfer).  Christ willingly bore for His people their sins that are imputed or transferred to Him.  Christ is the sin-bearer for His people (the Lamb of God) who takes away (expiates) their sin and satisfies (propitiates) the demands of God’s justice.

The cross alone, however, does not justify.  There is also a need for positive righteousness. Protestantism maintains that one is not justified only by the death of Christ but also by the life of Christ. His perfect righteousness is also imputed to those whom He redeems.  Hence there is a double imputation.   The sins of the redeemed are imputed to Christ on the cross, and Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to the redeemed.  Evidence of such imputed justification is then seen in the works performed by those justified.

Roman Catholicism rejects this concept of imputation and maintains that God does not consider someone righteous on the basis of some alien (Christ’s) righteousness (a righteousness outside of oneself).  Rome’s view presupposes that the only true justness or righteousness is inherent righteousness.  Hence, there is a need for a person to become righteous in him or herself first before God declares one righteous.  Although Rome teaches that a person cannot become righteous without infused grace, a person is deemed righteous only when he or she has become (through works and the sacraments) righteous.

Given the Protestant doctrine of justification, it would be impossible to ascribe to the Roman Catholic doctrines the papacy, Mary, the saints, purgatory or the sacraments.  Only under a system of justification whereby righteousness was something that was initially infused by God into the believer and then increased when the believer cooperated by specific works could such doctrines exist.

Clearly a vast theological gulf separates Roman Catholic and Protestant theology on the doctrine of justification.  Unless Protestant theology rejects the principles of the Reformation, or Roman Catholic theology abandons much of the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent (especially canons 9, 10, and 11), the doctrine of justification will remain a fundamental source of division between Roman Catholicism and the Evangelical Protestant faith.